Instead of a tie or BBQ accessories, give Dad the gift of time together this Father’s Day, which, luckily, falls during berry season. Plan a berry-picking outing with Dad at a local farm. Spend the afternoon making pie, galette (see below), shortcake or just eating berries out of the basket. Dad will treasure time together, and who doesn’t like pie?!


Past Tips

Picnic settings Like to picnic? Invest in some supplies! A little bit of “fuss” makes your guests feel special. Melamine “Solo cups” and “paper plates” and glass milk bottles (they come with lids!) are a fun and environmentally friendly way to transport your favorite outdoor meal. Stackable Pyrex containers go from fridge to picnic blanket with ease. Look for plaid picnic blankets or striped beach towels, and don’t forget a pitcher of wild flowers and some candles to set a lovely outdoor tablescape. Plastic trays are a great way to load your picnic supplies into the back of a car or to carry from house to the beach or backyard. Make the most of the summer, and have a picnic!
Flowers and table settings If you don’t have time to cook an elaborate Rosh Hashanah meal, spend your time and money on your table. Whether you eat inside or al fresco, incorporate the meaningful symbols of the Jewish New Year into your tablescape. Think apples, honey, pomegranates, bees and fall colors. Pour different varieties of honey into small dishes. Pair rust-colored flowers with apples and pomegranates. Adorn your table with beeswax candles, honey bear jars and apple-shaped dishes. Have a creative and happy new year!
Thanksgiving food Let’s be honest, the real struggle with Thanksgiving is not what to cook, but figuring out how to space out your eating so that the meal justifies all those hours in the kitchen, and your guests still have room for all those pies. Years ago we started a tradition that solves this. Tell your guests to eat a late breakfast and skip lunch. Then, in the late afternoon, take a well-deserved break from cooking and get out of the kitchen. Have your guests gather around a coffee table (preferably in front of a fireplace), and bring out a tray of rosemary-pear martinis, popovers or biscuits served with pumpkin spread and small bowls of carrot-ginger or mushroom-sherry soup. Then, a couple of hours later, when you’ve finished the cooking with the help of the martini, and your guests have watched a little more football or taken a walk, you sit down to the rest of the meal, with two mini-courses under your belts.
 Chanukah Menorah In our house we create quite a glow on Chanukah with each of the four children lighting a menorah. This year, we are taking the Festival of Lights one step further by creating a “tabletop menorah.” You can do this in your home in different ways. Here I used eight small votive holders and a larger one for the shamash. You can also take eight assorted candlesticks and arrange them in a row with a ninth taller candlestick in the middle. Or, for an even more festive look, purchase eight clear glass vases of one height plus a taller one from a flower store, affix a candlestick to the bottom of each using candle adhesive, then add a little water and some flowers that are shorter in height than your candlesticks (to avoid burning the flowers). Light the individual candles each night.
 Superbowl Watching the big game with some foodie friends? Then you know that take-out chicken wings and pizza won’t do. A fun way to feed the fans is a potato skins bar. Make your own baked potato skins, and serve with a colorful variety of delicious toppings—shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped chives, salsa or diced tomatoes, guacamole, sliced olives and fried corn tortilla strips. Add a hearty roasted tomato or tortilla soup to the menu, and you’ll have happy guests, no matter which team wins!
falafelbar  Does Purim make you think of bad casseroles in your synagogue’s social hall? We’re supposed to eat a celebratory meal and drink alcohol on Purim. A Purim dinner party featuring a falafel bar is the perfect way to go: Prepare room temperature dishes like tabbouleh, hummus, roasted eggplant salad, fattoush and green tahini sauce ahead of time. After the Megillah reading, fry homemade or store-bought falafel balls and serve with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, olives and pita bread. Don’t forget champagne punch to celebrate Queen Esther’s victory!
cherner_passover200 If you set each place with an individual seder plate, hungry guests won’t have to wait for the symbolic foods to make their way around the table. Write each guest’s name on the egg to double as a place card. Include matzah crackers, saltwater in small kitchen prep bowls and parsley in a child’s kiddush cup or bud vase. The best part? You can recline and not worry about refilling the haroset bowl.
cherner_fathersday_200 Even Dad wants to feel like a kid sometimes. And what kid doesn’t like a good old-fashioned cookie or brownie sundae? Finish off your Father’s Day barbecue with everyone’s favorite dessert: a pint of gourmet vanilla ice cream, a jar of hot fudge sauce, paper sundae cups and homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownie bites. To make the brownie bites, use dark-chocolate brownie mix, like Ghirardelli, baked in a silicone mini-brownie mold (available at kitchenware stores). Everyone will come running.
cherner_4th-2 To update your July 4th BBQ this year, line plastic “burger baskets” with festive wax liners (available at kitchenware stores). Grill hotdogs (try the large “dinner franks”) and serve in a bun or pita bread held together with an American flag toothpick. Have you bought a spiralizer yet? Use it to make baked or fried French fries seasoned with Cajun spice or Old Bay. Grilled corn on the cob completes the basket.
cherner_yk-waffles_200 What’s better than, well, breakfast, after a full day of fasting? Dust off the waffle iron, and host a waffle bar. Pre-make waffle batter and let your guests take turns cooking them, or prepare waffles ahead of time and reheat in an oven after services. I recommend non-dairy waffles with assorted sweet and savory toppings: chicken tenders and drizzled honey; smoked salmon with English cucumbers and dill sauce; non-dairy ice cream with chocolate sauce…Or come up with your own delicious combinations! Most importantly, have a sweet new year.
cherner_sukkot200 To celebrate the harvest, mix some ornamental squash or gourds from the farmers market into your centerpiece. Choose a variety and pile them in a basket. You can also use almost any vegetable instead: eggplants, acorn or butternut squash, heads of broccoli or cabbage. Mix and match as you please! Then add flowers placed in “water picks,” which are available atmost flower shops.
cherner_electionday_200 Are you addicted to politics? Don’t miss a minute of commentary on November 8. For a grown-up “TV dinner,” stock up on beautiful lacquer trays (available at kitchen stores) and serve up comfort food (in case your candidate loses). Think homemade mac ‘n cheese, fish sticks, peas and onions and biscuits. Put each food in its own little white dish, add the drink of your choice and hunker down in the family room.
After countless last-minute trips to the grocery store, who has time to visit the florist on Thanksgiving Day? Grab your pruning shears, and head outside. Every year I pull out assorted glass vases and jars and fill them with nature’s gifts: nandina berries, hellebore leaves after they’ve bloomed, sprigs of colored leaves cut from a tree branch, mum blossoms from the garden. Try to balance color and texture and see what you can create.
(Photos by Josh Cherner)
While individual plates of almonds, olives, pomegranate seeds, apricots, grapes and other tree fruits bring lots of color to the Tu b’Shevat table, the centerpiece is the perfect way to incorporate trees—the guest of honor—into your seder or Shabbat dinner this week. Select natural-looking containers made from stone, clay or tree bark. Add cut greens or plants (or a mix) that look like branches from your backyard or local florist. Arrange the containers in odd numbers in the center of the table or create small vignettes down the length of the table. (Photo by Joe Goldberg)
Who said Haman’s-hat-shaped foods have to be limited to dessert? Defrost store-bought frozen pizza dough, and roll out to about ¼-inch thick for a 10–12-inch circle (actual size will depend on size of dough ball). Brush pizza sauce or pesto on the dough, leaving a border. Sprinkle your favorite cheese (or a blend), and season with sea salt and fresh or dried oregano. Fold sides up in three segments to make a triangle, pinching the points to seal tightly. Bake on a preheated pizza stone according to directions on dough package. Check frequently; you may need to pinch corners together during baking to maintain the shape and bake longer because of the thickness.
Edit your menu; many people complicate their entertaining by preparing a menu as if it’s their guests’ last meal. I recommend having more of a fewer dishes, rather than the other way around. I never make two main dishes or serve two kinds of kugel. If you plan your menu carefully, you can still keep it simple while accommodating dietary restrictions. Simplifying your seder menu leaves more time to talk with family and friends and contemplate the meaning of the holiday.
Instead of scrambling to get reservations this Mother’s Day, get a few of Mom’s fans together and prepare a delicious one-dish meal: Chinese Chicken Salad. Full of vegetables and chicken (you can substitute tofu), it’s as healthful as it is easy. Chopping the vegetables is a fun group project. To round out the meal, serve the salad with eggrolls and/or dumplings available in the freezer section of your local health food store. Mom can supervise, jump in and help or—better yet—put her feet up!
It’s always a good time to put out a cheese plate—but especially on Shavuot. The cheese plate is the perfect place to get creative in the kitchen—you can’t mess it up! Try a mix of hard and soft cheeses. Cut each into a different shape: cubes, strips and triangles. Add your favorite garnishes. Pictured here are olives, grapes, almonds and fig spread. You can serve it all on just about anything—a marble pastry board, a piece of slate, a wooden cutting board are just a few ideas. Head to your local cheese counter, and have some fun!