Yummy recipes, tempting projects fill the pages of a new holiday book

Look out, Martha Stewart. Here comes Joan Zoloth.

She may not have a television series or a line of bedding to her namesake. But if Zoloth's first book, "Jewish Holiday Treats: Recipes and Crafts for the Whole Family," is any indication, the queen of crafts and cooking may soon face a challenge for her crown.

"I'm the Jewish Martha Stewart," quips Zoloth, a 46-year-old Orinda resident whose penchant for good food has led to a career as a freelance restaurant reviewer for the Alameda Newspaper Group.

"I've just always been that person who other people will ask, 'Where can I get the best croissants?' Even my kids are total food snobs — they never eat at McDonald's. They like to eat goat cheese."

Zoloth has incorporated this passion for food into her book, providing an array of tasty, kosher meals intermingled with arts and crafts projects for the holidays — from Rosh Hashanah to Chanukah to Shavuot. Designed for both parents and children, each recipe and project is accompanied by a holiday tale or a Jewish history lesson, which makes for a well-rounded approach to celebrating the Jewish holidays while incorporating new traditions with the old.

"There are so many interfaith couples now that I thought this would be a good way for them to introduce Judaism to their kids," said Zoloth, who herself married a non-Jew.

Zoloth made many of the recipes and did many of the crafts with her own children Julia and Jake, now 15 and 19, respectively. She hopes they will eventually pass them on to their own children.

"We always made the Chanukah cookies," said Zoloth of her Chanukah Star Cookies recipe, which yields Star of David-shaped sugar cookies covered in blue and white icing. The Chanukah chapter also features a Menorah for the Young, a Hardware Nut Menorah, a brisket recipe and a guide to playing the game of dreidel — most of which were collected from her own childhood.

"When I was growing up I remember my family would go into the living room, put paper down on the dining room table and cut out dreidels," said Zoloth, a Los Angeles native who moved to the Bay Area in the late 1980s.

Zoloth also has fond memories of making Kid's Applesauce on Chanukah, Jake's Matzah French Toast on Passover and New Year's Cards on Rosh Hashanah.

"When you're baking or cooking or doing crafts with your kids, it's a good time to talk and spend time together, even if they're only doing a small thing like measuring water or folding paper. You then end up with a complete dinner. And they feel like they've helped to do something."

As for the complete dinner, Zoloth explained: "The idea was to provide good enough meals so that you can make them for the various holidays and actually enjoy eating them."

Equally tasty photographs by Lisa Hubbard, such as the Classic Potato Latkes and the Purim Baked Halibut with Herb Butter, make for a tummy-tempting read. The arts and crafts photos practically jump off the page, calling out to the kid inside all of us.

One particularly creative project in Zoloth's book is a Gingerbread Sukkah topped with a leafy, twig roof. It's an innovative Jewish approach to the gingerbread houses often made by children during Christmas. In the book, Zoloth recommends that children and parents make the sukkah as a centerpiece for the Sukkot dining table.

Other arts and crafts highlights include a Hand-Painted Honey Bowl for Rosh Hashanah, a Queen Esther Crown of Flowers and Matzah Place Cards.

"These are all very good, not-in-your-face ways of helping kids form their Jewish identity," said Zoloth, who believes her next book may be a restaurant guide for the Bay Area. "Cooking is just another level of celebrating a sense of history and family togetherness."