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Shavuot. The “Festival of Weeks.” If ever there was a confusing holiday (Shmini Atzeret aside), Shavuot is it. The definition of “Shavuot” alone is confusing enough. Festival of Weeks? Who wants to celebrate a festival of weeks!? That said, if ever there was an example of why one should never judge anything by its name alone, Shavuot is such an example.
So what are we celebrating, exactly? First, there is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai (kind of a big deal). Then there is the completion of the counting of the Omer (the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, thus, “Festival of WEEKS”). The counting of the Omer reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed the Jews physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed the Jews spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality. But I always wonder, have we really been “freed” from our bondage to idolatry? I’m gonna go with a hard, “NO” on that one.
In my role as a high school counselor, I am often meeting and talking with students about their personal expectations. Too often, adolescents (and their parents, for that matter) have expectations for themselves that are not remotely attainable. Whether it’s trying to fit their body or personal image to that of a celebrity or the pursuit of academic perfection, I would argue that we are still very much bound to worshiping of idols. As a society, we have given so much power to fame and perfection, it is worshiped as truth. Adolescents “follow” celebrities and try in vain to emulate their lifestyle in such a way that they are willing to risk their financial status and physical, mental and emotional health. If that’s not worshiping of an idol, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of worship, Shavuot has recently become of my most favorite holidays due to the foods that are traditionally eaten on this day: dairy foods and spring/summer veggies and fruit. I’m talking foods such as cheesecakes and fresh green salads and gorgeous, ripe fruit. It’s a time of newness and of a re-commitment to learning and spirituality. I dream of hosting a huge picnic in a kibbutz sometime, the sun shining down upon my family and friends and eating salads and cakes until we feel we’re about to burst! One of the cakes I’ll be offering up during a meal this Shavuot is this gorgeous Semolina Cara Cara Orange Cake. Not only does it lend itself to a beautiful presentation, it just so happens to taste good as well. A double threat, if you will.
Semolina Cara Cara Orange Cake
Candied Orange Peel with Syrup Topping:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring sugar, honey, cardamom and 3 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add orange slices.
2. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, turning orange slices occasionally until tender and syrup is reduced to 3 1/4 cups, about 40 minutes.
3. Arrange orange slices in a single layer on prepared baking sheet; remove cardamom pods and seeds. Strain syrup.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover syrup and orange slices separately; chill. Return orange slices to room temperature and rewarm syrup slightly before using.
Ingredients for Cake
Directions for Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. Place the butter in a small bowl and melt in the microwave. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine together the sugar and yogurt. Now add in the semolina, baking powder and milk. Finally stir in the melted butter and let the mixture sit briefly so that the butter is absorbed.
4. Transfer the semolina mixture into a lightly greased 9″-round cake pan or baking dish. Bake for about 40-45 minutes.
5. Pierce the hot cake all over with a metal skewer. Slowly drizzle 3/4 cup warm syrup all over. When syrup is absorbed, slowly pour 3/4 cup more syrup over the top. Reserve remaining syrup for serving. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack. Once cool, run a thin knife around edge of pan to release cake. Remove pan sides. Arrange candied orange slices over top.