Princess: Passover and food
The Aspen Princess
So last week I wrote about my paleo diet, again, and people were really into it. I think it’s kind of funny that you guys are more interested in what I’m eating than all the other antics I’ve written about over the past 12 years, including sex, drugs, love, baby-making, sci-fi baby-making and politics. Or maybe it’s just that my life has gotten so mundane since I’ve gone from Aspen Princess to Desperate Housewife of Basalt that what I eat really is the most fascinating thing I’ve got going on.
Speaking of food, in case you missed it, Passover started Friday, and it should be a cinch not eating leavened bread because gluten is so totally not paleo (meant to be said with a California vowel-drawl). Not that I ever follow the rituals around Jewish holidays, anyway. Passover is really the only Jewish holiday I do celebrate, and that’s only because we get to hang out with Dan Sadowsky of Pastor Mustard fame and his lovely wife Alex Halperin of Aspen Peak esteem, their gorgeously awesome kids Mia and Rueben and their super-cool friends Christine and Gerry Goldstein and their son Matt.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Jewish food. As a kid I would eat nothing but pickles and matzo at Passover until I had a stomachache. I was a super-picky eater as a kid, and my mother allowed it because she was so traumatized by being forced to eat foods she didn’t like as a kid that she didn’t want to do that to us. But as a result, I never tried anything and pretty much subsisted on French toast, hamburgers, cereal and peanut butter and jelly for the first 12 years of my life.
People go crazy for Jewish food: the deli meats, the pastrami on rye, the brisket, the matzo ball soup, and some people even claim to actually like to eat gefilte fish. I for one have never even tried it because I find the consistency and smell too close to cat food. Matzo ball soup I do like, and Christine went to the trouble of cooking three chickens for three days so her broth was dense with flavor (which is not always the case for this simple soup), and her matzo balls were light and fluffy (by far the most important component and not so easy to master).
The Passover meal is not my favorite, but it’s not really about the food, now is it? Like Thanksgiving, it’s a time to gather around the table for a more elaborate meal that requires you to sit for more than 20 minutes and actually talk to people. There is the much-abbreviated reading of the Haggadah, the songs and often the stories that will come up about old Jewish relatives and about their stories and traditions. I so love that. No cellphones are allowed at the table (and never, ever should be).
This year, Christine and Gerry hosted, and so we also had some lively conversation, including heated discussion about current events and issues both in Aspen and beyond. If you’ve ever been to the Sneaker Ball, NORML’s annual fundraising event, then you’ve been to the Goldsteins’ house, which has to be one of the most extraordinary and special homes in all of Aspen. A modified old log cabin tucked beneath the steep hillside where the bike path climbs up the steep hill from the Rio Grande toward Centennial, it’s all exposed log beams and window seats and small, funky, tucked-away spaces and a big, round dining-room table so you can see everyone’s face and candlelight and a lazy Susan and threadbare oriental rugs and a well-used kitchen with a big island in the middle of it, stacked high with plates. Loved. Filled with love. It’s timeless classic with a hint of the surreal, like where “Hansel and Gretel” meets “Alice in Wonderland.”
Little did I know (because I did not read the email carefully) that I was in charge of the entire Seder plate and was supposed to bring hard-boiled egg, parsley, purple horseradish, matzo, lamb shank and charoset. The only thing I brought was the charoset, a mixture of chopped apples, walnuts and sweet wine, a dish that I have mastered in the past several years — or at least since the Sadowsky/Halperin clan reminded me it’s OK to be Jewish only once a year.
The charoset is part of the Seder plate and represents the mortar the Israelites used to make bricks when they were slaves in Egypt. I have to admit it is very difficult to draw a line between the Jewish slaves in Egypt and the current Jewish population of Aspen, but I guess that’s kind of the point: You’ve come a long way, baby.
I take this charoset pretty seriously. Just because it’s supposed to represent mortar doesn’t mean it has to taste like it. First, I candy the walnuts, paleo style, by roasting them in the oven with coconut oil, honey, cinnamon, vanilla extract and a dash of salt (rather than frying them on the stovetop with sugar). Then, instead of crappy red wine, I reduce balsamic vinegar on the stove with a little bit of orange juice until it thickens slightly. I chop the apples and combine them with the balsamic reduction and candied walnuts, and voila: an updated, gourmet version of an ancient dish that tastes fantastic and also is an excellent accompaniment to the brisket (a little acidity and sweetness to what I find to be a one-dimensional savory dish).
Maybe food is the most interesting thing I’ve got going on right now. And while I don’t know if I’m interested in trying to make up for a lifetime without religious tradition, I so love an excuse to sit at a table with extraordinary people I love to eat and sing with.
The Princess sort of feels like a mature adult today. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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