Fast break food

Feeding the multitudes for Yom Kippur

Imagine this: 40 people are coming to dinner. Family members, friends, friends of friends of friends - you might not even know all of them. What's more, when you could be cooking, you'll be out of the house all day, and you'll be fasting.

That's Yom Kippur for Pam Margolis, who lives in Southwest Minneapolis, and many other observant Jews. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and follows Rosh Hashanah, which marks the beginning of the Jewish new year, in the fall High Holidays. After a solemn full day in synagogue on Yom Kippur, family and friends gather to &#8220break the fast.”

How does Margolis pull together a meal for 40 when she's not even home? &#8220Thank goodness for timed-bake ovens!” she laughs.

Before she leaves in the morning for Mount Zion synagogue in St. Paul, Margolis sets the timer on the coffeepot, puts her frozen kugels in the oven, and programs it to have them hot and ready when she gets home. By the time the doorbell starts ringing, the sweet, creamy noodle casseroles are hot and bubbly.

&#8220Luckily, I've been going to the same temple since I was a kid, so I know that services are always going to end around seven o'clock. I time it so that [the kugels are] ready around 7:20. And I've got everything else ready in the fridge, so all I have to do is uncover it.”

Margolis' other secret: office supplies. &#8220I'll admit it! I put Post It notes on everything, so I know exactly what serving pieces go with what.”

The traditional kugels are the centerpiece of a buffet that also includes bagels and lox, egg salad, chicken salad, and sometimes tuna and salmon salads.

&#8220You've been fasting all day, so you don't want anything heavy,” Margolis notes.

The chicken salad is, as she puts it, &#8220a bit weird, but if I don't do, it the kids get all upset.” She mixes roasted chicken with light Miracle Whip, sour cream, dried dill, finely chopped celery and - this is very important - very finely chopped almonds. Large crunchy pieces, it seems, do not please the traditionalists in her family.

Throughout the evening, hungry friends drop in and fill trays. Margolis has collected about 50 serving trays over the years, to accommodate the hordes. She has been hosting break-the-fast meals, along with large gatherings for Passover and other Jewish holidays for more than three decades.

&#8220Even though Yom Kippur is a solemn day in a lot of respects, it's also a joyous beginning again and a great time for reflection. It's interesting how we end up with so many people who don't know each other and then they connect with each other in other ways later on.”