This year, Chanukah coincides with the birthday of my twins Jake and Joey (now turning 15). They were due in January 2000, and I had a fantasy that they would be the first Washington, DC births of the millennium. I even imagined one being born before midnight in 1999 and the other arriving after midnight in the new year. Taking a cue from the Maccabees, they were certainly fighting to get out.
After a Thanksgiving spent largely on the sofa directing the cooking and baking, I hoped to enjoy Chanukah at home resting and trying to keep my impatient boys inside. I ended up spending three weeks on bed rest in the hospital, which included the entire eight days of Chanukah.
My husband set up a menorah in my room (and no, we did not seek approval from hospital staff), and my two older kids, Emily and Sam, hung up the Chanukah decorations they had made at Adas Israel’s Gan HaYeled Preschool. Every night I lit my candles and prayed that my babies would be born healthy.
I experienced my own Chanukah miracle when they were born at 36½ weeks. Joey was 5 pounds, 5 ounces, and Jake was 7 pounds, 1 ounce, which is considered a miracle in the twin world. I continue to marvel that I had natural twins. Jake and Joey have grown into young men who see the light in everything—and have a deep appreciation for desserts.
When we think of Chanukah desserts, what comes to mind are desserts fried in oil, to celebrate the miracle of the small drop of oil. Although absolutely delicious, doughnuts are made with a large amount of oil.
In an effort to create healthier and lighter Chanukah desserts, I started baking cookies and cakes with extra virgin olive oil a few years ago. The olive oil gives the desserts a rich taste while adding healthy fats to your diet.
The production of olive oil can be traced back 6,000 years in the Levant. Olive oil was the first fat the people used to make cakes back in biblical times. Gil Marks, in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, shares an interesting fact that the 25th day of Kislev, the date on which we celebrate Chanukah, was traditionally the end of the olive harvest long before the Chanukah story even took place.
Olive oil has been used for many religious rituals, including anointing Jewish kings, and was added to the grain offerings in the Temple. It still revered as it is the most common oil used for cooking in Israel and throughout the Mediterranean.
To recall the Chanukah miracle and honor one of the historically prized ingredients of the Land of Israel, do not limit your olive oil use to your cooking; add it to your baking, too. You can find two other olive oil desserts in The Holiday Kosher Baker (Sterling 2013), the Almond Olive Oil Cake and Chewy Chocolate Olive Oil Cookies.