I grew up a Korean-American Presbyterian girl in New York’s lower Westchester county, in a town that was predominantly Irish and Italian-Catholic, but was also home to many Jewish-American families. I will always credit my best friend, Liz, who lived next door, for being my gateway into a lifelong exposure of Jewish culture: lighting candles on Hanukkah; accompanying her to temple where we’d chase each other (instead of her going to class); cracking up over Mel Brooks movies on our sleepovers; her trying to teach me to read Hebrew; how my first teaching job out of college was at a Hassidic preschool in Stamford, Connecticut.
As Morah Caroline, I taught children how to make challah, led brachas before meals, and kept Kosher in my professional life (while downing non-kosher everythings at her nearby apartment after work). The memories of being an “honorary member” of a Jewish family remain truly some of my happiest, and still make for the best times as an adult, right down to having a hora at my Korean-Presbyterian-Taiwanese-Colombian-Catholic wedding!
Since Liz was an only child, I was present for nearly every holiday meal. Rosh Hashanah dinners, unlike Passover seders, were a time when there would be more joys involved for the parents than just watching us kids running around to find the afikomen (and for the record, she always won). I can recall the smells of onions from the brisket, roast chicken that eventually made its way into matzah ball soup the next day, kugel, and topping the meal off with an apple-honey cake in hopes of a sweet new year. That was the part that has stuck with me—eating something with honey in hopes of a happy and sweet new year.
Another thing I came to associate with Rosh Hashanah dinner—or any special occasion dinner, really—was the sight, scent, and taste of a whole-roasted chicken on a bed of vegetables, the warm scent of herbs permeating Liz’s house all day long, sometimes trickling over to our windows next door. As my parents usually cooked chicken in pieces, it felt like a rite of passage when I finally roasted my very first whole chicken for family and friends. I have the tendency to marinate my favorite roast chicken recipes with sweet herbs and honey, because I, too, have now come to associate honey with new beginnings, be it a year or a season.
To an assuming onlooker, one could say that both our heritages are completely different, and the contrast between us obvious. However, I can honestly say that one doesn’t have to look that closely to see the similarities. Just as Liz would happily nosh on the rice, dried seaweed, and mandoo my parents prepared at my house, the feeling was mutual when I’d be at her house, having whatever goodness her mother had from Zabar’s. It doesn’t make us all-knowing of each other’s cultures by any means, but it gave us truly the best introduction to each others’ lives and a lifelong best friendship.
Though Rosh Hashanah dinners with her family are now in my past, since we’ve gotten older and we no longer live next door to one another, I still find myself craving and making celebratory recipes during this time of the year. How great a concept it is, to be able to have an extension of different family and traditions that get to become your own. Making a roast chicken with honey is just one way I’ll continue to pay proper homage to such times, and I’ll always thank Liz and her family for letting me be part of theirs.
- 4 pounds roasting chicken, spatchcocked
- 10 whole garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/3 cup runny honey, or any good-quality honey
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lavender honey (if you have)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme, or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 medium potatoes, rinsed & skin-on, quartered (1 red, 1 yukon gold, 1 purple, if possible)
- 1 broccoli crown, florets cut small
- 1 cauliflower head, florets cut small (purple or yellow if available, for color)
- 1 large carrot, peeled & sliced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender
What are you making for Rosh Hashanah (or your next celebratory dinner)? Let us know in the comments!