When Dessert Dictates Dinner
Closing ThoughtsOpinion

When Dessert Dictates Dinner

Sometimes dessert is really the main course.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Chana Shapiro
Chana Shapiro

My husband Zvi and I once participated in a fundraiser for a school in Israel. Our contribution to the campaign was to host Chanukah dinner for eight to ten guests at our home, for which the school would receive a donation of $50 per person. Each host family was responsible for raising $400-$500, the goal being to generate funds for the school’s nascent STEM program.

Zvi and I had a surprisingly easy time putting together eight friends who would join us for the fundraiser. I decided to prepare a dairy meal, based on the fact that Chanukah is the season for jelly doughnuts, and at that time all kosher jelly doughnuts in Atlanta were dairy.

That’s right. I planned to serve a milchig meal for which eight individuals had made generous donations to a school their own children did not attend, all because I wanted to serve dairy jelly doughnuts for dessert.

Because Chanukah commemorates the miracle of the oil, it seemed fitting to get thematically creative with that ingredient. One might think that informed people rarely make self-destructive food choices consciously, yet these same people also know that unhealthy foods are usually quite tasty. Following this line of reasoning, a meal of fried-in-oil components would be a definite crowd-pleaser.

Zvi agreed that a fun dinner of fried comfort food would be just the thing. Starting with sweet liqueurs and fattening hors d’oeuvres (including southern fried okra), we and our guests would dine on fried potato latkes with sour cream, buttermilk-breaded fried fish fillets, French-fried potatoes and onion rings, and we’d magnanimously include a healthful salad for the faint of digestion.

Our grandchildren, who would not be present at the Chanukah fête, upon learning that the meal would be dairy, suggested adding pizza or macaroni and cheese to the menu. Admittedly, their ideas had merit; but too much of a good thing often turns into a bad thing. Anyway, I wanted our guests to save room for ice cream and the kosher, dairy Krispy Kreme jelly doughnuts.

A week or so before Chanukah, I bumped into Leah, another fundraiser host, who told me about the splendid meal she planned to serve. She described her ordeal of ordering kosher duck for her main dish, duck à l’Orange. I smiled benignly at her heroic tale. I knew that none of the host families would serve milk and meat in the same meal.

“So you can’t have jelly doughnuts for dessert,” I noted.

Leah looked at me with shock or disdain (often difficult to tell apart). “Why,” she asked, “would I serve jelly doughnuts to people who each paid $50 for a nice Chanukah meal?”

My idea of a nice Chanukah meal is one in which jelly doughnuts are on the menu, but why argue? I knew I was right.

I bumped into another fundraiser host, Ruthie, at the neighborhood QT gas station, and asked what she was planning. “I haven’t decided everything,” she answered. “I want to make it special, so I’m definitely including lamb chops.” There wouldn’t be jelly doughnuts for dessert at that house.

I admit that my confidence was slip-sliding away, but I wasn’t ready to abandon my culinary plan. I had to survey our invited guests.

I started with our most brutally honest pals. The husband had this to say: “It sounds great, but you left out my favorite fried dairy thing. Blintzes.” To tell the truth, blintzes hadn’t crossed my mind. On the spot, I decided to drop the fried okra and serve mini-blintzes as the appetizer. I continued to ask the other invitees their opinion. Some liked the latkes, fish and salad, but questioned the fries and onion rings. Others couldn’t wait for those sides. No one objected to the jelly doughnuts, so, armed with universal dessert approval, all systems were go.

When our guests arrived, they said our home smelled like their mothers’ and grandmothers’ houses did, which they assured me was good. Our little band of latter-day Maccabees lit menorahs, recited the blessings, sang songs, sipped liqueurs, nibbled mini-blintzes, and feasted on an oily dairy dinner. We ate a lot and took a brief restorative break to make room for dessert, because everyone knew what was coming. Finally, when the ice cream and jelly doughnuts were brought to the table, our appetites returned in full force, and the dessert was consumed with gusto. Zvi and I knew we’d done the right thing.

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