Festival of Light…and Not-So-Light Food

27 Dec

Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is the eight-day Jewish festival of light, which celebrates the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels over an oppressive Selucid monarchy, and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Once the temple was rededicated, the Jewish people were eager to relight their ritual candelabrum called a Menorah, but only had one day’s worth of oil. This small amount of oil miraculously burned for eight days, which is why Jews light the special Hanukkah Menorah (Hanukiah) for eight days as well.

They Tried to Kill Us. We Won. Let’s Eat!

Of course no Jewish celebration would be complete without some connection to food, so Jewish people also honour the miracle of the oil by eating oily foods, including latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), as well as other rich, sweet and altogether indulgent treats (hmm…sounds like the joys described in It’s the Most Delicious Time of the Year).

Like many Christmas time festivities, Hanukkah celebrations often involve cocktail and dinner parties. For the first night of Hanukkah, my mom and I hosted a party for our family and friends with a casual spread, including a festive cocktail and wine bar. Blue, white and silver are often Hanukkah’s answer to red and green, so in keeping with this colour palette, we created a centrepiece, decorations, and some edible goodies that go along with the overall theme.

The Booze:

In addition to a variety of wines, scotches, and other spirits, I included an ice bucket of blue and white sodas. For a more “adult” blue drink, I made our guests cocktails consisting of Bols Blue Curacao, Victoria Gin, Sprite (or soda water), and a fresh squeeze of lemon. We also included Skyy Vodka because of its fittingly blue bottle for those that prefer a vodka-based version of this beverage.

The Food:

To satisfy the sweet tooth of our guests, I made simple cupcakes with a cream-cheese frosting, topped with an assortment of blue decorations. Similar decorations covered dreidel, Hanukiah, and Star of David shaped sugar cookies that were placed in sparkly silver take-out boxes, which made an easy doggy-bag for guests who were wanting to bring some of the sweetness home with them (a good thing too, because if all those cupcakes and cookies stayed behind, they would have all been reluctantly consumed by yours truly).

Mini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icicng, Hanukkah Sugar Cookies in Sparkly Take-Out Boxes

White chocolate mousse placed within white and milk chocolate cups provided a light and fluffy base for some festive blue dots, which concluded the blue, white and silver coloured dessert spread.

White Chocolate Mousse in White and Milk Chocolate Cups

Healthier options included an Israeli couscous salad with roasted vegetables, a fresh baby green salad with roasted beets, almonds and cranberries, homemade smoked salmon, garlic and Szechuan asparagus, and mini mandarin oranges to refresh the palate as guests went back and forth between sweet and savoury.

Szechuan Asparagus

Homemade Smoked Salmon

In keeping with the theme of heavy Hanukkah feasts, we also served a cheese platter, which included goats cheese stuffed dates, Mediterranean-style humus, and an assortment of olives and cocktail onions, bite sized pieces of artichoke casserole, and a selection of filo pasties including spanakopita and a Mediterranean eggplant stuffed variety.

Cheese Platter with Goats Cheese Stuffed Dates Garnished with Pine Nuts

Artichoke Casserole Bites

The Table Spread, Including a Selection of Filo Pastries

Of course no Hanukkah spread would be complete without latkes, which we served with the traditional toppings of sour cream and applesauce.

Traditional Latke Potato Pancakes

A word of warning though…making latkes will stink up your house for days, even weeks! The stench of fried oil is a hard one to shake, so my recommendation is that you make them outside if at all possible. A standing tradition in my household is that my father bundles up, plugs in his portable frying pan, and latkes-away in the open air – a task much appreciate by the whole family.

The Decorations:

In keeping with the lighter mood of buffet-style spreads such as this one, I constructed a more whimsical centrepiece containing tiered sparkly candles, decorated with an array of blue bows, and surrounded by a sprinkling of Stars of David. The flowers were kept simple with single white chrysanthemums covered in silver sparkles, resting in small low square vases with red twigs, and blue and white glass beads as their base. Apothecary jars were filled with dreidels, Hanukkah “gelt” (chocolate coins used in the game of dreidel) and blue and white candies that were later placed in individual mesh bags as another party favour to go along with the sparkling cookie boxes.

The glowing Hanukiahs are not only the main focus of the holiday, but also provided another beautiful backdrop for the festive spread. Like Christmas trees, Hanukiahs should be out in the open for all to enjoy including guests within your house, as well as those passing by on the streets.

A holiday about spreading light and happiness throughout the world, Hanukkah is also a great opportunity to spread light and happiness within your own home, by sharing good food and delicious drinks with those you love.

*For recipes please email me at ellieshortt@gmail.com or message me on Twitter.

*For more on Hanukkah foods, check out this story I wrote for EAT Magazine: The Taste of Hanukkah

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