On Mon­day, Stacey Bal­lis wrote about Rosh Hashanah cook­ing. Her newest book, Good Enough to Eat, is now available.

As I men­tioned before, my Judaism, while deeply root­ed and very impor­tant to me, is some­thing that falls more on the side of cul­ture and tra­di­tion and less specif­i­cal­ly on the side of reli­gion or spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. But there are cer­tain aspects of every hol­i­day that res­onate for me, and one of the things I appre­ci­ate about being Jew­ish, is that I can feel free to cher­ry pick the pieces I like and leave the rest behind.

As we look towards the High Hol­i­days, I thought I would share some of my tra­di­tions with you, and some of my tra­di­tion­al recipes.

As we did not, nor do not, belong to a tem­ple, the High Hol­i­days were always spent with fam­i­ly and friends. Actu­al­ly, the friends in ques­tion are basi­cal­ly fam­i­ly. I’m blessed with sev­er­al fam­i­lies, extra par­ents abound (all of the love and advice and sup­port but none of the dis­ci­pline or col­lege tuition), and I’ve got enough sib­lings-by-choice to sort of feel fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mon (with­out the polygamy or prairie clothes). Not to men­tion a tru­ly ridicu­lous num­ber of bonus nieces and nephews. Some of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries are of spend­ing the High Hol­i­days with dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions of these spe­cial friends. Often we gath­er at my family’s week­end place in the coun­try, a place away from the hus­tle and bus­tle, with plen­ty of trees and green, wide open sky and fresh air. A place where, if one is inclined to com­mune with a high­er pow­er, it seems like the kind of place the deity of your choice just might be hang­ing out.

After some hap­py out­door activ­i­ty, sort of a nod to Adon­ai, thanks for all the cool nature and stuff,” we retire to the near­est con­ve­nient liv­ing room. On Yom Kip­pur there’s a rous­ing cho­rus of Isn’t it sun­down some­where?” and I don’t think I’ve ever been this hun­gry in my life!” And before you get all shocked that most of our mer­ry band of skip-the-ser­vices prac­ti­tion­ers actu­al­ly do fast, it is impor­tant to note a few things. One, we almost nev­er make it all the way to sun­down, we tend to break out the chopped liv­er round about 4pm, and feel vir­tu­ous enough to have made it that far. Two, the fast­ing packs a dev­il­ish one-two punch, it both con­nects you mean­ing­ful­ly to the tra­di­tion, and also gives you total guilt­less per­mis­sion for a major Jew-food binge for the rest of the evening.

At some point in the after­noon, we break out the All things Jew­ish explained” books, and take turns read­ing about the ori­gin of the hol­i­day at hand. On Rosh Hashanah we might offer up some New Year’s res­o­lu­tions to the group, on Yom Kip­pur there is mean­ing­ful atone­ment-type eye con­tact around the room, in case you may have acci­den­tal­ly offend­ed some­one present.

I actu­al­ly like the fast­ing aspect of the hol­i­day, which is counter-intu­itive con­sid­er­ing my love of food goes way beyond the norm. I am an unabashed food­ie, a pas­sion­ate home cook, and a con­stant host­ess. I blog about food and my nov­els are filled with descrip­tions of meals. Syd­ney, the hero­ine of Inap­pro­pri­ate Men, woos with food, cook­ing for her lover with pas­sion and intent. In Sleep­ing Over, one of the char­ac­ters was a chef, and anoth­er com­fort­ed her boyfriend’s griev­ing fam­i­ly with break­fast. In Spin­ster Sis­ters, one of the heroine’s aunts is a cook­book recipe tester, and there are fam­i­ly meals galore. In my new book, Good Enough to Eat, the main char­ac­ter is a chef and the book includes 40 pages of recipes!

So why, you might ask, does some­one who does not think of her­self as obser­vant and does not attend tem­ple ser­vices AND has a pas­sion­ate obses­sion with food choose to fast every year?

The fast­ing unites us, even if it is through kvetch­ing and jok­ing about star­va­tion. And I do find moments of the day where I am forced to address the voic­es in my head, to check in with myself and remind myself that I strive to be a good per­son. To care for myself and oth­ers. To be lov­ing, kind, and honest.

It could be some­thing of a drain­ing day, but at the end, I always feel refreshed, ener­gized, and ready to face both the com­ing year and the buf­fet!

We go full-on tra­di­tion­al for hol­i­days, with my grand­moth­er Jon­nie both cook­ing and pro­vid­ing recipes, the meals are a true con­nec­tion to our his­to­ry. For Yom Kip­pur, we eat light,” bagels and lox, tuna sal­ad, egg sal­ad, sweet kugel. It is all deli­cious, all exact­ly what we want and need, it feeds the soul as well as the body.

I talk a lot about the deep­er mean­ing of food between peo­ple. When peo­ple ask why I go to the trou­ble of host­ing at home, cook­ing for peo­ple instead of going out, my answer is sim­ple. It is a sacred gift to feed some­one. To sus­tain them phys­i­cal­ly, and please them sen­su­al­ly. The con­ver­sa­tions you have around your din­ing table or in the liv­ing room before or after a meal, those are con­ver­sa­tions that don’t hap­pen in restau­rants. Food is love. Not a sub­sti­tute for, but an expres­sion there­of. It is often the cliché of Jews that we are con­stant­ly talk­ing about food and plan­ning the next meal, and the stereo­typ­i­cal Jew­ish moth­er is always por­trayed try­ing to get some­one to eat some­thing. This comes from some­where. It is no sur­prise to me that a reli­gion I asso­ciate so much with attempt­ing to live a life that sus­tains and ful­fills spir­i­tu­al­ly and intel­lec­tu­al­ly, that we have a fine and long tra­di­tion of delectables.

So, as we look to the New Year, to a time of renew­al and for­give­ness, I wish you all very hap­py hol­i­days, how­ev­er you choose to cel­e­brate. An easy fast, if that is on your agen­da. And real­ly good food.

Check back all week for more deli­cious posts from Stacey.