My father jokes that our synagogue is “so reformed it closes on Jewish holidays.” That isn’t too far from the truth. And to be even more truthful, it’s been a long while since we’ve been in a synagogue. We’re Jews in spirit, we’re Jews in appearance (check out my nose!) but not always Jews in observance. To put it another way: we’re not Jews who build sukkas on Sukkot.
Many scholars have studied the baffling fact of Jewish survival in the face of such adversity. We have seen oppression in Egypt, in Spain, in Europe, in Russia and basically anywhere you put us. I’m convinced that the key ingredient, the key evolutionary advantage that lets our people endure is a weapon wielded lovingly by our women: that famous, infamous commodity known as Jewish guilt.
“Fine, Moses, don’t lead us out of Egypt,” said his mother at some point. (Ok, his mother put him in a basket and never saw him again, but you get the idea).
Or here: “Fine, my son the Spanish Jew, convert to Christianity for King Ferdinand and Queen Whats-Her-Name! See if I care! Why shouldn’t my heart break into a million little pieces?”
Or tonight: “What are you doing for Passover, Adam? Fine, don’t have a seder!”
Well, to be fair, my mother didn’t guilt me tonight. She just conspicuously broadcast the fact that SHE was having a seder; slightly probing my plans. What were my plans? It was 5:15, I was leaving my Sexuality and Parenthood class. Would I grab a salad from Whole Foods?
But then I saw a burning bush in my brain. “MOSES!” said a voice.
“Umm, God, this is Adam,” I replied.
“OH SORRY,” He apologized, “THE CARDS STICK TOGETHER IN MY ROLODEX. ANYWAY, YOU SHALL HAVE A SEDER! YOU SHALL INVITE JOSH AND KATY! YOU SHALL MAKE A CHICKEN!”
“Yes God!” I responded.
“OH, AND KILL YOUR SON ISAAC,” he added.
“Umm, I’m childless, God,” I reminded him.
“OH, RIGHT, RIGHT, SILLY ME. OK, I’M OUTTIE!”
I quickly called Josh and Katy on my phone and invited them to a seder. They quickly accepted.
I got home and whipped out Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America.” I also whipped out my Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks and pulled out recipes for roast chicken, roasted garlic potatoes and roasted carrots. We would be doing a lot of roasting tonight.
I ran out to Whole Foods, bought my ingredients, and returned with t-minus 2 hours to prepare. This would be a very last-minute seder, indeed.
I began with the chicken.
The Barefood Contessa’s roast chicken recipe is brilliant. It’s so easy and comes out so delicious. Basically, you take a lemon cut it in half; a head of garlic, cut it in half; and a bunch of Thyme (the store was out of Thyme, so I used Poultry Herbs, prepackaged) and stuff them in the chicken:
Here I have trussed my chicken for the first time. Before, I had trussed issues. (Haha, get it? Trussed issues? Like trust issues? Ok, sorry).
I painted the outside with butter and sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper and popped it into the oven at 425 degrees for 90 minutes.
Next, I prepared the carrots.
Here, things couldn’t be easier. You just cut up 12 carrots on the diagonal, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a cookie sheet. Pop it into the oven for 20 minutes and you’re done!
[One caveat: The BC advises you to cut the large ends of the carrots in half; and now I wish I’d followed that advice. The smaller pieces were tender and delicious; the big pieces were a bit too crunchy.]
Next, I prepared the garlic roasted potatoes.
This is really easy too. You just take 3 lbs of small red potatoes and cut them in half. Toss them on a cookie sheet with 6 chopped cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil.
This goes in the oven with the chicken and cooks for an hour; you have to stir them around twice.
Now, I got on with the Haroset.
For the non-Jews among you, Haroset [like many other things at the Passover seder] is a symbolic mixture of apples, nuts and wine. Here’s what Joan Nathan has to say:
“To my mind, haroset, the last symbolic food, represents not only the mortar with which the Israelites, as slaves, used in building Raamses and Pithom in Egypt, it also shows the diversity of the Jewish people. With the dispersion of Jews throughout the world there must be seventy variations of harosets with new ones being created every year in America by our Jewish superstar chefs.”
Is she talking about me? Because I just followed her recipe for American Haroset.
I cut up 6 apples (3 red, 3 green; though they wouldn’t all fit); 2 Tbs sugar; 1 tsp cinnamon; 1/2 cup pecans; and since Katy and Josh hadn’t arrived with the wine (Manishevitz) yet, I added honey instead. Plus I used Mandy Patinkin’s mother’s trick (it’s in the cookbook) of adding ground cloves and ginger.
Here it is pre-blitzing:
And after blitzing:
It tasted great.
Now, with most of the food prepared, I hid the afikomen.
What this means is you take a piece of matzah, wrap it in paper towel and hide it. As you can see, I hid it (rather badly) in my CD rack. Why do you do this?
Well, the Hagadah (seder guide) that I downloaded doesn’t offer much help:
“Toward the end of the meal, the children look for the afikoman, which the leader has hidden. Since neither the meal nor the Seder can be concluded before some of the group has eaten a piece of it, whoever finds the afikoman may demand a reward. nothing is eaten after the afikoman, so that the matzah may be the last food tasted.”
In any case, with the afikoman hid, I returned to the kitchen.
Ah, the chicken is done!
Ah, the potatoes are done!
Ah, the carrots are done!
I quickly set the table:
Just as our guests arrive.
“Mmmm, smells delicious!” say the guests.
“Where’s the food?” says Lauren coming from her room.
“Ah, ah, ah!” I say, “First the seder!”
I sit everyone down, and begin my charming reading of the Haggadah.
There are prayers over wine, prayers over matzah, and prayers over the cancellation of Sex and the City. My audience is completely captive:
Here is Passover in a nutshell:
The Jews were in bondage in Egypt. God led us out of bondage. Moses, as played by Chartlon Heston, was his vehicle for doing that. The Jews are very grateful. We sing a song called Dayenu. This has got to be the greatest Jewish holiday song ever. It translates as: “It would have been enough.”
So the translation goes:
“Had Adonai [God] brought us out of Egypt and not divided the sea for us…”
“DAYENU!” which equals: “It would have been enough!”
“Divided the sea and not permitted us to cross on dry land…”
“Permitted us to cross on dry land and not sustained us for forty years in the desert…”
Except there’s this really great chorus that’s hard to recreate. It goes like this: “Dy dy enu! Dy dy enu! Dy dy enu! Dy enu Dy enu Dy enu!
It was my favorite part of Passover growing up. We would go to my Aunt Rhoda’s house and sing out joyously. I’d sing it in the car on the way home. My parents would throw matzah at me.
In any case, Josh, Katy and Lauren began throwing Matzah they were so hungry. So we quickly skipped to the part where you put horseradish and haroset on the Matzah to symbolize…
Well the horseradish is maror, and to quote the Haggadah: “We eat maror, or bitter herbs, to remind ourselves that the Egyptians embittered the lives of our people.”
And I already told you about the haroset.
After that, it was a free-for-all for the food.
Josh carved up the chicken:
And did an excellent job:
Our plates runneth over:
We ate and kibbitzed. Josh and Katy, who aren’t Jewish, found our seder to be most accomodating.
“We once went to a seder that was five hours long!” said Katy.
After scarfing down our food—[I think everything went over really well; the haroset was a big hit, as were the potatoes. And the chicken. The carrots were a little too crunchy.]—Josh and Katy found the afikoman:
We immediately kicked them out, so they wouldn’t figure out the whole “Find the Afikoman win a prize thing!”
I spent half an hour cleaning up, and with 8000 dishes in the dishwasher, my first self-made Passover seder was over.