Thursday, April 17, 2008

Passover: Nuts and Bolts

I was raised a Catholic but I have been with my Jewish husband now for close to 20 years. Many people, in fact, think I'm Jewish. But the truth is that I learned much of what I know about the Passover story from The Prince of Egypt, the Dreamworks movie. For other newbies, Moses parting the Red Sea is a central aspect of the story that overlaps in the Judea-Christian tradition. Recounting the story is a main tenet of this religious holiday, so I feel no shame in this admission. My kids really know the story because they love the movie so much.

Despite by non-Jewish background, I certainly have stepped in over the years to make Jewish holiday specialities, especially at Passover. There is no contest that I make the best haroset (a delicious mix of apples, nuts, and honey) and the best tzimmes (sweet carrots and raisins) in the extended family. Since I have not converted to Judaism, I also love that it's a holiday primarily celebrated at home. Like Thanksgiving, it's a real family holiday and we use it to bond as an extended family and to define what is important to us in the Jewish tradition.

After so many years of making seder, I think I can make many of the dishes in my sleep. Since we'll be preparing the feast "in the field" this year, and not at our own home, planning and management of the event will be an even bigger factor. I'll be delegating a lot of carrot peeling and matzo-ball making.

The challenge is getting everything done, so the seder can proceed smoothly. Seder means "order," and the order of the ceremony and the order of the dishes is a very important part of the holiday. The ritual of the order, scholars say, is part of the lasting power of the holiday. The holiday dinner itself reminds you of all the important things you should remember about the holiday and about being a Jewish family.

In a related note, The New York Times had a great article on Susie Fishbein an her new Passover cookbook. She is a cook and author of the Kosher by Design cookbooks. It never occurred to me, but traditional Jewish women are stalwarts of family dinner. Dietary restrictions and family size make going out and doing take out a truly rare treat. Family style dinner, several times a day is the norm. And traditional Jewish dishes night after night would indeed be boring! Fishbein's new books try to add new life and interest to daily kosher cooking, more, she says in the style of a "kosher Rachael Ray than [a] kosher Martha Stewart."

Oy Vey! Thirty-five or more guests, cooking on the road, and multiple generations either weighing in or under foot, this is definitely going to be more of a Rachael Ray holiday. Very messy, lots of wine, and hopefully at the end of the day: YUM-O!

One Cook, Thousands of Seders, NYT 04.16.08

Rachael Ray's Passover recipes

Passover Archives from the New York Times

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