Winter may be the common period of time when cultures around the world ring in the new year. But for Jews around the world the new year begins in the fall on the first day of Tishri in the Hebrew calendar, which, because it’s a lunar calendar, changes annually. This year it begins on the evening of Friday, September 18. And while you may assume it marks a period of celebration, quite the contrary. In fact, it begins the 10 days of repentance that culminates in Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, confession, and asking forgiveness. Collectively, they’re known as the Days of Awe.

My not-so-religiously observant family has tended to consider Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the context of food—no surprise there. Yes, we went to temple, but we planned either with our extended family or our friends the gatherings afterwards that would feature the foods of our Ashkenazi, or Eastern European, heritage. In other words, mostly hearty, cold-weather dishes, which is deeply ironic during the inevitable heat waves of Southern California in September and October.

Nevertheless, that was our food and that was what we made and enjoyed. Chicken soup with matzo balls (matzo dumplings) was non-negotiable. So was a round challah to symbolize the repeating of the seasons and holidays, and apples dipped in honey to symbolize the hope for a sweet year. There might be gefilte fish, an appetizer of ground fish shaped into quenelles that are poached and served chilled. We loved eating it with horseradish. Then there would be one of three choices for the main course: brisket (pot roast), roasted chicken, or stuffed cabbage in a rich reddish brown sweet and sour sauce. A sweet noodle kugel, made with egg noodles, sour cream, and cream cheese, had to accompany it since it was our favorite. And, of course, we’d have to have a vegetable, like tzimmes—made with root vegetables. For dessert, there might be a traditional honey cake, or perhaps my Nana’s mandelbread, a biscotti-like cookie filled with almonds and dusted with cinnamon sugar, or slices of her apple strudel.

None of these dishes are specific to Rosh Hashanah—we ate them at other holidays (except the kugel during Passover) or at family meals during the year. But these always showed up at Rosh Hashanah.

Now, as chefs you know that chicken soup is just something every non-vegan/vegetarian home cook and professional cook should know how to make—and have on hand in the freezer. It’s especially helpful when a cold or flu strikes. There’s just nothing so comforting. Plus, it’s so easy to make. Everyone who makes it has their own style, but for those who haven’t made it before, you’re basically filling a large pot with vegetables, like carrots, celery, parsnips, onions, and garlic (my mom also likes to add zucchini for its sweetness), adding pieces of chicken (mostly drumsticks and thighs because the bones are larger and have more marrow for flavor; if you can find chicken feet from a butcher or at an Asian market add them as well for an even richer stock). Add salt and pepper, cover the ingredients with water, bring to a rolling simmer, place a lid on top, and reduce the heat and simmer for about three hours. At that point add some parsley and dill. Cook a bit more and you’re done. You can eat it with all the chicken and veggies or, what we do for the holidays, strain the liquid and put back some cooked carrots and shredded chicken meat. Of course, for the holidays, like Rosh Hashanah, we also add the best part: the matzo balls.

Evie forming the matzo balls

Matzo balls may seem like they should be tricky, but over the years watching my mom, Evie Golden, make them has been confidence building. You mix together beaten eggs, a little chicken soup, vegetable oil (or schmaltz—chicken fat), salt, pepper, and matzo meal. It’ll be goopy at first so refrigerate the dough for an hour to thicken it.  From there you bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and fill a little bowl with cold water (that’s just to dip your fingers in to keep the matzo mixture from sticking to them). Now you form the balls by pulling a golf-ball amount of dough onto your fingers and then gently rolling into a ball before dropping it into the boiling water. Repeat until you use up all the dough. Let the matzo balls simmer in the pot, covered—and, my mom warns, don’t even think of lifting the cover for 30 minutes. Then you can leave them there until you’re ready to serve them, drop them into the chicken soup, or—if you make them ahead of time, freeze them.

And if you’re making these dishes for clients, wish them a Shana Tova, or Happy New Year!

Evie Golden’s Matzo Balls (Knaidlach in Yiddish)
Yield: 16 golf-ball size matzo balls

Ingredients

4 large eggs
¼ cup chicken soup
¼ cup vegetable oil (unless you have some chicken fat—known as schmaltz— around)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus salt for boiling water
Dash of black pepper
1 1/3 cup unsalted matzo meal

Directions

Beat the eggs in a medium size bowl. Add soup, oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well, then add the matzo meal. Stir until it just comes together and then refrigerate it for an hour to thicken.

In a large wide pot with a lid, bring a lot of salted water to a boil. Fill a small bowl with cold water to dip your fingers in to keep the dough from sticking to them. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Dip the fingers of one hand in the cold water and use it to pull out a golf-ball size amount of the matzo mixture and place it in the other hand, then gently roll into the ball without working it too much and drop into the boiling water. Repeat with each ball, including wetting your fingers.

The balls will rise from the bottom of the pot to float. When all of the balls have been made, turn the water to a low simmer (to prevent the balls from falling apart) and cover the pot. Do not lift the lid while they’re cooking. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave them there until you’re ready to serve or remove with a slotted spoon and drop into the hot chicken soup.

Do not double the recipe if you need more balls. Make another batch instead. The matzo balls can be frozen. If you freeze them, either put them in the chicken soup or put them in a container, submerged in the salted water from the pot. Or, you can put them on parchment paper/wax paper on a baking sheet, freeze until hard, and then pack in a plastic bag or container.

Do you cook Jewish holiday dishes for clients? If so, what do you make?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Okay, chefs, it’s that time. We’re used to all the vows to lose weight and exercise, but what are you going to resolve to do in 2020 to improve your life’s work?

We need to talk. We need to engage in ways to make your business more successful in whatever way that’s meaningful to you. After all, you chose this career path to earn a living your way. You’re not working the line. You’re not clocking in. You’re choosing your own clients, serving food you enjoy preparing, doing it according to your timeframe, and charging what you feel is fair.

So, how can you improve on that?

Here are some resolutions you may find inspiring, divided into several categories.

Health and Well Being

APPCA members Dennis Nosko and Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor in Boston told us that their 2020 resolution is “taking care of ourselves physically and mentally so we can be the best examples of our business and what we have to offer.” This is a great “do as I say and as I do” approach, given that the couple are geared toward cooking healthy meals for clients. They are the change they want to offer clients.

What else could you resolve to do to improve your health and well being?

  • Learn and practice meditation.
  • Be realistic in managing your schedule so you stay healthy and fresh.
  • Set aside time to be outdoors and active.
  • Set aside time for family and friends–and special interests you have.
  • Commit to travel.
  • Make changes in your diet to strengthen your body.

Skills Development

We’re going to assume that if you’re a personal chef you are talented in the kitchen. But that’s not the only skill you need to make your business a success–and kitchen skills are evolutionary anyway. So, let’s consider what you could resolve to do to amp up your business chops:

  • Take cooking classes in an area you want to develop. It could be food from another culture, baking skills, specialized techniques like sous vide or working with pressure cookers, or something totally out of the culinary box that you’ve always been curious about.
  • Take a food photography and video class. Your website and social media are critical to “selling” your offerings. Taking good quality photos of your dishes, and videos of you doing cooking demos, even with a smart phone, is easily done if you understand the basics. But you have to learn those basics.
  • Take a food writing class to help you write a blog or write articles for publication.
  • Learn how to do social media better. Take a class or get a coach to help you better navigate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest and draw more people into your sphere of influence.

Business Expansion or Contraction

For some personal chefs who are just getting started, finding clients is a challenge. For others who have a steady stable of  clients branching out into a related endeavor, like catering or teaching, is a goal. And some chefs are preparing to downshift toward retirement. Here are some resolutions that may inspire your business plans:

  • Reboot your website and keep it updated. Create a blog or news section that you can regularly update when you’ve achieved a milestone potential clients would be interested in knowing about you. Were you on a local TV news show? Did you publish an article in the local newspaper? Are you expanding your offerings? Have you updated your menu? All of these achievements should be public!
  • Rev up your networking. Make 2020 the year you join one or more organizations–from formal networking or leadership groups to community-based organizations that allow you to shine as a volunteer. Whatever you do should enable you to share what you do with others in a position to hire you or refer you to those who will.
  • Downshift with love. Perhaps you’re now on the road to retirement but not sure how to start letting go. Take a page from Dallas personal chef and APPCA member Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine, who is having knee replacement surgery and assigned a former intern to handle her clients during her rehab. She’s grateful, “to have an extremely competent person take over my business, possibly permanently. And she is inspired to now start her own PC business.” Anne will be helping this next generation chef with her business, she said. “And when I am ‘coherent’ again after surgery, will be doing all I can to help her towards being a successful personal chef.”

Improve Finances

Just because you can cook doesn’t automatically mean you have the financial expertise to run your business. APPCA member Jennifer Zirkle-Grawburg of The Ginger Chef in Michigan acknowledges that she needs to better balance the financial end of her business. “Too often, I find something fun while shopping for my cook day and I tell myself, ‘I’ll use that’ and I never do! I typically end up donating it to a food pantry after it’s sat in my cupboard for a few months.”

  • Resolve to spend time in January–before tax season–with your accountant to learn some basic financial strategies. Work with a financial planner, if you can afford it, to assess your needs and wants, how to direct funds for the business, learn what expenditures are deductible, how to track earnings and spending, and how to invest in your future.
  • Take a business class at your local community college to get a handle on how to manage your business.
  • Carve out time to review your expenses and set up a system to help you curb whimsical spending and make your money work for you–so you can enjoy your life and worry less.
  • Learn how to use accounting software like Quickbooks, which will help you see where your money is going and produce reports for paying taxes.

Work/Life Balance

Like many of us, Jennifer also mentioned that she needs to balance her work/home life better. “I find myself working until 10 p.m. or later getting paperwork done,” she said. “I’m setting the goal of having everything done by 6 p.m. daily (with the exception of special events) so that I can have the evening free for my family.”

Does this sound familiar to you? How about resolving to follow Jen’s lead?

  • Take the time in January to conduct an honest assessment of your goals for 2020. Is this the time to blow it all up and take on new, consuming challenges; to stay in the same lane and enjoy the current pace; or to slow things down? Do you want to expand your offerings because you need novel, exciting work challenges or pull back to try novel, exciting personal challenges?
  • Take on new clients only if you have the time to serve them and not drop from exhaustion.
  • Hire help to enable you to grow your business in a rational way and avoid burnout. This could range from getting help in the kitchen to hiring a bookkeeper to reduce paperwork.
  • Set boundaries. Decide for yourself or with your family what your life priorities are and learn how to say no. Or to say yes to opportunities only if they work for you.

As Candy likes to remind members, this career path was born out of a desire to give chefs the opportunity to live the life they want to lead. New Year’s is a customary time to make change. It’s helpful to have a big moment each year to reassess what we want and how to achieve it. Are resolutions made to be broken? Only if they’re unrealistic. Use these suggestions to spark the ones that resonate with you and make 2020 full of joy and purpose!

Happy New Year!

What New Year’s resolutions are you focused on? What path will you be taking in 2020 with your business?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

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