Certainly, I didn’t expect an existential crisis to flow from my fingertips when I first set out to make these Anisette Biscotti, even though I knew my internal struggle the last few weeks, as we get closer to Passover and Easter, was bubbling over.
When I was in seventh grade, and preparing for my Confirmation, it became clear that Catholicism wasn’t the path for me. I left Catholic school after that grade, and while I chose to walk away from the church, I’m eternally thankful for my religious education. It gave me something to ruminate on, and, as I grew, to also question. My experience with Catholicism is indirectly the foundation for my critical thinking, albeit with an intense amount of guilt for questioning it at all.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise I’m revisiting this crossroad again. When Isabella was born, Michael and I had many discussions about the role religion would play in our family. Catholicism was ruled out, as were Episcopalian and Methodist. In fact, any form of Christianity felt too contrary to Judaism. In a nutshell—was Jesus the Messiah? Yes, that’s no doubt an oversimplification, but throw in Michael’s central belief that all organized religions run the risk of tyranny and oppression, and it left us grounded in the belief there’s something bigger than we humans in the universe, but without a spiritual home.
There’s this line in Cloud Cult’s song The Ghost Inside Our House, “we’ll start a little family, and call it our religion”. That was enough for me, even though I didn’t agree fully with our solution. We celebrated Catholic holidays mainly because that was my tradition growing up. I made it a central part of my parenting mission to also celebrate Jewish holidays so the girls had a connection to Michael’s heritage, and to say he was often resistant is an understatement.
As years passed, though, he came to understand its importance to me, and while his mother and I didn’t enjoy a great relationship, I think deep down she appreciated my efforts. Truthfully, it was never for her, or for him, or even for the great grandparents the girls never met, Isabella’s namesakes.
My attentiveness to their Jewish heritage has always been for them, and them alone. So that as they grow, they can have the same opportunity my own mother offered, although it was unknowingly for her. Should they decide to dive deeper, and carry on these traditions with their own families as they grow up, maybe even convert one day, they will be equipped with the knowledge to make that decision.
So, to answer the question some of you may be thinking, for I know there’s a large population of Christian readers here. Why Judaism, and not a deeper reflection and learning about Catholicism? We do discuss Catholicism, and Jesus, and God, and even with my somewhat cynical views on it, I do try to keep the discussions neutral, more of a philosophical nature to feed their own thirst for critical thinking.
But here’s the thing—should our daughters desire to learn more about Catholicism they can easily quench that thirst in this predominantly Christian society, one might even say world. One visit to the grocery store during Passover is all the proof you need. The Easter Bunny, a mythical creature with no roots to Christianity, yet synonymous with the Christian Easter holiday gets substantial real estate in supermarkets and stores, while one has to struggle to find ingredients to prepare a seder meal for the first two nights of Passover.
In moving out of NYC, a place where so many ethnicities and religions live side-by-side, and now living in an area that’s mostly caucasian and deeply Christian, my commitment to preserving their Jewish heritage has grown even stronger. Judaism needs to be sought out since our society doesn’t actively promote it as part of its national identity.
And so, this year I find myself at a distinct crossroad. My memories and affinity to Easter Sunday mainly revolve around the foods we would eat. I shall protect those memories, and enjoy my beloved recipes for Italian Easter Bread and Pizza di Ricotta Dolce before Passover arrives. Isabella and I decided to honor her ancestors by abstaining from leavened products during Passover this year, which begins at sundown on Friday, March 30th, and ends at sundown on Saturday, April 7th.
In reading a passage from the Torah at a Bat Mitzvah this weekend, I was deeply struck at the translation that revealed eating leavened bread during this time cuts you off from Israel, fueling further thought about the conflict that’s been simmering within myself. Easter falls during Passover this year, next year, and the following one. It isn’t until 2021 that the holidays aren’t in conflict with one another. And really, I’m not sure conflict is the correct word, so much as they overlap—the conflict lies within myself.
Perhaps by then I might find more clarity; maybe not. All I know is this year it feels like the right decision for me to figure out answers for the choices that will follow. And while I feel so incredibly ill-equipped, and alone, as I figure this all out, I’m oddly comforted, yet again, by the gift Michael gave me for our fifth wedding anniversary, Classic Jewish Italian Cooking by Edda Serve Machlin. These Passover Anisette Biscotti are a scaled down version of a recipe from her cookbook, and beautiful bridge to my own past.
Every Friday, my nana used to get her hair done after finishing work at the factory on Hicks Street in South Brooklyn. On her way home, she’d buy soft savoiardi cookies and anisette biscuits at Court Pastry. Those same anisette biscuits served as edible teethers for both of our girls when they were babies.
So, while I tread new waters this Passover, trying to prepare a real seder this year, not the shiksa seders I often joked about with Michael, and try not to get too over whelmed choosing a Haggadah to read at our seder, I know our meal will end with a connection to my own past and family. Elijah, the prophet, will have a cup at our table, and the people I love who are no longer alive to hold my hand—Michael, and his parents, will have a place in my heart as I continue to figure this all out.
Nine Years Ago: Sweet Potato Cheddar Muffins, Sweet Potato Pancakes
Eight Years Ago: Orange & Sesame Tofu Stir Fry, Homemade Nutella, Lentil Burgers
Seven Years Ago: Crispy Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, French Onion Tart, Chocolate Buttermilk Doughnuts
Six Years Ago: Everyday Banana Bread, A Kiss to Build a Dream
Five Years Ago: That Girl, Eternal Flame
Four Years Ago: Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cinnamon Buns, Moroccan Mint Tea, Crispy Oven Fries
Three Years Ago: Irish Soda Bread, Blood Orange Sour Mix, How to Make Brown Butter
Two Years Ago: Pork Milanese, Homemade Vegetable Egg Rolls, Lemon Poppy Pancakes, Slow Roasted Chicken Soup
One Year Ago: Homemade Saltines, Buckwheat Soda Bread, Micheline’s Cucumber Salad, Lemon Honey Chess Pie
- 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated natural cane sugar
- ¼ teaspoon (1 gram) fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (55 ml) olive oil
- 2 eggs
- 2 to 4 teaspoons (6 to 12 grams) anise seeds
- 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (40 ml) anisette liquor
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1⅔ cups + 2 tablespoons (220 grams) Passover cake flour (also called cake meal)
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) with a rack set on the center shelf. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Add the sugar, salt, oil, and 1 egg to a deep bowl. Beat until well blended, about 1 minute.
- Add the remaining egg, and beat until fluffy, and doubled in volume, about 1 minute more.
- Add the anise seeds, liquor, vanilla, and the flour. Stir until it forms a soft dough.
- Divide the dough, and shape into two 15-inch long cylinders. Bake 25 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden.
- Remove from the oven, and increase oven temperature to 450ºF (230ºC).
- Let the loaves cool for 5 minutes, then use a serrated knife to diagonally slice into ½-inch thick pieces. Arrange the cookies, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake 5 minutes, then turn and bake for 5 minutes more, until golden on both sides. Let tray rest on a wire rack