Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
The cool thing about being married to a goy is I get to celebrate more holidays.
Last weekend we got invited to a Passover seder on Saturday, and we went to an Easter celebration on Sunday. I don’t know if I’m just getting older or if I’m ready to turn the corner into a more subdued lifestyle, but the whole weekend was warm and fuzzy, just gathering around big tables with family and close friends over food that was prepared especially for the occasion.
The truth is, I never really cared about being Jewish.
My parents were basically atheists who did nothing to instill any kind of tradition in us, so that didn’t really help. We belonged to a temple until my mom decided she did not like the rabbi, and we quit. After that, the only holidays we celebrated at our house were birthdays, Thanksgiving and Halloween, though we lived in a neighborhood where the houses were far enough apart where we would not have to actually get to know our neighbors. So my mom had to drive us to County Estates, the subdivision where all kid-friendly people lived.
While I was pretty bitter about not doing Christmas, I could totally live without Passover. There was no candy involved, no colorful eggs or baskets of goodies.
So when Ryan woke up on Saturday and said, “Happy Passover!” I rolled over and said, “Honey, Passover isn’t a happy holiday. It’s like all the Jewish holidays. It’s about survival and being chased out of another land where we pissed everyone off for calling ourselves the chosen people. So we commemorate that by eating flat, stale bread, bitter herbs and gross, canned fish. Trust me – Jewish food is nothing to get excited about.”
But Ryan doesn’t really go for whining, so he just kept chirping, “Happy Passover,” over and over again and jumping on me like a gorilla until I finally got out of bed.
At Dan and Alex’s, Passover is a happy holiday. They do all the big traditional stuff, like the Passover plate and some reading in Hebrew and some singing and reading from an abbreviated version of the Haggadah, even if they limited it only to the sections they like.
“I love the plagues! Let’s skip to the plagues!” Alex said. That’s the part where you stick your finger in your wine glass and flick it at all the gross, bad stuff in the world like bugs and spiders, or something along those lines. Dan wanted us all to talk like Richard Lewis for the rest of the evening, doing our best Jewish accents, but his wife voted him down.
Even Ryan read the phonetic Hebrew, and never have I been more proud. The guy has a way of being able to do almost anything on the spur of the moment, without hesitation, like a pro. I swear he missed his calling as a child actor. He can perform. He can pretend to do things so well that he actually appears to be doing them well. Since we’ve met, he’s busted out random skills like playing bass guitar, composing music, singing, playing drums, auctioneering, cooking, snowboarding, skate skiing and getting 3-year-old twin boys ready for bed (including putting on their PJs and brushing their teeth).
The only thing he can’t do is spell, which is why we’re so good together.
Anyhoo, doing the whole Passover thing is odd because it’s as foreign to me as it is to Ryan. It’s vaguely familiar from the recesses of my childhood memories, but as far as knowing what any of it means or understanding within the broader context of the Jewish religion, I don’t have a clue. I still refuse to eat gefilte fish – who would even want to try a food with such an ugly name?
Every year, Alex asks me to make Charoset for the Passover plate. It’s basically chopped apples, walnuts, honey and wine, but of course I have to go onto epicurious.com to see if I can spice it up a bit. I do the traditional version, only with candied walnuts I made myself by frying them in coconut oil and tossing them with cinnamon and sugar.
I get a little crazy and also make an orange ginger Charoset. I literally spent half the afternoon cutting orange wedges out of the rind, which is kind of like performing fruit surgery. I make a big mess trying to grate orange zest, mince ginger and toast almonds. But I love it because it’s for a special occasion and it serves a purpose. Everyone gobbles it up and raves about it and I’m supremely proud of my handiwork, even if all I did was chop stuff up and mix it together in a bowl.
On Sunday it was the same thing, only different. I was asked to bring an appetizer and a salad, so I spent a good part of the day creating something a little extra special for this holiday meal. I made Caprese on grilled French bread with fresh mozzarella, basil, tomatoes marinated in orange juice, and a balsamic orange reduction drizzle. For the salad, I grilled some pears, candied some more walnuts and tossed arugula and spinach with my own orange tarragon vinaigrette. It tasted exactly how I’d hoped-like it was made with something a little extra special, with love and care. Even the professional chef at the table loved it so much she asked me for the recipe, which I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist bragging about.
I know, right? Who the hell do I think I am, Martha F. Ingstewart?
I guess I’ve finally arrived at a time in my life where the trivial things just don’t interest me anymore. Friends and family are all that matters. Now instead of spending my money on spa treatments and shoes, I better start saving up for a real dining room table.
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The high cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley is one of the factors that makes our population perpetually restless and transient.