Sukkah Like a Pro

There’s nothing to make you realize you stink at sukkahs quite like dining in the sukkah of people who have been doing it for years.  Imagine the cringe I felt in my heart as I approached the home of our friends, Dan and Valeri Remark, who, you will recall, also put on one prodigious Passover this past printemps.  But please don’t think for one minute that we weren’t made to feel extremely welcome or that we didn’t enjoy ourselves.

Still, I have to laugh at myself and the thoughts running through my mind as I walked toward the Remarks’ home.  Things like…oh, they have tiki torches lit…how charming…is that wisteria growing over the sukkah frame…please don’t tell me they trained wisteria to grow over the frame…of course they have wisteria growing over the frame—Dan and Valeri are awesome…oh, it’s branches of butterfly bush…yeah, that’s not any less gorgeous.

And don’t get me started on Valeri’s table.  In a word:  Wow.  Each place setting had a different yet perfectly coordinated bowl and plate, there was an eclectic mixture of wine glasses, and candelabras from Don Drumm Studio & Gallery graced the table.  For just a touch of whimsy, chili pepper and shotgun shell lights were strung beneath the branches adding to the glow from the candles.

We dined on Dan’s homemade chicken soup.  Other guests brought cucumber salad and challah bread .  My contribution was a cheeseball and assorted crackers.  I’ve provided my recipe below.  Dessert was extra special because we celebrated the fourth birthday of Dan and Valeri’s grandson, Roman, with a chocolate cake with whipped icing.

My thoughts regarding our soggy sukkah back home (it’s been a very rainy Sukkot this year)  were allayed by stories Dan and Valeri shared with us on their first attempts toward keeping the moedim (appointed times).  We may be eating off a card table and a too-small teak table from a patio set, but our hearts and our motives are in the right place.  As I said before, there is always room for growth with Adonai.

Pineapple Cheese Ball

1 – 8 oz. bar of cream cheese, softened

1 T sweet onion, finely diced

½ c. crushed pineapple, thoroughly drained

1 t sea salt

2 T green pepper, finely diced

1 c whole pecans

Place the pecans on a baking sheet and toast at 400° F for exactly five minutes.  Pecans toast quickly, so set an accurate timer.  Set aside to cool for later used.  Drain the crushed pineapple in a fine mesh sieve or colander with small holes and press out the excess liquid with the back of a large spoon.  Place the softened cream cheese, onion, green pepper, drained pineapple, and salt in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly.  Use a spatula to form into a ball.  Coarsely chop the pecans and spread them in a neat pile on a cutting board.  Roll the cheese ball in the nuts, gently patting them in when necessary, until the entire cheese ball is covered.  A spatula helps with this process.  Serve with assorted crackers.


The Sukkah Experiment

Less than twenty-four hours to Sukkot, and I have no sukkah.  What I have is a cabana frame with no way to attach the Chinese silver grass (and no promise the frame will support the weight) and no way to affix the sheets I plan on using as curtains.  Oh, I also have a mother who says, “You know I like things elaborate,” and “I just ran out of time to make the curtains.”  Funny how we’re back to using the sheets I suggested in the first place and she dismissed as hillbilly.

This is round two of building a sukkah for the Gibson Family.  You’ll recall last year’s efforts (Learning Curve) were redneck at best.  We’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve learned a few things.  Such as sukkahs need four walls and branches still attached to the tree don’t count.  Still, we did our best, and I truly believe Adonai was honored by our efforts.  This year, I’m thinking He might be grading on a tougher curve, and we’re getting points checked off for lack of preparedness.

You see, I had this all planned out on Monday when Mom and I went to buy the PVC pipe, three-way elbows, and the shower curtain clips.  We were on our way to Home Depot and ended up everywhere except Home Depot.  I could have had this finished Monday evening and been peacefully admiring my sukkah in anticipation of sundown Wednesday.  Instead, I’m anticipating watching my mother weave paracord around the top of the frame (at minus five-foot-short, I have no idea how she’s going to reach the top of the ten-foot-plus, peaked cabana frame) probably while standing on a step ladder (I’m not sure we own one anymore) placed on uneven ground.  I’m having flashbacks to Mom and Dad fighting over the set-up of…well, just about everything.

And the grasses still need cut down.  With a reciprocating saw.  I know we own one of those, but I have absolutely no idea what it looks like or where it is.  Dad is supposed to help me with this, but then I wonder who will watch Mom while she’s weaving paracord on a ladder?  This is not going well.  At least Dad should be sufficiently occupied cutting grasses so as not to pick a fight with Mom.  And nobody better pick a fight with me because I have a headache already.  Is it too early in the day for a glass of bourbon?

Here’s the kicker:  we have until sundown this evening to complete this, except Mom wants to eats dinner in the sukkah as a family.  My husband, William, leaves for work at 3:30 PM.  So, we have roughly four and a half hours to get this thing ready.  I’m thinking we should have completed the sukkah today, enjoyed some coffee, tea, and cake in it, and then tomorrow when husband’s vacation starts, enjoy dinner as a family.  Am I the only person who sees this spiraling out of control?

Don’t even get me started on dinner.  Mom asked what I planned on making for the first evening.  This is code for “I’m buying the cabana frame, so you make dinner.”  Not a problem at all.  Really.  I figured we’d have the sukkah up by Monday evening anyhow, so I’d be free to prepare food.  Then she texts me with a picture of the marinara sauce she’s making for dinner.  I hadn’t even suggested a menu, and already she nixed it.  Again, not a problem.  We like marinara over spaghetti, and I have back-up sauce in case our teenager snarls his nose at it.

It’s anyone’s guess how this is going to go off.  I know there are a few details we still aren’t going to get right, but like life in general, Adonai gives us time to grow.  It’s anyone’s guess whether it’s His voice or mother’s in my head saying, “Have a little faith.”

Learning Curve

learning-curveMy husband and I always try to present a good example for our son, Joshua. So this year, we decided to get down to brass tacks and build a sukkah. After all, we wanted to be obedient followers. William started by searching the Internet for suggestions on how to build one and found many companies that sell plans and/or frames. They were expensive. Next, he looked up the cost of PVC pipes and fittings with the intention of building our own frame. He must have looked at the price for 1/4” pipes because when we arrived at Home Depot, the pipes that would actually create a frame to withstand a gentle breeze were somewhat out of our price range, especially with all the cash we’ve been shelling out for our son’s upcoming Eagle Scout Court of Honor. We were not deterred.

We took encouragement from a friend who suggested building a sukkah over an existing frame such as that for a cabana. The Gibson household doesn’t own a cabana. We have a pup tent. Back to the drawing board. At least we had a ton of Chinese silver grass to cover the top of our sukkah once we built it. Another Facebook friend suggested chili pepper lights. I don’t believe we’re going to do that.

So, limited by funds but spurred on by faithfulness, William and I walked up and down the aisles of Home Depot looking for sukkah ideas. We found the prairie-style windows we’d like to have some day, the pegboard for the ribbon rack I want in my scrapbook room, linoleum for the basement room to replace the carpet that was ruined in the flood, and the sink and vanity for the bathroom when we finally redecorate. Nothing remotely sukkah-oriented came into view.

I can’t speak for William, but I started to feel depressed. I wanted so much to keep Sukkot this year, and I could blame only myself for not preparing. Who am I kidding? I also blamed William just a titch. That’s when the idea to build a sukkah between the back of our shed and our maple tree popped into my head. I envisioned something tent-like with an open top covered in the grasses William had yet to cut down. We could sit in our sukkah, eat, and watch the beautiful stars above. One hundred-feet of paracord and two lag bolts with eyes later, we were on our way back home to construct our sukkah.

Will drilled holes in the back of the shed for the bolts, and Joshua used a couple knots learned in Boy Scouts to make two sides of the sukkah. Thelearning-curve-2 paracord was looped around the tree, held in place by a two-by-four and a garden stake to reduce the sag, and I draped mismatched, flannel top sheets over the rope. The sheets were held in place by two clothespins on one side and two clipped hangers on the other. We didn’t use the grasses because the branches of the maple provided the perfect lattice cover.

It’s crude, and the sheets blow around quite a bit, but our redneck sukkah is the perfect place for two camping chairs positioned face to face with enough room for a third if Joshua ever gets a night without an overwhelming amount of homework. William, our collie, Aria, and I enjoyed a dinner of buffalo chicken dip eaten directly from the casserole dish in our sukkah last night. He had to sit a little to the right to block the setting sun from blinding me, but the golden reflection on the maple leaves was quite heavenly. We revisited the sukkah after dropping Joshua off at Scouts, and I must say that the stars looked a little brighter when viewed through the open top of our sukkah.

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