Shank Bones and Gefilte Fish: Chronicle of a Second Night Seder

April 25, 2005 | By | COMMENTS

How many Jews we got up in this piece? And by “up in this piece” I mean “reading this blog”? Are you baffled by the idea of a seder? Am I about to blow your mind right now with news of an ancient Jewish ritual, commemorating our flight from Egypt into the desert? Are you going to close the window and find porn instead?

Welcome to the second seder chronicled at The Amateur Gourmet (last year’s was very last minute) and my first seder chronicled as a new New York resident. (I grew up in New York but I wasn’t new then so it doesn’t count.)

Tonight’s seder was hosted by Billy and Kate. I met Billy and Kate through Annette who I went to college with and who is now living with Lisa. Let me show you a picture of the people involved:

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On the bottom row is (from left to right, the non-Hebrew way): Annette, Lisa and Kate. On the top row is David (Annette’s beau), Billy (Kate’s husband) and Kevin. (Kevin is someone’s husband but his wife is in Japan right now.)

These details are important so you can track the intense drama that follows. By the end of this seder there will be catfights, duels, passionate love-making and a sex change operation. We Jews are a very dramatic bunch.

When I say “we Jews” that might imply that everyone in this picture is Jewish. But they’re not! In fact, this was David’s first seder. You non-Jews reading this and David have a lot in common. Let’s explain some things, shall we?

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That, above, is a seder plate. It holds the basic trappings of a seder. Think of it like the props in a musical laid out on the stage before the show starts. Eventually, as you work your way through the haggadah (prayer book) each prop gets used. The parsley gets dipped in the salt water; the haroset (the delicious apple mixture) gets mixed with the horseradish (the red stuff); the egg is eaten and the shank bone is…umm..admired?

Why do we do these things? It’s a ritual! Jews have celebrated Passover for thousands of years. If you’ve seen The Ten Commandments you know the basic story. The term Passover refers to the 10th plague, when God slaughtered the first born of every child in Egypt and Jews marked their doors so the angel of death passed over their houses. (Hence the name Passover.) This is a non-sequiter, but here’s another plate with stuff on it:

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Passover isn’t the most serious Jewish holiday–(that’s Yom Kippur)–but it’s not NOT serious. It resonates for us today because of the parallels between our persecution in Egypt and our persecution in the 20th century. Tonight’s haggadah, for example, made direct reference to the Holocaust and quoted Anne Frank. We dip bitter herbs in salt water so as not to forget the bitterness we suffered; so as not to become complacent.

Bummed you out yet? Let’s play a chopped liver game. Which of these is my mock chopped liver and which is real chopped liver? 30 seconds players!

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(Ok, it’s pretty easy—mine’s on the bottom. But it still looks good, doesn’t it? I like Kate and Billy’s dishes.)

The seder begins when everyone sits down and pours themself a glass of wine. The traditional Passover wine is Manishevitz. I like it because it’s sweet and grapey but many people hate it. This seder, for example, offered various other red wine alternatives. I stuck with the real stuff.

Billy was kind enough to print out Passover haggadahs at work on a color laser printer so they were fancy and colorful and easy to read. Here we are working our way through it. Annette is laughing at the part where God tells Moses to “raise your rod.” How inappropriate!

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One interesting part of the reading happens when you dip your finger in the wine and drop it on your plate for every plague that befell the Egyptians:

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Everyone’s plate offered a different personality profile: as you can see, my wine drops are neat and ordered. Kate’s were blobbed together and messy. Lisa’s wer shaped like a giant tortoise. (That means she’s wise and patient.)

Annette warned us not to lick our fingers after dropping plagues on our plate because it’s bad luck. We wiped our plagues off on our napkins.

The best part about Passover—and I mean the BEST part—is the haroset. What’s not to love about Haroset? It’s apples, cinnamon, raisins, walnuts and all your favorite appley Jewish things. It’s supposed to represent the mortar with which we built the pyramids. Here’s Annette with some mortar now:

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Haroset’s enough to make Jerry Falwell reconsider his religious predlicitions. (Although, maybe haroset only tastes good because it comes after bitter herbs and salt water?)

Here we take a detour into the dark and slimy path of gefilte fish. If you’re not Jewish you may not be familiar with it. When I was younger, I went to Jewish camp, and one day I went fishing with my counselor and he said, “What kind of fish do you want to catch, Adam?” And I said: “Gefilte!”

See, you can’t catch gefilte fish. (Well, it depends who you sleep with.) It’s really just a ground fish patty that’s not so different from what you might get in Chinatown. Kate and Billy got theirs from Zabar’s:

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Many people (and I mean many people) find gefilte fish to be disgusting. I can only eat it with bountiful heapings of horseradish sauce. Kate and Billy, on the other hand, find it to be an aphrodisiac. Gefilte fish keeps their marriage alive:

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Remember that group picture I posted at the top? Remember Kevin? He’s been pretty absent so far during our seder. He’s also a non-Jew: this is very exotic to him. What could he offer us—we the Jews who know what we’re doing on this night that’s so different from all other nights.

Well, Kevin’s got something up his sleeve—and I think it’s a cherry tomato:

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Seriously, rumor had it that Kevin is a dynamite cook. Kate let me know: “Kevin’s amazing.” I had my doubts but then Kevin presented his mind-blowing chicken soup:

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Please tell me that didn’t come straight out of the kitchen of D.B. Bistro Moderne or Jean-Georges or whatever fancy shmancy dream kitchen you might fathom… This soup was amazing! Kevin made the stock from scratch. The matzah ballls are mixed in with chicken balls (flavored with garlic and nutmeg) the cherry tomatoes are blanched and peeled and add an exciting flavor component that makes everything explode in your motuh. And as if that weren’t enough, it’s all garnished with fried onions or chives or something, I don’t know what, but Jesus this soup was beautiful. [OH NO! I SAID JESUS! IT WAS A TRICK.... KEVIN USED HIS SOUP TO GET ME TO BETRAY MY RELIGION.]

Lisa, sadly, couldn’t eat the chickeny soup because she’s a vegetarian. Here she is enjoying her own homemade veggie friendly matzoh ball soup:

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After the soup course, Lisa and Annette unveiled their entrees (and their undergarments). Lisa made a noodle-free eggplant lasagna and Annette made a slow-cooked cumin-scented brisket with apricots and prunes:

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The brisket was amazing. Annette’s mom made brisket her whole life so she coached Annette through this recipe. I asked Annette if she would e-mail it to me and if she does I’ll post it here for all of you to see. Here’s my juicy plate with brisket and my spinach on the side:

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Aren’t you full from reading this? I’m stuffed and exhausted. All that food and wine, there’s barely room for…

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Oh no, Kevin, you didn’t. Flourless brandied chocolate cake with syrup and whipped cream and…

I think I’m going to explode. Soon we’re back in our seats, our pants bursting, ready to finish the seder. Billy hides the Afikomen (that’s the middle piece of matzoh) and Annette finds it. She wins $4.

We say some more prayers, drink some more wine, then crank up the music and digest.

From Egypt to Hell’s Kitchen, we Jews have come along way. I hope this has been educational, edifying and perhaps even lip-smacking. Seders may be an ancient ritual but if anything, they’re delicious. AMEN.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • http://amyscoop.com Amy

    After all of that Passover koshery Jewishness, whipped cream? What about not mixing milk and meat? Or was it ” creamy nondairy topping”?

    Although…at our seder last year, dessert was cheesecake. I guess as long as there’s no bread in it, we’re at least making the effort, right?

    PS. Gefilte fish rocks.

  • http://deliciouspaths.blogspot.com Sarah

    Adam,

    This was a lot of fun! As a agnostic and therefore heretic in the eyes of all Gods no matter how you slice it, I appreciated the humor interspersed. Good fun and I learned something. What could be better?

    ~Sarah

    PS – We Norwegians (and I proudly claim heritage based on 75% genetic donation and an American ego) have our own ugliness to counter your gefilte. Lutfiske! Cod in lye… now there’s a cultural ‘treasure’. :)

  • http://www.tetellita.blogspot.com Estelle

    Thank you so much for sharing your Seder with us. As a Sephardic Jew, I had no idea what gefilte fish was until I came to the US. I tried it once and actually liked it. I made the matzoh lamb pie from the 2004 issue of Gourmet and it was really delicious, here’s the recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/109312

    Have a happy Passover!

  • Martha

    Ok first of all, there was no where near that much food at the only Seder I’ve always attended. I was SO ripped off.

    Second, I freaking love gefilte fish. Must be that the Jewish 1/4 of me owns the digestive tract.

  • http://jt65b4b.typepad.com Jay

    Amazing post! Thanks for the behind the scenes look. Your comment about the gefilte reminds me of the line from “Drop Dead Gorgeous”, “…lutefisk. Best served with lots of butter”

  • IU Emily

    Aww…this post made me homesick. I love Passover and I’ve missed it these past 2 years due to being away at school. I’m stealing someone’s kitchen next year and doing it myself-it will be done!

  • mike

    I’m Chinese and I love me the heck out of gefilte fish. I seriously thought it was a real fish too and even asked my Jewish friend’s family if it’s some sort of fish found in Jewish homeland….and I was like 18 at the time.

  • http://www.ideasalon.org/ Wes Meltzer

    Adam, I think your seder sounds like much too much fun. These are not intended to be fun productions — unless by “fun” you mean “exposing family rifts heretofore unseen” and “eating all kinds of disgusting bread substitute foods”.

    On the one hand, kudos, and on the other hand, I want a fun and tasty seder…

  • Manders

    I’m a Korean Presbyterian, but that looks pretty freaking good. I might convert just for that. Okay, not really, but still.

  • Avi

    Just got back from my Seders (I’m orthodox, so outside of Israel we have two)and was hoping for a Seder post. You do not disappoint. Among other things, unlike at your seder we Orthodox first dip some kind of vegetable (usually celery, parsley, or potatoes) in salt water, and then later on dip bitter herbs in haroset. I guess mixing the two makes the night go faster.

  • chloe

    I was initially introduced to my first husband’s entire West Coast family at a Passover dinner cooked by his Grandma Bessie. The only Yiddish I knew at the time was “gay cocken offen yom”, which, thankfully, I had no need to use at the dinner table but which has come in handy since.

    It was also my introduction to gefilte fish and Mogen David.

    Great looking brisket!

  • Heather

    Ok, this has nothing to do with Passover (great looking spread, btw), but more to do with your Janet Jackson cupcakes. Ever wonder how to make those lovely items PORTABLE? I ran across this link, thought you might think it… useful, dumb, whatever.

    http://www.cupacake.com

  • http://www.thehotzoneonline.com/blog/ Joe & Linda Levinson

    We wanted to thank you for a great Seder article! Although we weren’t able to host (or even attend) a seder this year due to our being in the process of moving, your story brought back a number of funny memories of seders past, both bizarre and mundane. Opinions are split here about gefilte fish, tho…Linda loves it, but Joe can only eat it when drowned in the spiciest horseradish possible, both liberally accompanied by large glasses of Manischewitz wine of some variety.

  • Annette’s mom

    Adam, What fun to read about your Seder. I actually have made many a tasty brisket, but never one exactly like Annette made so…Please post that recipe for me to add to the colletion. Instead of “Next year in Jerusalem” why don’t you all come to Denver for a Seder in 2006?

    Annette’s Mom

  • Leveriza

    Adam, what a great celebration! Thanks for the educational post(for us non-Jew)…’twas very informative and humorous.

    BTW, Annette’s mom’s post, she says,”…why don’t you “ALL” come to Denver…” is she including your avid readers too… will travel to Denver for an authentic Seder in 2006…please send an invitation… :-)

    Cheers,

    Leveriza

  • Annette

    sorry for the delay amateur gourmeters -the brisket i made was taken directly from epicurious.com. it is http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/106421?epiSearchPage=http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/find/results?search=brisket%2C+apricots. it’s not that hard, but is time consuming. i’m pretty sure i cooked it longer than the recipe said to. also – something i learned from my mom is that it is easier to cut the brisket before it is fully cooked. so i cut it fairly early on in the game. and i think that was a great idea. enjoy!