By Fay Duftler
My husband and I are Shabbat-observant Modern Orthodox Jews who also happen to love Christmas. You might think that these two things are mutually exclusive, and you’re generally right. Nevertheless, we are total suckers for the holiday: This includes Christmas movies (my mother’s crying accompanied Jimmy Stewart’s It’s a Wonderful Life every year of my life, while A Christmas Story is part of our annual tradition), eclectic holiday music offerings, from swing band compositions to gentle, sweet carols; lights and decorations that seem to get bigger and more motorized each year, and the universal morality tale of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Plus, who can resist the sight of Santa Claus sitting atop the local fire engine company’s big rig, waving to all he passes around town? The goodwill-towards-men sentiments are contagious, and while we do not celebrate Christmas, we revel in the good feeling and cheer that permeate the air.
This year was extra special for us Christmas-loving Jews, as Christmas day fell on Shabbat itself, allowing us to feel that the entire world was celebrating Shabbat. My husband donned his gay apparel, decked out in a white button-down shirt, dark green suit and red tie/red sweater combination; to top it off, at the close of Shabbat services he helped lead a rousing rendition of Adon Olam set to the tune of “’Tis the Season.” We decided to mark the occasion of the intersection of the two competing religious traditions by inviting friends over for a taste-test: a Potato-Kugel Cholent (aka Yapsuk Cholent) and freshly made Eggnog, not in that order!
Eggnog has, for reasons unknown or entirely forgotten, become a traditional Christmas-time drink. The tradition of drinking milk and alcohol punch began in Renaissance Europe, and was simply intended as a winter treat. The drink immigrated to America early – Captain John Smith reported that Jamestown settlers made eggnog in 1607; even President George Washington drank eggnog, and made his own variety. My husband is a self-made bourbon expert, and so his cache of the stuff made it a perfect ingredient for the eggnog. The eggnog my husband made was delicious – rich, and unbelievably creamy; a genuine treat, as long as you forgot about the raw egg inside your glass, the ghost of salmonella-laden future at your door (Note from my husband: No one got salmonella). However your feeling about eggnog, forget it. Start over with this recipe and try it for yourself. Freshly made eggnog is the farthest thing from the boxed stuff. And it can be enjoyed any day of the year! My husband refused to make the eggnog with soy milk or coconut milk, but I’m sure either would be good too, and a tad heart-healthier at that.
Where I live, wives make cholent to serve as a side dish, brought to the table after a slew of dishes have already been passed along. I almost never make cholent. My children are of the Of-Tov chicken nugget and Dr. Praeger fishstick eating variety, and do not particularly enjoy sitting down to a gigantic pile of mush that looks about as appetizing as…a gigantic pile of mush.
My youngest son is allergic to beans so cholent making has always seemed to me a wasteful enterprise. One child can’t eat it, the others turn their nose up at it, and my husband hates eating leftovers, so I resisted making it for as long as I can remember. When I planned on having guests over for the 2010 Eggnog Shabb-tacular, I did not want a fussy meal to follow the 400-calorie splendor of eggnog; a salad and a cholent would suffice! But a cholent that everyone could eat….a cholent that would satisfy everyone—that would be a challenge. I went on an internet quest, and lo and behold, I discovered a number of recipes for beanless cholents. The easiest, most tantalizing recipe I found was for something known as a Yapsuk cholent, or “potato-kugel” cholent. With 5 lbs of peeled potatoes, 3 pounds of flanken (or stew meat), 2 eggs and some salt and pepper, the cholent was simple. The result was amazing. Not even the hardest, crustiest, most burnt piece of cholent was left, including the piece laced with the plastic crock-pot liner that dissolved into part of the cholent (either my guests were really hungry or the bourbon in the eggnog blunted their judgment!). You can use your very favorite potato kugel recipe as a base for the cholent…even use sweet potatoes! Let us know how it turns out!
Listen to Fay talk about Eggnog & Cholent here.