Rosh Hashanah - Happy New Year

Honey, have a sweet New Year.

Last week I spent a very unplanned but fabulous 24 hours with my best mate. I hadn't seen her for over 2 months, neither of us really had the time to spare, we both should have been working on all the different projects we have rollicking around, but going the 200 miles to laugh, drink wine and catch up with each other's news was well worth the journey.
She has also inspired me in the best way this trip. She is smart, chic, hard-working and hilarious.
She writes about personal finance, amongst other things and she is a compulsive list maker.
It's taken me years but I have started doing it too, kinda reluctantly but am getting enormous pleasure from making big ticks on my to-do list!
The other thing which I have hardly paid much attention to over the 15 or so years we've known each other, is what happens to her come September....
The hair gets done, new copies of French and Italian Vogue are laying around,heavily post-it noted, the cashmere sweaters are lined up and checked for flaws, the Balenciaga boots, re-heeled and polished, the make-up switches - she selects from a more alpha palette and the to-do lists are racked up in formation on her pin-board.
But the main thing is that her entire attitude to life is re-born at this time of year, not just the "no white after Labour Day" stuff, though she is from New York after all, but she has a new and fresh determination, a spring in her step and a heart full of gratitude! Oh and perfectly de-bobbled sweaters.....
So now her New Year has become my New Year and I'm excited to start afresh,tilting towards grace, bobbly sweaters notwithstanding. But I'm not the only one, on the 16th of September, it's Rosh Hashanah, a wonderful coincidence and a great excuse to cook something a little special ( I'd wasn't on the list.. ).
Rosh Hashanah is Jewish New Year, a time of repentance, praying for renewal, prosperity, and the wish of a sweet life. Traditionally symbolised by apple dipped in honey often served with challah, a sweet yeast bread similar to brioche but without the butter. 

I don't have a huge experience of cooking Jewish food, in fact one of my first encounters food-wise occurred when I arrived in London, first day of work at a fashion house close to Petticoat Lane, fresh-faced, keen and my boss asked me to go to Marks and Spencers to get him a kosher B.L.T...And I looked for one..sheesh! It was kinda like we do in restaurant kitchens, send the newbie out with a couple of quid and tell them to buy some mise en place , cruel, cruel.

My next encounter was a lot more sobering. A good friend asked me to look after his elderly mother for 2 weeks while he was out of town. She was not very mobile, she needed help with bathing etc and she kept firing the nurses he hired. He thought my Ozzie naivety and "sunny disposition" would be an asset in this case; he was a lawyer and ridiculously handsome, you can imagine, I got so so talked into it.
She lived in Golders Green, a big house where she used to take in boarders, one was still in residence when I moved in. An accountants clerk I think, I can't remember seeing him much other than in the kitchen eating sardines  (canned) on toast every morning, eek! with tomato ketchup, double eek!
She was, in equal parts, difficult, belligerent and impossible to please. We got on great.
She had survived the camps. She told me that story only once, she told me many more joyful stories over and over again. She taught me to cook perfect latkes and how to clear chicken stock. We had a wonderful Christmas together, midnight carol service at St Paul's followed by bagels in Brick Lane, believe it or not and if she was still with us, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

My knowledge of Jewish cooking has grown since then, thanks in part to the wonderful Claudia Roden, whom I've mentioned before and a Jewish ex-husband, himself a fabulous cook. So many dishes to choose for Rosh Hashanah, a wonderful problem to have from such a rich and varied cuisine.

To be lush but healthy, for part of my New Year's feast. I'll be making Ludmilla's soup, Ludmilla was our Transylvanian aupair in France. She was quirky in manner and dress, an ardent vegan. She used to jog through the forest every evening until one night the wild boar or the feral deer chased her, she didn't like children much but this soup is good.

This is not quite a recipe, more an assemblage of end of summer vegetables with a clean sweet and sour flavour. We were lucky to be able to grow our own veg in France, buy organic if you can.

Ludmilla's Borscht

Water or clear vegetable stock, about a litre to serve 4
Beetroot, 4 medium sized ones to serve 4
Red Pepper (capsicum or bell pepper)
Cider vinegar
White sugar
Sour cream
salt and white pepper
The key to making this fancy for a celebration is making a fine perfect cheffy dice of the vegetables.  Blanch the beetroot, allow to cool, peel, use latex gloves if you have them and dice into 1/2 cm cubes. Do the same with the potato and carrot and keep in a bowl with some cold water. In a large saucepan, add 1 litre of water, an onion, peeled and cut in half and the diced beetroot. Bring to a gentle simmer, when the beetroot is almost cooked,reserve a couple of spoonfuls for garnish, remove the onion and add the diced red pepper and the carrot. Add a spoonful of sugar and 2 of cider vinegar and leave on a gentle simmer until carrot is cooked but still has a little bite. Cook the potato in a separate saucepan and when almost cooked, plunge into iced water, keeps it nice and white. Taste the beetroot soup, adjust flavour to your liking with cider vinegar and sugar, salt and pepper. Should be that lovely mix of tangy and sweet and earthy from the beetroot. To serve, large white bowls, ideal, add a generous ladle of soup and tumble a little pile of potato into the middle of the bowl, a few cubes of the reserved beetroot and a dollop of sour cream.

Will follow that with a lamb tajine and a pomegranate champagne jelly, those recipes next time. I've blethered on enough.....

Love Food and have a  Happy New Year! X