Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Passover for Nice Blonde Christian Girls

Caution: If you are devoutly Jewish and keep a Kosher home, this is not the explanation for you.

Still reading? Okay.

First, a story.  My first year married to my nice, semi-Jewish boy (henceforth NSJB), I was going to be leaving to go home to visit my family for Easter all week while he stayed home and worked until he weekend when he'd come join me for a nice Easter Ham Dinner.  This is what interfaith is all about, people.

Anyhow, NSJB answered in the affirmative when I asked him if he kept Kosher for Passover (KFP.  It's like KFC, but not as tasty). So, wanting to be a good wife to my NSJB, off I went to the market, which, being in Massachusetts, had moved everything around and brought out separate shelves for Passover so things would be KFP.  As you may or may not know, most of the Kosher laws are related to cootie shots now, because things wrapped in cellophane, placed in sealed boxes, with the boxes also wrapped in cellophane can get non-KFP germs from shelves that are not KFP.

I digress.

So, down these specially-shelved aisles I went, with a bewildered look on my face and a screaming colicky baby in my arms.  Luckily in response to my "Oh, Jesus, I am in over my head" prayer, a nice Jewish Bubbe came over to me.

"Sweetheart, you look lost.  This part of the store is for people celebrating Passover.  Your part of the store is over there." she said, motioning to the left.

When I explained that I had recently married a NSJB who told me he kept KFP, the older woman smiled at me nicely, muttered under her breath about how Reform men are going to single-handedly end Judaism by marrying these shiksas, and then took it upon herself to fill my cart.  When I got home, NSJB was perplexed by my pasta made from matzo meal and pre-packaged turkey and matzo stuffing.  The nice woman in the store had actually planned a lovely week of KFP meals for him, since he'd be alone and have to prepare his own dinner, I explained.  Then he laughed and told me that by KFP he meant he tried really hard not to eat bread.


Anyhow, the nice older Jewish lady from the store also gave me several recipes (just wrote them down from memory on the back of a grocery receipt she had in her massive purse), and those were less of a fail!

Here's some stuff you may or may not want to do for Passover.
1) Procure a Haggadah.  We use a messianic one, but you can use whatever you like.  Typically, if you shop in a high-density Jewish area, someone will have one for free (our free one came from Maxwell House Coffee, but sometimes the Matzo companies will package one in, too).

2) Procure a Sedar Plate.  You can buy a pretty one, or you can make one.  It just needs to hold all the requisite stuff.  (More on that to come)

3) Decide how hard-core your NSJB is.  In traditional families they'll give away any non-KFP food to the hungry (or pay another family a fee to hold it for them until the holiday is over) and they'll do a major spring-cleaning.  They'll also search the house for any traces of leaven (a la an egg hunt!).

4) Decide what night (or both) you're celebrating.

5) Plan your menu

6) Cook until you die

7) Eat

8) Resign yourself to the fact that every sect and family and denomination has different practices and traditions.  If your husband is Sephardic, he'll have different traditional foods than a Ashkenazi, etc.  You'll probably screw something up, even if it's very silly.  For example, I made macaroons, because my husband told me they were a complete necessity.  Then, when he ate them, he didn't know what they were, because the ones that were a complete necessity were the ones his grandmother always bought in a can from our friends at Manischewitz. Well, there's an hour of my life I wasted!

9) Encourage yourself with the fact that you are now a family, and your family will have different practices and traditions.  So you screwed up the macaroons from a can.  That's okay, because your husband actually likes the home-made version better!! You wanna do the kid Haggadah and call it a night? That's your family's prerogative.  (Note, I'm not a rabbi, I'm just telling you how we do it.  I want to make my husband happy and make sure our kids are appreciating the religious significance.  I have no desire to push my husband to do more than he wants/is comfortable with).

So, with that said, here's what you'll need:

Seder Plate:
1- Egg.  We roast ours in the oven.  Just toss that bad boy in until it's brown and toasty on the shell.  You can also boil it.

2-You're supposed to have a lamb shank.  I hate the smell of lamb and had a vegan Jewish friend in college who told me that you could use a beet.  I usually use a roasted chicken bone.

3- Charoset.  I do 1 red and 1 green apple, roughly chopped, 1/2 cup walnuts (toasted), 1 T honey, 3 T wine, pulse  until it makes a "relish" consistency and then stir in a bit of cinnamon.  It's supposed to remind you of mortar between the bricks.

4/5- There are 2 spaces for bitter herbs, and they need to be specific ones.  We usually do horseradish and parsley.  I'm not sure parsley is correct, but Austin grew up using it. I know you can use romaine lettuce. The horseradish is supposed to be freshly grated, but we use the stuff from a jar.

Other stuff you need:
KFP Matzo (it has to be plain, no flavors or salt- bread of affliction and all that.  However, for not your seder meal, chocolate covered and "everything" flavored are both tasty.) 3 pieces wrapped in a cloth.

Water to wash

Salt water

Any other accouterment necessitated by the Haggadah you have selected.

For dinner, I typically prepare the following.  This is NOT a kosher meal (because I use both meat and dairy), but it's the meal that Austin requests.  If you swap out margarine for butter and omit the macaroons, (and, of course, buy kosher products), then it'd be kosher.
1) Beef Brisket.  I trim mine very well and coat it with mustard, salt and pepper to brown, and then put it in the crock pot with 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped green bell pepper, 2 cans of stewed tomatoes. Sweet and Sour Brisket is traditional, but years ago my mother-in-law lost the family recipe and started making this one.

2) Potatoes.  You can do pretty much any potato that you want, because they're a starch without leaven.  In the past Austin has requested garlic mashed or latkes, but I've also done Potato Kugel, which is more traditional.  2.5 pounds of frozen shredded hash browns (or you can shred about 6 large russets), 1 large shredded onion, 1/2 cup matzo meal, 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt, 3 beaten eggs, 1/4 cup oil, pepper.  Mix all ingredients, pour into a greased 13x9 pan and bake at 325 for about an hour until crisp.

3) Matzo ball soup.  This is my own version, my MIL uses lipton noodle soup as her base (with noodles...not KFP) but now Lipton sells a chicken soup base without noodles, if you like salt.  I use the Streit's brand matzo ball mix (its just matzo meal and salt), which I find makes a superior texture ball to the Manischewitz.  (I feel like this post is offending all my imaginary Jewish readers and my preference of the Streit's brand is probably throwing it over the edge).  Follow the directions! Yes, it's a lot of oil! Do it anyway! Before that, though, place 2 skinless bone-in chicken breasts in a stock pot of water.  Boil until fully cooked with 1/2 an onion, 3 peppercorns, 2 stalks of celery, 2 carrots and a bay leaf.  Remove the chicken and veggies.  Discard the veggies and let the chicken cool.  Add 1/2 a diced onion, 3 diced carrots, 2 stalks of celery (also diced), the shredded chicken, salt or bouillon to taste, and pepper.  Add the matzo balls and cook according to package directions.  Before serving, add 1 small bunch of chopped parsley (don't add the stems, leaf ends only).

4) Carrot Tzimmies.  You can also make a version that's sweet potato, but we prefer carrots.  You'll need 3/4 cup of dried fruit (prunes, raisins, and apricots all work well), 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 generous cup of brown sugar (pack it tight and then add a little extra), 1/2 t salt, 1/4 t cinnamon, dash nutmeg, 1 cup orange juice, 1 T orange zest, 1 T lemon juice, and 1 T cornstarch (or potato starch if you're being KFP). Mix the orange juice and starch, set aside.  Peel and chop the carrots into rounds and microwave or boil until they're slightly less than done.  While that's happening, mix the remaining ingredients except the fruit in a saucepan until melted together.  Add the OJ/Starch mixture and bring to a boil.  Mix all ingredients in a greased baking dish and bake at 325 for for about 40 minutes because it's supposed to be baked at 350 for 30 minutes but the gosh-darn kugel bakes at 325 and they're going in together come heck or high water.

so there.

5) Some people eat Gefilte Fish.  We do not.  Ever.  Have you seen those nasty jars?? If I had to, though, I'd do this one, because several Jewish friends say it's the best you're gonna get.

6) I serve a salad.  It's not traditional because it's not fried/coated in oil/artery clogging.  Whatever.  I like to do cucumber or mixed greens.

7) Macaroons.  I use Ina Garten's recipe and it is delightful.  Do not skip buttering the parchment paper because they stick.

8) This year I'm also serving this cake from Martha.  She very rarely steers me wrong on Passover foods.

9) Wine.  Lots.  Because it's not a Jewish holiday without some.

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