WeWriWa—A joint holiday celebration

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

There have been a lot of religious conflicts during December 1938, as young immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) and her family are inundated with symbolism of a holiday they don’t celebrate, and a variety of responses to their refusal to adopt Christmas as a secular holiday “everyone” celebrates. However, Sparky’s family has agreed to come together with their hosts the Filliards for a joint celebration of the eighth night of Chanukah and Christmas Eve.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit 10 lines.

Painting by Yelena Flerova

The Smalls had brought schnitzel, Kartoffelpuffer, chicken soup, brisket, candied carrots, bolussen, applesauce, and, best of all, plenty of Berliner Pfannkuchen, while on the Filliards’ side of the table sat roasted goose with stuffing; dried fruit compote; mushroom soup; gołąbki; pierogi stuffed with chopped mushrooms and mashed potatoes; kotlety; stuffed mushrooms; mazurek stuffed with dried almonds, chocolate, and apricot jam; chocolate sernik; zefiry; and several heaping platters of cookies. There’d be more than enough for everyone.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Mrs. Filliard said as she cut into a gołąbek. “You’ve been generous to share your food, and oughta taste some of ours in return.”

“Perhaps next year, we can cook by your recipes in our kitchen,” Mrs. Small said.

“It’s ‘with,’ not ‘by,’” Gary gently corrected her. “You’re making the mistake of directly translating a German expression into English. Sometimes being too literal results in improper English.”

“My mother and I made that mistake too, when we were learning English,” Mr. Filliard said. “That expression translates from Russian the same way it does from German, and it took a long time for me to realize I wasn’t being grammatically correct.”

Kartoffelpuffer are German latkes; bolussen are Dutch sweet rolls; Berliner Pfannkuchen are jelly doughnuts. Among the traditional Polish and Russian Christmas foods, gołąbki are cabbage leaves wrapped around a savory filling (usually including meat); kotlety are small, pan-fried meatballs; mazurek is a sweet, flat cake; sernik is cheesecake made with quark; and zefiry are similar to meringues.

Xaver Suppe and Xoriatiki Salata

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Xaver suppe, or Xavier soup, is an Italian dish traditionally served on 3 December, the Feast of Saint Xavier. My character Caterina is Italian, and very familiar with this food. Being kosher, she has to make some modifications, since the true recipe uses both chicken broth and lots of dairy products!

Recipe (source: Cooking With the Saints, by Ernst Schuegraf, Ignatius Press, 2001):

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped (for dough)
12 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons chervil, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped (for soup)

Over low heat, work the flour, cream, butter, and Parmesan into a solid dough. Work in the salt, pepper, nutmeg, eggs, yolks, and parsley. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a big nozzle and pipe pea-sized balls onto a buttered tray. Let stand for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, heat some salted water until it boils, then drop in all the “dough peas.” Cook for 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the warm chicken stock. Season soup to taste and add the chervil and 2 tablespoons parsley. Serves 10 to 12 people.

To make it kosher or vegetarian, simply use vegetable broth. For a vegan version, use non-dairy butter, your favorite vegan Parmesan, non-dairy milk in place of the cream, and your egg substitute of choice, equivalent to one egg and one egg yolk.

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Xoriatiki Salata is a dish many people are familiar with. It’s Greek salad, made with ingredients which can include:

Feta
Lettuce
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Red and/or green peppers
Spinach
Olives
Lemon juice
Onions (which I always skip or pull out!)
Olive oil
Sea salt
Oregano
Red wine vinegar

Non-traditional ingredients some people enjoy adding:

Chickpeas (I love them!)
Baby corn
Bok choi
Avocado (I love adding it!)
Mushrooms (particularly Portobello!)
Dried cranberries
Walnuts
Pine nuts
Slivered almonds

There’s no one set recipe, since you can add as much or as little of each as you prefer. Maybe you love extra feta and tomatoes, but don’t care so much for olives and cucumbers. You might hate onions as I do, and so never include them by choice. And though it’s not traditional, you can add extras like avocado and chickpeas.

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While my characters are staying in a vacation apartment in Florence over Chanukah 1945, Caterina tosses an extra-large Xoriatiki Salata for the days they’ll have dairy meals. This is a dish many people serve during Chanukah, not just those of Greek descent, because of the feta. It’s traditional to eat dairy and foods fried in oil during Chanukah, because of their symbolic relationship to the holiday’s origins.

During the time of the Maccabean Revolt, Judith famously beheaded General Holofernes. She fed him very salty cheeses which made him thirsty, and then got him drunk. Once he was asleep, she cut off his head and displayed it to the Greeks. They fled in panic and disarray. Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi frequently painted this subject. In the most famous painting, she modelled Judith after herself and Holofernes after Agostino Tassi, a friend of her father who raped her and whom she was gutsy enough to bring to court.