So Passover is next week. Le what? If you’re anything like my five closest friends from my MBA program, this is your first year going to a Passover dinner and you have no freaking clue what to wear. Or you’re like me and you’re a seasoned pro… but somehow still at a loss for what to wear.
Enter: me and my solution for what to wear to Passover Seder.
And, just because I love food (and I know y’all feel the same way), I’ve linked a few of my favorite Passover recipes – all of which I’ll be making for my Seder with my MBA friends next week.
This time of year is chock-full of holiday parties and ugly Christmas sweater parties… But what’s a girl to do when she’s invited to her first Hanukkah party? How does one know how to dress for a Hanukkah party? Or, as in my case every year, what if you want to dress festive AF for a holiday party, but are Jewish and wants to somehow rope that into the ensemble?
Happy Hanukkah, y’all! I thought to celebrate the holiday, it might be fun to share one of my all-time favorite recipes: baked latkes.
Dallas is a great city. It has a lot to offer. However, despite the decently-sized Jewish population here, knowledge about Judaism is not amongst the city’s greatest attributes. For most of my friends, I am the first Jewish kid they’ve ever met (or at least the first that they actually knew was Jewish). Since moving to Dallas, I have received a bunch of ornaments for my [nonexistent] Christmas tree (never had one of those), a bombardment of questions about Jewish culture and Judaism in general (ex: “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?”), and even a few mispronounced/misused Yiddish and Hebrew words (my friend thought that schmuck was a compliment. In case you’re wondering, it isn’t).
So if you’re unfamiliar with Hanukkah, basically here is the gist of the story: a little vial of oil miraculously lasted for eight days when it should have only lasted for a few hours. Where I will fail you is the story behind the latke: I have literally no idea how pan-fried potato pancakes became the staple Hanukkah dish. Maybe it has something to do with the oil? Who knows.
When I was little, my mom always baked her latkes (cuts out some of the oil). My family always topped our latkes with lox (smoked salmon), sour cream, and sometimes even a lil’ bit of caviar, but a lot of my friends’ families top theirs with applesauce instead. So here is my [pretty stinkin’ easy] recipe for baked latkes:
2 bags of shredded potatoes OR about 2 pounds of potatoes, shredded
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
nonstick cooking spray (like Pam)
optional: applesauce OR lox (smoked salmon), sour cream, caviar
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C) and grease a baking sheet. If you want to make latke cups (easier to keep all of the toppings on them and perfect for serving as appetizers!), grease a cupcake pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the shredded potatoes, diced onion, olive oil, egg, black pepper, and salt. Make about two-tablespoon-sized balls out of the mixture and place on the baking sheet or in the cupcake tins before flattening them out to look like a pancake. If using a cupcake tin, make sure that you don’t fill the tin up too high.
Spray the tops of the latkes with nonstick cooking spray before placing the sheet in the oven to bake for about 40 minutes. If you’re using the baking sheet (instead of the cupcake pan), flip the latkes when there’s about 10 minutes left so that they can be slightly browned on both sides. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before removing the baked latkes from the baking sheet or cupcake pan and adding the toppings. Enjoy!
On our last day with the Mifgash, our plans were unexpectedly changed due to increased tension in the region. However, we decided to make the most out of the situation and go shopping – first in one of the touristy sections of the city, and then later in the Shuk. The Shuk was totally awesome – it’s not too touristy and it is somewhere where Israelis actually shop. As it was a Friday, everybody was frantically preparing for Shabbat so the Shuk was an absolute zoo. And it was awesome. More candy than I could possibly down in my life, spices on spices on spices (and some spice tasting too!), halva for days (another one of my favorite Israeli foods). Again, it was totally awesome.
Afterwards, we all went to a park to say goodbye to the Mifgash. For me, this was the hardest part of the trip by far as I had become incredibly close to several of the Israelis. My Israeli friends were the rocks I needed while I was there. Yes, the fighting had escalated and there were rockets being fired into Israel and we had to run to the bomb shelters every time there was a siren… but every time that happened, I just looked to the Israelis and knew that everything was going to be okay. Their confidence in the IDF and their patriotism is tangible. They remained calm no matter the situation, and their calmness made me know and feel like everything was going to be okay. As such, I was never concerned for my safety while I was in Israel. The only time I felt any fear whatsoever – actually to the point of terror – was when I was woken up on my flight (Delta flight number 469) back to the states Saturday night.
I was in a Benadryl-induced fog and my friends told me that we had turned around mid-flight due to an unexpected mechanical failure and were heading back to Tel Aviv to do an emergency landing. When we landed, I looked out the window to see the full police force (and firetrucks and ambulances… all with their lights flashing) surrounding the plane. In that moment, I was terrified. Not when I was standing in the bomb shelters, not when I heard the sirens and had to cross three lanes of traffic to get inside, only on that flight – only then was I actually afraid. On the plus side, my flight being “delayed” meant that my friends and I got an extra day to enjoy our time in Israel and each other – a day which we spent frolicking and playing on the beaches of Tel Aviv. We even awoke in the morning to find that some of our new Israeli family had come to meet us in Tel Aviv to make sure that we were all okay and to spend one last day as a group with us.
Every day of the trip, our wonderful guide, Dani, taught the group a different phrase in Hebrew. One of the phrases we learned was “Yom Asal, Yom Basal” – one day honey, one day onions. In my mind, this phrase puts into words the otherwise indefinable culture and personality of Israel and the Israelis I met during my brief time there. Their ability to juggle joy and sadness simultaneously, their resilience, their confidence, and their practicality – those qualities are all perfectly combined in this phrase. I don’t know if I felt so calm during my time in Israel because of my special bond with my Israeli friends (and fellow Americans), and I don’t know if I would’ve felt so calm and unconcerned if I been surrounded by a completely different group of people, but I do know that our trip really mirrored the phrase “Yom Asal, Yom Basal”: in the midst of a country breaking out into war, I had the sweetest and most wonderful time and met some of the best people that I’ll likely ever know.
After our day spent in Tel Aviv, we headed in some unknown-to-me direction (seriously, I’m the worst navigator ever) to the “wilderness” / “desert with water” to go on a camel ride (during which I was cracking up nearly the entire time) and then spend the night in some Bedouin tents. These tents were like hotels under canvas, Bedouin style. After about four hours of sleep in a tent shared with 45 other people (several of whom could rank in a worldwide snoring competition), we got ready for a sunrise hike up Masada.
Sparknotes version of the story of Masada: a king built an awesome fortress atop a mountain (more like what we in Texas would call a “mesa”). The Romans came to conquer the land, because that’s what Romans do. All of the people living in the fortress killed each other (and then the last man standing killed himself) so as to escape enslavement and Roman rule.
Given that history, Masada is a surprisingly serene and beautiful place – especially at sunrise. After watching the sun rise and touring the grounds of the fortress a bit, we descended Masada and then proceeded to take the “Runners’ Path” down to the base. As an insanely klutzy person who has a deathly intense fear of heights (and falling, and loose rocks, and basically anything pertaining to nature), this hike was really mentally and physically challenging for me (though I did have somebody helping me down… so really just mentally challenging). However, once we reached the base, I felt so proud of myself and [borderline annoyingly] energized. I even forced / led a few members of my group in a mini stretch sesh.
Directly following the hike, we headed over to Ein Gedi Spa for some pool time and a visit to the Dead Sea. A bizarrely amazing (in the most literal sense of the word) experience – even for somebody as naturally buoyant as I am (seriously I float to the point of concern). I could curl up in a ball, hug my knees to my chest, and still not sink at all. In the most simple of terms, it was just super freaking cool.
After playing in the sea and pool (and having the obligatory mud bath) for a few hours, we went on yet another hike – this time to some springs along the Nachal David Trail. Quite possibly the most peaceful way to spend an afternoon. Ever. We lounged in the pools, stood under the waterfalls, and let time slip away.
The next day, we headed to Jerusalem. We toured the Old City, I tried my first shwarma (a deeply spiritual experience), we went to the Western Wall (at my friend Veronica’s insistence, I left a [really vague] note somewhere in/on the Wall), and then we ended the day by hiking up to another spring-fed pool and having Bar Mitzvahs [in our bathing suits] for the members of the group who wanted them. Definitely the most interesting outfit I’ve ever worn to a Bar Mitzvah.
Our second day in Jerusalem was one of the most emotionally challenging days of the whole trip. We began the day by touring the Israeli Supreme Court (we even sat in on a hearing!) and seeing the Knesset. While in the park overlooking the Knesset, one of our Mifgash – one of the soldiers – got a call from his commanding officer calling him back to the base because of escalating tensions with Hamas and the Gaza Strip. Even though he had only been with the group for a few days, we had all become very close and so saying goodbye was incredibly difficult. Furthermore, immediately after saying goodbye to our friend, we headed over to the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery (a very difficult experience, despite it being the most beautifully decorated and arranged cemetery I’ve ever seen) and then to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
Yad Vashem is by far the most perfectly arranged and designed museum I’ve ever visited in my life. The subject matter is upsetting to the point of physical illness (I legitimately felt like I was going to be sick at several separate points in time), but the museum itself is a true testament to the success of the state of Israel and of the Jewish people worldwide. As one enters the museum, the first thing seen is a looped video displaying who Jews were before the Holocaust – bakers and bankers, farmers and artists, residing in both rural and urban areas throughout Europe. If one turns to the other side, one can see this faint light at the far end of the tunnel that forms the main section of the museum. As one goes through the museum, weaving in and out of the tunnel, moving through time, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes more and more visible as it becomes closer and closer. Finally, after completing the journey through the museum, one can look back on that which was just experienced, and then look forward and move into the light – the light which is the door to one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen in my life (pictured at the bottom of this post). Behind, the hardships and the misery of the Holocaust; in front, the triumph of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Though the contents of the museum were hard to see and extremely disturbing, that view of Jerusalem took my breath away. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Check back in tomorrow for the third (and final) part of my trip!
– Riding camels during our night at the Bedouin Tents –
– My new best friend –
– Masada before sunrise –
– View atop Masada at sunrise –
– My friend Veronica and me atop Masada –
– View of the Dead Sea from our hike down Masada –