Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Passover Madness

Passover is one of those holidays that I view with both anticipation and dread. It's of those times when my family gets to shine as the absolutely stereotypically Jewish family. Most years we trek to Queens or Long Island, stopping only in traffic to look at the Chasidic Jews with their long coats, beards, hats, and boxes of handmade shmura matzah walking home to prepare for the seder, the traditional ritual meal.

When we finally arrive at our destination sometime in the middle of the afternoon we're greeted by my sleep-deprived aunt who has been cooking straight for almost a week. She bustles around the kitchen, anxiously asking if we remembered the wine. Of course, the wine. It comes out of the trunk of our car by the case, two, three, maybe four cases full of wine. I lay the table, if I have a spare hour or so I make the salad. It takes a long time to make salad for this many people. The dinner tables stretch from the kitchen to the living room. There were once more than fifty people at a single family seder.

There is panic: nobody bought gefilte fish (of course, that doesn't bother me), we're out of matzah meal, where are the lemons? Of course, nothing is really the matter. The fish is in a jar in the back of the Passover closet, the matzah meal is just where it was left on the counter and the lemons are probably already out.

Guests slowly arrive throughout the afternoon, some are more useful than others. The younger kids run around throwing a ball until they are exiled to the short driveway to play. Some other guests wander into the kitchen to lend a hand, others sit on the couch and read a paper. My uncle Robert, who has Down's syndrome, wanders around the house asking when he will get a key chain (he collects them, he must have more than a thousand) and alternately telling us all that he hates and loves us. Then of course, there are the ever-present grumbles of, "When do we eat?"

And to be honest, that's the question that concerns everyone, "When do we eat?" [There was an absolutely horrendous Passover movie by this same title release a year or two ago, but I wouldn't recommend watching it unless you really want brainless entertainment that isn't that entertaining.] The answer to this question is unknown. We can't start until services are over and the people at services walk home. Then there are last minute concerns that take a good hour or so. If we're lucky we might get started by 8:30. If we aren't so lucky, maybe 9:30.

Starting the seder doesn't mean dinner, though. It means a long-winded Passover story, told in a mix of English and Hebrew (and it's never possible for everyone to be in the same place at the same time, someone always wants to rush ahead, lag behind, or just switch languages), two cups of wine, beating all the other guests with scallions or leeks (yes, it hurts sometimes, but it's great fun so it's worth it. put on some long sleeves and brave it like a champ, think of your ancestors who were beaten by their taskmasters in Egypt), celery, parsley, salt water, vinegar, matzah, charoset (see the recipe below), horribly out of tune singing, and a couple Talmudic and political debates. Eventually we reach shulchan orech, the festive meal. Hopefully it's before 10:15. Pouring soup and matzah balls for this many people takes quite some time.

We chow down, pass every dish around the table, and an hour or two later, we're ready to search for the afikoman, a piece of matzah hidden someplace in the house. Sometimes it's hidden really well. It might take another half an hour until someone finds it and trades it in for a prize. Finally we all have a bite of afikoman, sing the grace after meals, drink the last two cups of wine, sing some more, open the door for a prophet that doesn't exist to come in and drink a cup of wine off the dinner table, and finish the seder, if we're awake that is. It's a long proceeding, all of which will be repeated the next night.

Passover. Simultaneously my most and least favorite holiday of the year. With a few great recipes, though, you can pretend that you survived my whole family ordeal. Nobody would have noticed if you dropped in, anyway.

A great seder can only be judged by it's charoset, the sweet spread we eat to commemorate the mortar that our ancestors used to make bricks in Egypt. This recipe comes from my grandmother, and probably from some religious Jew before her, so you know it's good. Feel free to multiply it to serve as many as you need.

Serves 4 as a side dish

1/4 cup almonds
1/3 cup walnuts
3/4 apple, peeled
2 dates
10 black grapes
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 pomegranate (optional)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
dash of black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup sweet red wine

Add all ingredients except the wine into a food processor and process until chopped into coarse pieces. Pour into a bowl and slowly add the wine while mixing. Add wine until the mixture is uniformly moist and can almost be rolled into balls. The ingredients should not be swimming in wine. Serve at room temperature on matzah with romaine lettuce or just eat with a spoon. If you aren't observing Passover, it'd probably be good on some crackers.

I tried out this recipe for tzimmes from heeb'n vegan and it was delicious. Another crowd pleaser, just be sure to stir it every ten minutes or so after removing the cover or you will burn the nuts like I did. I subbed walnuts for pecans, which worked out well.

Sweet Potato Pear Tzimmes with Pecans and Raisins
Serves 6

2 pounds yams, peed and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
3 firm bartlett pears, cut into 3/4 inch chunks (without the seeds of course)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus spray on a little more if it needs it
2 tablespoons mirin (or any sweet cooking wine)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pecan halves
3/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350.

Place yams and pears on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the oil and mirin and mix it all up to make sure everything is coated. I just use my hands for this. I use my hands for everything, actually. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and pecans and toss to coat.

Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the tin foil and add the raisins. Carefully toss to combine using a thin flexible spatula and being careful not to break up the sweet potatoes. But tzimmes is a forgiving dish, so if some get mushed up that's perfectly acceptable.

Return to the oven uncovered and bake for a 1/2 hour more, tossing every now and again. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Labels: , , , , , ,


At 4/05/2007 1:07 AM , Blogger Fairly Odd Tofu Mom said...

Oh my gosh, I read this out loud to Froggy tonight and both of us had a good laugh and a glass or three of wine in your honor. Probably not Kosher wine or Rabbi-approved-and-blessed wine or whatever it's supposed to be, but just know that we were helping you"celebrate" in our own way!

LOVED it!!

At 4/06/2007 9:39 AM , Blogger Judy said...

What a great little peek into your family Passover celebration. Sounds like a lot of fun and a lot of good food.

At 4/06/2007 5:24 PM , Blogger Twisted Cinderella said...

Sounds delicious! It does sound like a lot of fun.

At 4/06/2007 8:05 PM , Blogger theONLYtania said...

Haha do you want to be a writer or something? You always post good stories.
Thanks for that charoset recipe! I'm not Jewish, and I've never had it but just reading that list of ingredients.. it sounds really interesting and I think I'd like to try it.

At 4/08/2007 2:54 PM , Blogger Deva said...

this was beautiful, michelle :) i had to laugh at the long dinner times. i remember passover at hillel when i was a kid and by the time we got to dinner i was starving.....

happy passover :)

At 4/10/2007 10:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the description of your Passover dinner -- it made me laugh because it sounds like our typical family holiday.

At 4/10/2007 2:41 PM , Blogger Kate said...

Thank you so much for sharing your passover story.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home