Thanksgivukkah – Showdown at Sundown

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It is a holiday dilemma that no one in our lifetime has ever had to grapple with. At sundown on November 28, 2013, Hanukkah begins – right around the time most of us are loosening our belts after Thanksgiving dinner and eyeing the dessert table. This phenomenon, the outcome of a rare, cataclysmic convergence of the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars, has been dubbed Thanksgivukkah. And if you’re a Jewish American who observes both holidays, you’re going to have your hands full. It’s been 125 years since this last happened, so there’s really no template for how to celebrate. What’s it going to be – a long day of devouring turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, followed by a night of lighting candles, spinning dreidels, and eating latkes? All while in a tryptophan-induced haze? That’s a whole lotta food, fun, and family time in one day, if you ask me.

But a double holiday doesn’t have to mean double stress; in fact, many people have embraced the idea of Thanksgivukkah, finding fun ways to combine elements of two holidays centered on reflection and giving thanks.

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Of course, if you find yourself lacking the celebratory fortitude to observe two holidays at once, you can always add alcohol. And for that, you might take a page from the book of Moksa. This past Monday, the Cambridge bar and restaurant hosted Gobble Shalom, a lighthearted mashup of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. It was an evening of seasonal small plates, holiday-inspired cocktails, and lots of people wearing sweaters.

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The Thanksgivukkah mood was festive and irreverent. The bar in Moksa’s back room was decorated with grains and pumpkins, chocolates, and a mammoth dreidel full of whiskey.

 OK, it's a top, not a dreidel; but you get the idea.

OK, it's a top, not a dreidel; but you get the idea.

Guests were invited to participate in an ugly sweater contest and encouraged to drop off unwanted clothing (ugly or not) in a bin to be donated later that night. And sweater donation wasn’t the only good cause of the evening. Moksa was hosting Opus Affair, a community of local artists that occasionally sponsors fundraising events for arts-related causes with its Punch Bowl Fund. A $5 donation scored you a drink ticket, which could be redeemed for a glass of punch.

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Guests could then vote to determine which of three local arts organizations – the Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston, Boston Early Music Festival, or New Center NOW – got to take home the whole pot.

The 100 or so guests seemed more than willing to drink for charity, even if the punch ingredients were a little…unorthodox. The deep purple concoction was made with Manischewitz wine, gin, and a Bonal aperitif.

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Now as you are probably aware, Manischewitz doesn’t enjoy the best reputation as far as wines go. Few drink this kosher yet notoriously sweet vintage on occasions other than Jewish holidays. Using it as the base for a punch is best left to the professionals – like Noon Summers, one of Boston’s top mixologists and Moksa’s beverage director. The result was surprisingly good; the gin and aperitif dialed back the sweetness, and the result was kind of like a Hanukkah sangria, bizarre as that may sound. “I wanted something that would preserve the flavor of the Manischewitz,” Noon explained to me, with an ironic smile.

The punch was accompanied by several other cocktails that paid tribute to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and the fall season. First up was the Modesty “Tznius,” a mix of date-infused rye whiskey, Palm wine, and vermouth. The date flavor added a rich sweetness to this Manhattan-like cocktail, while a star anise fruit topped it off with a touch of bitterness.

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The Purple Maize combined bourbon and blueberry beer, and was garnished with a kernel of purple corn. The blueberry flavor was prominent but not overpowering, making for a sweet but earthy drink.

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The most intense cocktail of the night was the spicy Fire Water. Aguardiente contributed a mild anise essence to this bloody Mary, while a green chile brought the heat. Housemade cornbread croutons served as a tasty garnish.

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Of course, holidays with the family are about more than just drinking.

[I’ll pause here and let you wipe up the coffee you just spat all over your screen.]

Sharing a feast is an essential part of almost any holiday, and Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are culinary heavy hitters. Moksa’s Thanksgivukkah celebration didn’t feature a full spread of food, but a small menu of bar bites cleverly combined the flavors of the season.

Thanksgiving means turkey, obviously, and these turkey lettuce wraps were topped with a delicious, spicy cranberry sauce.

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Crispy potato fritters made with cottage cheese, green peas, and coated in lots of spices were a nod to traditional latkes. A rich, creamy pumpkin chutney gave them an autumnal twist.

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Eventually the two punch bowls were drained, which signaled the closing of the polls that would determine which local arts organization would take home a cash prize. Emerging victorious was the Bridge Repertory Theatre. A theatre group seeking to find new ways to connect with audiences through innovative productions, the Bridge Rep will surely put its donation to good use.

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As with other events Moksa has hosted, Gobble Shalom was playful and refreshingly devoid of cliché – no shots of Wild Turkey, no Adam Sandler holiday songs playing on a loop. It was an opportunity to learn about three local arts groups, eat some good food, and raise a glass to a once-in-a-lifetime holiday crossover.

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But the star of the show was mixology extraordinaire Noon Summers, whose cocktails were as creative as they were drinkable. I was skeptical of combinations like bourbon and blueberry beer, but I kept coming away impressed. And it takes equal parts nerve and talent to make a respectable tasting punch out of Manischewitz wine, but she more than managed.

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Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or both this year, I hope it’s safe and happy. And if you are going all out and hosting Thanksgivukkah, have fun and make the most of it – the next one isn’t for another 79,000 years.

Shalom!

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