With our usual knack for careful planning, Eric and I decided the Tuesday before the holiday that it would be nice to host a Passover Seder. Friday night was out, since we had theater tickets for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Henry V at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (more evidence of our knack for careful planning, and also of the fact that the Shakespeare fan in our household is the non-Jewish member of our household, and, well, I forgot). But Saturday was wide open, and even though many of our friends had already made other plans by then, we were able to lasso one guest.
So it was off to the races.
Almost immediately, we ran into brisket problems. The smallest brisket at C-Town on Wednesday was around seven pounds, which seemed a mite excessive for three people. Eric promised to check at the food coop after his Thursday night shift. The smallest there was ten pounds, he reported back . . . and $12.99 a pound, to boot.
We passed. Which meant that Friday, it was back to C-Town to pick up the very last brisket in the meat case.
Saturday, I was forced to choose: bird or run? I wanted to bird, but with the Brooklyn Half Marathon only a month away, I reluctantly chose to run. Besides, my club was hosting a paced training run, and duty called.
I skipped out on the post-run social gathering to tend to the brisket. That involved lifting it out of its Rick’s Picks Smokra brine bath, patting it down, and rubbing it with spices and emollients. It was not unlike caring for an infant – and in fact, now that I think of it, the floppy slab of meat weighed about the same as Katie when she was born.
Into the oven it went, to roast for a while at high heat before being swaddled (there were those infant images again) in aluminum foil to slow cook for the rest of the afternoon.
Next up: caramel-coated, chocolate-covered matzo. (I’ve started calling it the “bread of addiction.”) And chicken broth for matzo ball soup. And a thick, spicy onion and tomato sauce for the brisket. And two kinds of charoset, the Ashkenazi kind that Eric prefers and the Sephardic kind I like. And an orange compote. And sautéed red peppers with chunks of eggplant, because why not.
Time was ticking away. After standing in the kitchen all afternoon, I surely deserved a glass of wine, didn’t I?
I poured myself one, and checked on the brisket. It was still enormous, enough for twenty people, and there would only be three of us. But no worries – leftover brisket makes the world’s best sandwi. . .
Oh. Crap. The bread thing.
I wondered whether Elijah would notice if his glass was short a few swallows, and decided he probably wouldn’t. So I poured myself a bit more wine as I took out potatoes, onions and eggs for the kugel, found the box grater, and set a pot of water to boil for the matzo balls (pre-mixed by Eric, I should add, to give credit where credit is due).
Was it the wine? Was it excessive multi-tasking? Excessive brisket? A kitchen too small to contain all that excess? Or was it just my own evil nature? I know only that when Eric asked me what Haggadah we should use, and did we have three copies and where were they, my response was along the lines of, “How the fuck should I know?” I believe I also pointed out that he, not I, was the Jew, and therefore this was his goddamn holiday.
And another thing: if hard-boiled eggs were so important to him, he could do them himself, except I didn’t know how he would, because every fucking burner on the stove was in use and I was THROUGH.
Eric retreated to the back bedroom to go through our collection of haggadoth (traditional, new age, political) and I grabbed a pair of scissors and my binoculars to go up to the roof.
The only thing more calming than snipping chives from one of the little pots in our rooftop garden was scanning the sky with binoculars. I had a vague hope that I might see chimney swifts, which would have continued my spring migration streak. I didn’t, but I did see an unidentified raptor, a lost purple balloon, various aircraft and a pair of red-tailed hawks. I watched the hawks for a while as they soared, came together, then separated again.
When I headed back downstairs, chives and chive blossoms in hand, I was renewed. I quickly – but calmly – grated the potatoes and onions, mixed the whole mess together with eggs, festooned it with chives and their blossoms and set it in the oven to bake. All that remained was to strain the chicken broth and drop the matzo balls into boiling water, cover them, and leave them to simmer.
Meanwhile, Eric took care of the hardboiled eggs.
It was time to exhale . . . and to kick back with another glass of wine (so nice of Margit to volunteer to bring a bottle, freeing me to finish this one).
Let me say here that the evening was delightful. We asked the four questions, told the story of the exodus from Egypt by acting out a dopey-but-fun play (I got it from a running buddy, but you can find it here), and even got a little serious. For me, the most meaningful part of the Exodus story is pondering the leap of faith it requires to choose liberation – something unknown, something risky, something you can never be fully prepared for. And how, generation after generation, we continue to face that choice. And how generation after generation finds the courage to act.
We also ate a lot of brisket (and drank a lot of wine). Eric and I continued to eat brisket for the week that followed, in a variety of forms – straight up, turned into hash, mixed into a rice bowl with mushrooms and greens and gochujang and a fried egg, shredded and laced with cumin . . . except, needless to say, there were no sandwiches.
This was actually the first time I’ve kept Passover (after my own fashion) for the entire holiday. I always start out with good intentions, then can’t resist the siren call of an almond croissant, a crusty baguette or (during one spring break trip through the south) fluffy buttermilk biscuits. Eric’s better about it than I am – though he confessed today that he never kept it before he met me, which means that my keeping it because of his example puts us in a weirdly circular process.
I do know that I’ve never enjoyed toast with butter and honey as much as I did this morning.