It is that time of year and this is what it comes down to: a three-day yom tov, staying up all night in shul studying Torah, and, of course, six world-class meals.
Is any of this difficult? And if it is, what is the most perplexing or demanding part of this yom tov trifecta?
Seventy-two hours of being totally and completely shut off from your cellphone, WhatsApp, texts, emails, iPad, and especially your car has to be quite a dramatic departure from your usual daily routine. Sure, Shabbos is a great but long day at this juncture on our calendar, but it is still only about 25 hours. We are talking about three times as long this weekend, which translates into mostly leaving the world out there behind us over this wonderful whirlwind weekend.
There are many elements to a good and successful and joyous yom tov. Some of those things include going to shul, reciting Hallel, reading about the momentous event of Matan Torah, being with family, friends, and more.
There is the food and the many days — and sometimes even longer than days — that go into figuring out what you are serving, to whom, and when. As you know, the Shavuos yom tov is unique inasmuch as the focus is on dairy meals as opposed to the usual roasts and so on.
So while I am not personally involved or invested in the food preparation for yom tov, I have overheard what is in the offing and what is being planned in order to make this chag a culinary and celebratory delight, the likes of “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” and that is not the name of a cookbook, although it might be someday.
Shavuos is somewhat of a gastrointestinal tug-of-war between dairy and meat meals. In addition, the fact that it is a three-day affair that begins with Shabbos adds a unique though not unprecedented dimension to experiencing this yom tov.
The traditional Shabbos menu is usually strictly observed with meat meals. After all, what is a Shabbos-day meal after Kiddush in shul without the old-style cholent, kishke, and kugel accompanied by some cold meats, perhaps cold cuts, turkey, or roast beef?
If you have not ordered any special dishes from our dear friend Moshe Hirsch at Central Perk in Cedarhurst, you are missing out on some creative and tasty dishes. The yom tov menu is indeed mouthwatering and includes their homemade cheese tortellini, cheese ravioli, and spinach-and-cheese ravioli. If you think you will enjoy a deep and restful sleep after a bowl of cholent and kishke, try one of these cheese dishes and see what happens.
So here’s the thing on this count. If you are invited for a meal to a neighbor’s home, whether it is for a day or night meal, except for Shabbos you really have no way of knowing what type of fare they will be serving their guests. Can you actually ask your host or hostess what exactly is going to be on the menu? I don’t think so, though maybe in this case you should be able to do that.
I mean what if you have a fleishig Kiddush in shul and then show up to the home you were invited to and there is a mountain of assorted cheese blintzes being served? That is almost as bad as being invited to a home where one of the guests is someone who owes you a lot of money. A possibly very tough situation.
For some, the consumption of dairy foods on Shavuos has become an obligatory and even a religious experience of sorts, as though if you do not ingest heavy and creamy dairy foods you will be missing some of the essence of the chag. I don’t want to burst anyone’s traditional bubble, but that is probably not the case.
Listen, four meals with tongue, duck, turkey, and roasts are somewhat intoxicating at their own level and way too much of a carnivorous indulgence. So even if we were not emulating the ways of our ancestors, it is not a bad idea to balance some of the hefty meats with the usual dairy.
One of the most well-known prepared-food producers who has developed quite a following is Batya Kahn in Brooklyn. I’ve been to her commissary and it is quite an operation, and especially before a yom tov like this, they are working around the clock. I asked Batya the other day what her take was on the dairy-on-Shavuos thing and she said while there is a great demand for dairy food the meat orders still outweigh the demand for dairy.
I asked about cheese blintzes not because I am so crazy about them — I’m really not. I just think that if Shavuos had a mascot, it would be the cheese blintz or its close cousin, the cheesecake.
“We do a lot more than blintzes,” Batya said. I know that she is a gourmet and creative chef overseeing a huge operation, so on the dairy side of the equation I asked her what some of her most in-demand dishes are.
“We sold a lot of eggplant parmesan and eggplant rollatini,” she said but then added that the meat orders were dominated by spring rolls of all kinds, ribs, prime rib, and an extensive array of side dishes.
Let’s not get into the dynamic involved in ordering homemade foods like these that are made in someone’s home other than yours. Hey, homemade is homemade.
I asked my daughter, the much-sought-after creative cake developer and designer Malkie Hirsch, about cheesecake on Shavuos, and she gave me that “are you kidding me” look for asking a question that has an obvious answer.
“Cheesecake is huge on Shavuos,” she said. And sure, I knew that from my vast past experience but, frankly, I was not thinking about desserts but rather foodstuffs, like appetizers and entrees.
OK, so there it is; we are now just about ready to celebrate Hashem’s giving and our receiving the Torah over the next few days. It’s always a good and exciting yom tov, especially when it is punctuated with warm seasonal weather and lots of very good food.