Princess: A seder to remember
Guess what? I hosted my first Passover seder on Monday night.
As you guys know, I’m not religious on account of having been raised by two atheists who call themselves “agnostic” because they know better than to run around denouncing God.
So they also felt no need to introduce me to religion and God and all that since they weren’t really so sure he existed. We never belonged to a temple except for the two weeks we joined Beth Israel so my dad could get a discount on his membership to Court House One through the Men’s Club. I think we went to one service before he quit. I have a vague memory of the place being made from wood and odd-shaped, not like a square room but an octagon or something.
To make things even more confusing, they sent me to a nursery school that was housed in the basement of St. Alban’s Church, and even though I was only 2 years old, I remember being very confused about the man on the cross.
When you are a Jewish kid with no religion, you tend to take these things pretty literally. The whole nailed-to-a-cross thing really freaked me out and I remember being very confused as to why people would worship this gruesome scene (yes, I get it now, no need to explain).
The point I’m getting at is that I’ve had very little context in my life for religion or for religious tradition. So this Passover thing is a little out of my zone. Or at least it was until my friend Alex brought it back into my life, Aspen-style.
We actually did do Passover when I was a kid. I remember driving to my mom’s cousin Bernard’s house in Framingham, Mass. I remember I hated all the food and would eat nothing but matzo and pickles until my stomach hurt. That part of it hasn’t changed much. I mean, have you ever tried gefilte fish? It’s, like, ground up and packed into these oblong little balls and it sits in jars for God knows how long. It’s about as far from sushi as you can get.
So the first thing I do when planning my seder is try to figure out how to come up with a menu that actually tastes good. I get that this holiday is all about sacrifice, but I’m sure there’s a way to drive that point home without compromising on flavor.
I start with the main course and decide, right off the bat, to ix-nay the brisket. I’ve just never been a fan of slow-cooked meat, even though I know it makes it tender and all that blah-blah-blah. I’m also not a fan of that particular cut of beef, which is far from the cuts I prefer, the good stuff that might be used for, say, a tartar, perhaps cut from a designer wagyu cow. No, brisket is the stuff that has to be slow-cooked for a reason, kids. I decided to go with lamb — lower in acidity and higher in flavor.
I found a recipe for an herbed lamb roast and was incredibly pleased when I rolled up to the butcher’s counter at Whole Foods and there was a boneless lamb leg, beautifully tied with a string in this lovely square pattern with a rosemary sprig on top. It was just another one of those moments at Whole Foods when you start to wonder if they know something we don’t about mind reading, or brain washing, or something like that. I mean, the thing I had in my head magically appeared as if I had manifested it with my thoughts — creepy, but excellent.
When I took my beautifully packaged piece of meat from the butcher and saw how much it cost, it began to dawn on me why people serve brisket. The little sign in the display case said the lamb came from a ranch in Oak Creek, so it was probably one spoiled little lamb. I almost felt bad about the idea of eating it, but these are the sacrifices one must make on a holiday about sacrifices.
Speaking of which, I had no idea that matzo is so high in calories. One of those puppies has 125 calories and I only learned that after Alex and I sat and ate them one after the other with my charoset like they were chips and salsa. I didn’t know what charoset was either, until a few years ago when Alex asked me to make it. It’s supposed to be symbolic of the mortar that the Israelites used to make adobe brick when they were enslaved in ancient Egypt — see, even I know something about my own religion.
Anyhoo, you’re supposed to chop up apples and mix it with red wine and walnuts. But that’s so boring, I thought. I decided to add a little something and candied the walnuts, threw in some almonds and mango, you know, a little California twist. Then I thought I should make a dish with faro, since it is an ancient grain. I found a fabulous recipe for a mild mushroom-herbed faro that would go beautifully with the lamb. So what if no one at the table knew what it was? It was delicious and so was the lamb, which lived up to every penny of its designer, per-pound price tag. You get what you pay for, Mother always said.
So I might have forgone some of the more traditional dishes, and we might have skipped through the Haggadah to the parts we like, but we did sing Diyanu to Dan’s guitar with Ryan improvising on the banjo — and it was totally awesome.
I might not be the best Jew in the world, but you gotta start somewhere, right? Mazel tov, baby!
The Princess is getting a new hair style today and is going to be more Desperate Housewife of Basalt than ever. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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