The Passover Kitchen Diaries: Anatomy of a Week in the Home Kitchen Trenches
Posted on 18th of April, 2012 by Lévana
I have been asked countless times by fans, family and friends the perennial Passover question: “How do you do it?” And each time I suspect the person asking is fervently hoping I’ll snap my fingers and brag I do it in my sleep. The reality is, Passover is a titanic – and quite costly- project for the professional cook every bit as much as for the home cook, but the good news is, it’s incredibly exciting, rewarding and delicious. Every time I think I will sit down and share my thoughts about the whole undertaking I realize I am much too close to the holiday to devote the necessary time; Passover just ended last night, and I am finally hunkering down to writing my thoughts, while they are still perfectly fresh in my mind. Writing as a form of occupational therapy… I am writing this “file” diary-style, full disclosure, about the kitchen and beyond, hoping that even though you might turn up your nose at it now, so soon after the much-dreaded and much-anticipated week has ended and is fading into a distant memory, you will be happy to find it next year, and might even use it as a primer for many happy busy years to come, for Passover and other heavy-traffic weeks.
The Purim feast fell this year on Thursday March 8th. It means Passover falls four weeks later on a Friday night, and will include not one but two Shabboses, the ideal scenario for most of us, with the first Yom Tovim (holidays with all the solemn mandates, just like for shabbos but with cooking permitted) from Friday night to Sunday night, the entire week free for Chol Hamoed (intermediary days), to take day trips and play, and the last days of Yom Tovim again from Thursday night to Saturday night. I readily admit I do not adhere to the old tradition of turning the house upside-down-inside-out in preparation of Passover weeks before it starts. Rather, I wait until a week before the holiday, work 3 days on the cleaning of the house, task-force-style, with three helpers, much like the traditional spring cleaning; then I spend 2 days cooking up an absolute storm for the holiday, with two helpers.
March 20th. Last night was my last weekly cooking demo before Passover, featuring, what else, a Seder menu. My husband and I briefly reminisce about last year’s Passover, practically the only one spent away from home in almost 36 years of marriage, at the magnificent Fairmont Scottsdale. Nonono, do not dwell on this, I tell myself brightly and resolutely (my husband actually prefers spending Passover at home, whatever it entails). Which brings me to this incredible realization, made even more remarkable as I am talking to my son Maimon, who muses he has been married a whole decade and has dodged hosting Passover in his house so far, but who knows for how much longer: The first Passover of our marriage, we had been married less than four months, and … we hosted it, all eight days of it, with family, friends, neighbors and strangers. That year and every subsequent year except for two seasons (look in the above link). We had no idea there was a mother to go to, hotel programs to register for, caterers to order from, bucolic settings to elope to, so not even a minute was spent discussing options whose existence we didn’t even suspect. We understood just this: Passover is bearing down on us, so, chop-chop! Just look at my Mega Passover Seder Menu and Recipe File, straight from my recent demos, you’ll see how I mean business!
Today is the day I set aside to go through my drawers and my closets. Last week was my birthday, and one of the most fervent wish I made to myself gradually morphed into a war cry: Streamline, divest! Streamline, divest! I have been telling myself incessantly the whole week; the war cry is gathering furious speed. The difference this year, I tell myself pep-talk-style, is, I am stepping up the organizing and classifying, I intend to have no pity and part with all things I haven’t used in more than a year. The first room I attack, with my housekeeper Yolanda, who has worked with me for years (one day a week in the house, all my weekly cooking demos, all holidays), is the room which serves as my office, and which we still quaintly call the boys’ room, long after the boys married and set up homes of their own. I fling open all drawers and closets, and I am ashamed at what I find: Drawer number one: no I can’t describe the mess as hilariously as the unforgettable Erma Bombeck in her popular column, so I will just name what I see: subway tokens (remember them? extinct since 2003), expired metro cards, rubber bands, plastic knives, a copper piggy bank containing hundreds of pennies and nickels (Ah! This weighs a ton, and probably explains why this drawer has been out of whack for years), a transistor radio circa 1959, a fossilized tube of chapstick, a map of the Catskills (a relic of summers spent in the region ages ago), an empty container of deodorant, a homework sheet from my son Yakov’s eighth grade, a tehilim booklet that could only be read with the help of a microscope, and ….no it can’t be… I get closer… yes it is… it looks real scary… a banana stem! Yolanda and I burst out laughing. Which begs the question, how has this “Zecher Lechurban” corner of my house escaped detection all these years?
Do I have to answer this? Please don’t make me!
I take out the tehilim, she takes out the piggy bank, and we toss everything else in industrial-size trash bags, causing huge billows of dust and a round of sneezes. Same goes for countless drawers, I will spare you the tedious description of their contents, one is enough, you get the picture. We now have half a dozen spacious empty drawers for when the children come to visit.
Next room: My closets. Here we get somewhat luckier. All clothes are in pretty good shape, but hmmm, let’s face it, I have been waiting a few years to fit back into some of my favorite dresses, which I wore when I was practically a young hippie bride, 36 years and three children ago. Let’s say I am two sizes larger now, with no hope to go back in time. I realize my telling myself, I will wear them again as soon as I get back to my original weight, is as futile as my mother saying “I’ll go to the doctor as soon as I feel better”. So I pile the unworn clothes neatly in boxes, work the phone for just a few minutes, and pretty soon get the visit of a thin young neighbor who excitedly tries a couple dresses on, examines her reflection approvingly and exclaims: “Yup! Just my size! This is what I’ll wear for the Seder! That is what I will wear at a wedding I have in May!”
This impromptu gift delivers two rewards: An invitation to dinner from my neighbor, whom I don’t see as often as I would like to, and something else I had not thought possible until now: A vastly improved new look, created by the newfound easy access to my clothes, shoes and accessories, the ones I really wear, except now looking neat and un-rumpled, summoning themselves to me, as it were.
March 22nd: My new cookbook has just arrived today. I wouldn’t want to detract from our subject here, so I won’t go into it, except to say, it’s a mad house going forward. We are scrambling to get the books out before Passover to as many places as we can manage, the fulfillment house is filling out our orders like crazy to get them out in time for holiday gifts. The book looks so beautiful! My phone is ringing off the hook: Reviews, radio interviews, congratulations. What a blessing! How exciting is this?
I retrieve my last Passover file. Forgive my vanity, but this is something I feel very smug about. I write everything in this file that has to do with Passover: who I will invite, what utensils need to be replaced, what I was able to save from last season, what I will cook, what I will order and where. I have a large storage space in one of the children’s bedroom in which I store all Passover dishes and utensils. I remember with pleasure I have recently purchased and put away three sets of Corelle dishes (each set enough for 6 settings, total 18: Just my size). Love my Corelle dishes: they may not quite do for Shabbos as they look decent but somewhat demure, but they sure beat disposables, plus they are ideally easy to wash, are break-resistant and so thin they pile in the dish rack (alas no dishwasher on Passover) and in the closet like a deck of cards. And they are…. dishes! I have also recently replaced all my stodgy mix-and-match cutlery with one large bright nondescript but serviceable stainless steel set, enough for twenty. I remember with dismay I have not replaced my good-for-nothing tea mug (can’t be without my mug, not even for a week, not even for a day), and my husband’s antiquated “thermos” bottle, containing his daily coffee supply for the office.
I make my guest lists, allowing enough room for last minute un-placed and out-of-town guests. Making my calls. Several of them are constant Seder guests, others come on the last days. I am also hosting lunch for all my nephews and nieces and their children, Tuesday Chol Hamoed, come to NYC from literally all over the world: this is our chance to see all of them.
My Passover lists include: All guests from past years; all menus for each meal; all produce orders; all grocery orders; all meat orders; all fish orders. My husband always order the wine and matza, so these chores are off my hands. All I do from year to year is tweak the lists to accommodate my current year’s guests, their ages, preferences etc….. and leave the perennial favorites in place. I secure a date with my son in law Meir, who will pick me up at the Kolel Store, where I will pick up all my meat and poultry, and groceries.
March 24th. Spending Shabbos with our children in Brooklyn. This is part of their gift to us: hosting us before they come to us for Passover: My son Maimon and his family spend the first few days in Florida with his in-laws, but are coming the last days, and my ready-to-pop-pregnant daughter Bella, her husband and daughter are spending the whole week with us.
March 29th: Armed with my shopping lists, my menu lists and my guest lists, I take the train to the Kollel store. I used to call in all my orders at a Brooklyn supermarket that delivers to Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but it came out much more expensive, and I often ended up with a few things I didn’t want, and without a few things I wanted, so I decided to make the time to go myself. Coming out of the train, walking toward the store, I get a call from a dear friend who explains anxiously she has just been ordered to spend her pregnancy in bed, and won’t be able to manage any cooking for her family of five. oooooh-kkkkay, I say with a gulp, taking the full measure of the news and what it means for me. No problem whatsoever, I say mechanically, I will make everything, it will be my pleasure! And so it will be!
I spend 3 hours at the store, starting with the butcher section. Just in passing, a good piece of advice: Get friendly with your butcher: he can really help you! I always order pretty much the same items. We love London broil, but the term is used too loosely for any old slab, and the results are often iffy at best, so my solution is: get minute roasts, and ask the butcher to butterfly them into two perfect rectangle slabs and remove the thin and tough sinew sheet that separate the two halves. Out of each minute roast, I get two perfect slabs of London Broil, enough to serve eight comfortably for main course; two raw (un-pickled) tongues, which I reserve for better-known less-squeamish guests (these don’t know what they are missing!); one large ribeye roast; one large brisket; two large shoulder roasts, which I do not roast, but cut in large cubes for stew; two lamb shoulder roasts (ditto); chickens: whole, thighs and breasts; ground lean meat made of equal parts chicken and beef; two capons. The butcher also recommends a beef kolichel (muscle meat) seasoned in a dry rub and sealed, meant to be cooked in its wrappings in simmering water or cholent. OK, I say, I’ll try.
I find fabulous imported dark chocolate, olive oil, dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, yogurts, everything! And the store is not yet the mad house it will be next week. I wait for Meir outside. The scene on the sidewalk is bewildering. Do you want to see a frantically busy corner? Look right outside this supermarket. Trucks, carts, baby carriages, orders screamed, baby cries drowned out, pickups, deliveries, pushing, pulling, all the while lunging to prevent everything (and everyone!) on wheels from going down the ominously slanted sidewalk toward incoming traffic! Mommies, I beg you please don’t even blink, and keep your hands fastened on that carriage handle! I very nearly fainted once as I saw a lone baby carriage go down, and the mother running after it as casually as if she was catching a ball. Do not shop in these mammoth stores unless you have the stomach for it!
Meir arrives at 2 pm. Talk about working for food: I make him lunch, he puts everything away neatly in the freezer and the refrigerator. We have not organized the kitchen just yet, just putting stuff away. Meir is a life saver, and lunch is delicious. I send him home with dinner for him, my daughter Bella and my granddaughter Tsofia.
March 30th: Shabbos Hagadol, with my son Yakov and his family, Shluchim in Washington Heights. Not in charge of any cooking: Imagine that! I use this Friday to do alterations on some clothes and jewelry, and organize book shelves. Taking lots of adorable children clothes for my twins, which my friend Kayla passes on, in perfect condition, from her grandchildren.
April 1st: My cleaning crew is coming tomorrow.
Updated lists of what we will be cooking: Please don’t get scared: rather, look at the good side: I cook up a storm for the whole week, and hardly step into the kitchen again to cook anything more than a cheese omelet for breakfast, toast some matza, get a green salad ready, boil coffee etc… Almost all fish items go in the oven just before serving time. OK? So here comes: More on each dish when I list each day’s menu. Oh, just one more thing before I get into the trenches: No Chametz-like food whatsoever served at any point during the Passover week in my kitchen or at my table. What for? Who needs it? After denouncing pizza, pasta, layer cakes and other starches as our year-round tormentors, why look for a way to make Passover knockoffs of these nemeses? I don’t think so! So long, see you next week, I will subsist beautifully on…. everything else, and then some. I love love love Passover foods!
Placing my order for fresh produce. I spread this on really thick.
Hint: All recipes are in my new cookbook, which you will love on Passover and year-round. Lots of the recipes are on my blog. And here again is the link to my Mega Passover Menu and Recipe File
Fish: seared tuna steaks; tilapia fillets with shitaki leek sauce (making only the shitaki sauce in advance), spinach-stuffed rainbow trout (making only the spinach stuffing in advance) gefilte fish; Roasted salmon in red pepper sauce.
Meat and chicken: brisket in coffee brandy sauce; tongue with Swiss chard lemon sauce; lamb with apricots and almonds; capon roasted in cider herb sauce; chicken breasts with red pepper sauce; meatballs in tomato sauce; beef chunks in mushroom sauce; chicken salad.
Soups: cabbage soup; vegetable soup; Moroccan fish soup; roasted garlic artichoke soup.
Sides, salads and condiments: potato kugel; Russian salad; red cabbage salad; cucumber salad; vegetarian chopped liver; roasted asparagus; blanched asparagus; red pepper sauce; hot jalapeno sauce; lemonade; roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower; tabouleh; chocolate espresso vodka; sofrito; quinoa with sofrito; quinoa tabouleh; plain quinoa; mayonnaise horseradish sauce.
Desserts: Coconut meringues, one batch plain and one batch chocolate-dipped; brownies; almond cake; chocolate beet coconut cake; spicy nut truffles; berry rhubarb sauce; green fruit salad.
A few months ago I asked Rabbi Benyamin Steinmetz, Mashgiach (kosher supervisor) extraordinaire, if he had any idea where to procure Kosher-for-Passover orange flower water: If anyone could find it, he would be it! Oh the wonderful treats, savory and sweet, I could make with that! He says he’ll look around. No luck just yet, I have all but given up on it….. Quel dommage! (the saga continues…. stay tuned)
Monday April 2nd and Tuesday April 3rd. Getting down to the wire. Passover is Friday night! Yolanda is here with 2 more helpers. We clean up a storm. Fridge, freezer, shelves, polishing brass and silver. Giving away all bread and cakes and crackers; locking up all food cabinets for “selling”, emptying out a whole section of the kitchen to accommodate Passover groceries and utensils; chucking mountains of books, magazines and papers; emptying out a section of the dining room to accommodate dishes, glasses, serving platters, cutlery. We make the microwave oven, convection oven and regular oven look like new. We set up the oven on self cleaning mode: volcanic heat in the kitchen for about 6 hours, with an objectionable vaguely chemical smell emanating from the oven which sends all of us swooning. We decide to stay clear of the kitchen until the self-cleaning cycle is up. We clean the windows and their shades, we scrub the tiles in the bathrooms, polish the furniture. Oy: where is Cinderella when we need her? No question of cooking our meals during these two days in this ground-zero setting. This is what Robin Williams would call only half jokingly the refugee motif. For all practical purposes, the kitchen is in Passover mode as of now. I send the girls out to lunch and have them wash their hands thoroughly before resuming their work. My husband brings me coffee every morning that whole week from Starbucks just the way I like it, I promise him a good tip: Decaf Vente Americano, lots of room, with a drop of half and half. I drink it hot in my bedroom and finish it before the girls arrive. We take all Chametz condiments and containers from our refrigerator to that of the apartment of a neighbor who goes away every year on Passover. We finally take out all Passover stuff from its storage space into the space we have carved out for it. I order all my produce (not including fruit and salad greens) on Monday, and it arrives on Tuesday. Putting it away takes a good couple hours. I should tell you I have a standup freezer, and a spare semi-commercial standup refrigerator: couldn’t possibly be without them, not only for Passover but for year around (freezer) and large shabbos gatherings (spare refrigerator). The front of the house is piled high with all stuff to give away, all in perfect condition. Yolanda suggests taking it all home where she will put it all to good use; I’ll put her and her helpers in a cab.
Tuesday night everything finally looks spic and span. We cover our Corian counters (don’t ever get Corian counters: Can’t stand them!) with heavy duty plastic, and leave our large brand new Silestone counter uncovered (Beautiful! I only had the largest counter redone this year, but I intend to do the smaller ones as well, as soon as I can set aside the budget!). We pour buckets of boiling water on the faucets, sinks, silestone counter. We tie all doors to all cabinets with string, leaving only the Passover section open. I look around me and wonder, is this what we quirky Jews insist on calling the celebration of freedom? A remark a friend of mine recently made briefly crosses my mind: She said when she got engaged, she told her husband “I’ll marry you for better or for worse, but not for Passover!” No fool, her!
I place my fish order.
You won’t believe this: Rabbi Steinmetz’s daughter calls me to tell me her father has not forgotten about my request, and he has secured the orange flower water, All the way from Israel, it’s in Monsey, they are leaving first thing in the morning, how can I get it? I’m speechless, and my mind is racing! Rabbi Steinmetz is a genius with a heart of gold. Every year he kashers the White House Kitchen for their annual White House Channukah Reception: You go, Rabbi! I call my friend Dora, one of my dearest and most coördinated friends, who lives in the Rabbi’s neighborhood, and tell her my story. Ten seconds have not gone by before she says, “I’ll drive by his house and get the orange flower water, then give it to my daughter to drop off tomorrow morning on her way to work” I mention what a shame it is I can’t get him my new cookbook as a gift, and not missing a beat she says, “Why not? Mine just came with UPS. I’ll give it to him, and when my daughter drops off the orange flower water, you will give her another copy for me!” Elated I answer, OK, I’ll give your daughter two copies: One for you and one for her. Now that I have the precious stuff, I decide to add one dessert: Tapioca almond pudding.
It’s 8 pm and we are all ready to drop. I put the girls in a cab, and get into a bath scented with eucalyptus essential oil, and soak there for a couple hours.
Before dropping off to bed, I take out of the freezer: 2 capons, 1 brisket, 2 shoulder roasts, 2 tongues, 6 boneless chicken breasts, 18 chicken thighs, 2 lamb breasts. I also take out a bag of chopped meat to make meatballs and tomatoes for tomorrow’s lunch, just the three of us, plus my husband’s dinner.
Wednesday April 4th: Cooking!
My cooking schedule never changes, so let me rattle it off for you. Let me add an important detail I apply across the board: I store everything in sealed containers, and label them, the obsessive-compulsive (that’s right, Type A!) way: The secret of my food staying always fresh. Need I add, no double-dipping ever?
- Peel oranges and make zest. Peel lemons and make zest. Place zest in snack ziplock bags and in the freezer.
- Make lemonade. Bring 8 (yes eight! I never serve soda) liter bottles of minimally processed lemon juice with sugar to boil, then allow the mixture to cool before pouring it back into the bottles, through a funnel. These can stay outside. At each meal I put some of this lemonade concentrate in a large pitcher, and add water and ice and mix.
- Make strawberry rhubarb sauce. Lots of it. We call it affectionately poo-poo sauce. These can stay in the refrigerator the whole week.
- Soak all greens: Each in separate bowls with cold water and loads of kosher salt. Cilantro, parsley, dill, basil leaves, mint leaves, swiss chard. Then wash thoroughly and place in a colander to dry. Then roll each separately in a towel, and put in a bag, towel and all.
- Peel sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets, celery root (remember to use a hammer!), and cut them in ¾ inch dice. All prepped. Tomorrow, a third will go into the Russian salad, a third in the vegetable soup, and the rest will get roasted with some olive oil, cinnamon and sea salt.
- Peel 5 heads garlic
- Roast 5 heads garlic
- Slice 4 large bunches leeks, wash thoroughly, put in a bag
- Peel and quarter lots of onions, and fry them very dark. Place them in pint containers.
- Make sofrito: 2 pint containers in the refrigerator, 2 in the freezer
- Peel and roast lots of eggplant. Put in a bag
- Boil some potatoes and eggs. Put in bags
- Poach chicken breasts. Put in bags and freeze
- Toast some pine nuts and walnuts, on 2 opposite sides of a cookie sheet, then store them separately in sealed sandwich bags
- Wash and slice all shitaki (stems discarded). Put in a bag
- Wash all cremini and leave whole
- Peel and grind ginger, then put in a container and cover with oil
- Cut the basil in ribbons, the put in a container with olive oil to cover
- Cut the shoulder roasts in large chunks, and cook for two hours. Add the mushrooms and finish the dish. Thank Goodness for my huge broad bottom pots!
- Put the capons to roast, with apple cider and lots of fresh herbs.
- Bake the brisket
- Make chicken and Swiss chard
- Cook the tongue in water 2 hours. Then peel, dice and finish the dish
- Cut the lamb breasts in large chunks, and cook for 2 hours. Then finish the dish
- Grate the white cabbage, and put in a bag. Food processor never stops: My workhorse!
- Grate the red cabbage and put in a bag
- Peel potatoes for kugel and leave them to soak overnight in a tub of cold water
- Wrap the just-delivered fish and put away in the freezer
- Place the order for all salad greens, fruit, asparagus and endives
Sometime in the middle of the day, we make room in the kitchen and eat our lunch: Boiled potatoes, salad, meatballs and tomatoes.
Putting away all the food: setting aside about 2 dozen dishes total in smaller containers for my homebound friend and her group of five. Freezing the cooked brisket and the tongue.
Take out a ribeye roast to thaw overnight.
Thursday April 5th: Cooking!
Remember, all food is prepped now, and safely put away in plastic bags. It is just a matter of cooking it!
- Take out 1 side salmon from the freezer early in the morning, to dice into the fish soup
- Make haroset
- Grate horseradish (hold your nose!) and place in a jar with vinegar to cover
- Make vegetarian chopped liver (good example of assembling prepped ingredients: Hard boiled eggs, roasted eggplant, toasted walnuts, dark-fried onions)
- Make cabbage soup
- Make fish soup
- Make vegetable soup (make a smaller separate batch with no seasonings and everything peeled, for my son Yakov who eats everything peeled on Passover)
- Make roasted garlic artichoke soup
- Roast a bone for the Seder tray
- Each soup is put into 2 1-gallon-size containers (1 for the refrigerator, 1 for the freezer), + ½ gallon container (my friend)
- Make the nut truffles
- Make the coconut meringues. I use the yolks for mayonnaise, using the electric whisk of the food processor, but the whisk pulls down the whole oily yolk mixture, which spills all over. This is too urgent, I don’t have a minute to get furious. We scramble to clean up the mess – my mess, taking great care not to slip on the mixture and to clean it up thoroughly. To heck with homemade mayo, I’m not redoing it. I’ll use crummy store-bought Passover mayo, and mix it with grated horseradish and turmeric to make a delicious sauce
- Make the almond cake
- Make the coconut beet chocolate cake
- Make the brownies. Second nuisance of the day. I realize too late I forgot to spray the baking pan. I scrape off the whole baked brownies pan into a bowl, shape it into balls and roll the balls in cocoa powder. Bye-bye brownies hello truffles: Ta-Da!
- Make the tapioca almond pudding
- Make potato kugel. 2 large pans + 1 round pan. 1 pan for the refrigerator, 1 for the freezer, small round pan for my friend
- Make the quinoa with sofrito
- Make the ribeye roast. Freeze the cooked roast
- Make the roasted root vegetables. Freeze
- Make the shitaki leek sauce
- Make the red cabbage salad
- Make the cucumber salad (set aside some with no dill, for my son Yakov)
- Eat lunch, all of us: Lots of cabbage soup and salad, and some roast chicken
- Slice the scallions very thin
- Make the Russian salad
- Make the vegetable chopped liver
- Make the jalapeno sauce
- Make the red pepper sauce
- We put away the last delivery: salad greens and fruit
Another exhausting day, ending with an essential oil bath, but everything looks and tastes great.
Take out 2 sides of salmon to thaw
Friday: The day of!
Just Yolanda and I. We roast half a case of asparagus, blanch the other half, bake a large roll of gefilte fish, make a green fruit salad with lots of mint, wash loads of lettuce, slice radishes, boil lots of quinoa for the children, for side dishes and for the tabouleh.. We smear the salmon sides with lots of red pepper sauce and roast them. One side is for us, one is for my friend, enough for first course for two meals. We even have lunch! Gefilte fish slathered with jalapeno sauce, and tabouleh, and make a serious dent into that delicious green fruit salad. Beautiful flowers arrive from some Seder guests. My friends Marilyn and Armin come to pick up a case of cookbooks to use as gifts to their various Passover hosts. My friend’s husband comes to pick up their food. We are all done by three o’clock. My husband comes from the office, and grinds coffee: His, regular, coarse, and mine, decaf, fine. My daughter Bella arrives with her husband Meir and her daughter Tsofia: The fun can begin! They all have a bowl of cabbage soup, and sliced potatoes and eggs. To tide them over until dinner time. Bella is enormous, it is the second time in her life she is over size 4. I pray she keeps that baby in until Passover ends, but we still discuss all possible scenarios. She puts the gorgeous tiger lilies she bought into a tall silver vase. We discuss tomorrow’s lunch, Shabbos. No cholent, no cholent, they plead: it’s just the four of us and Tsofia for lunch, let’s just chill and eat fun foods. Fine with me! Bella and I go out to have manicure and pedicure jobs. The manicure part is a complete waste on me, as my hands have by now the grace and feel of sand paper, and dishwashing will make a complete mess of the job, but the pedicure is on solid. Coral: same color as Tsofia’s tiny toenails, and we are tickled pink (pun not intended) about sharing our beauty secret.
Friday night. 1st seder. A dozen guests
Red cabbage salad; Russian salad; cucumber salad; vegetable chopped liver; roasted artichoke soup; roasted salmon in red pepper sauce; lamb with apricots and almonds; capon; quinoa; roasted asparagus; assorted pastries. Chocolate espresso vodka is a huge hit, as every year. I freeze the leftover capon and the leftover lamb, they will each make a perfect main course for four. A guest brought a magnificent slab of smoked salmon: We decide right there and then to forgo our original lunch ideas, and enjoy the smoked salmon instead.
The matza is delicious and crisp this year. We only use Shmura Matza throughout the week.
Saturday lunch. Just the four of us and Tsofia: Smoked salmon with lots of lemon wedges. Asparagus with horseradish sauce, mixed greens salad, quinoa.
Saturday night. Second Seder. A dozen guests
Red cabbage salad; Russian salad; cucumber salad; vegetable chopped liver; fish soup; beef chunks with mushrooms; chicken with Swiss chard; potato kugel; strawberry rhubarb sauce; chocolate (formerly brownies, now) truffles, sliced cakes. Chocolate espresso vodka
I take out Tilapia fillets to thaw overnight.
Sunday lunch. A dozen guests.
A fish meal for a change. Vegetable soup; mixed greens; tabouleh; vegetable chopped liver; tilapia fillets with shitaki leek sauce; Roasted asparagus; tomato salad; endive pear salad; to the couple diehard meat-and-potato guys, we serve beef with mushrooms and potato kugel; almond tapioca pudding; green fruit salad; chocolate truffles. Chocolate espresso vodka
I finally stick my nose out in the street, with Tsofia, tea mug in hand. I take her to the playground, where she has a blast with some other kids. There is not a bird she doesn’t talk to. Hey bird, come down now, she demands. On the way back, my tea mug gets all detached and drippy, and I hurl it angrily in the air, scaring Tsofia to tears. She ran to everyone at home: Bubbie broke the cup, Bubbie broke the cup. No apologies seem to be enough: I scared my gentle Tsofia, and I am not proud of it!
Sunday night: End of the first Yom Tov. Each man for himself. Leftovers from lunch.
Monday Col Hamoed.
Morning: the usual. Cheese omelets, fruit, yogurt. But for me, a treat I rarely succumb to, but eat with great gusto and no apologies. My Passover treat: two dark-toasted matzas with butter, and lots of coffee.
Bella buys me another tea mug, a great one this time. Dinner: artichoke soup, roast salmon, large salad, roasted asparagus, quinoa, pastries.
I love that Tsofia seems to enjoy her Passover food immensely, not giving the least thought to any Chametz stuff: Bubbie yook, she tells me delightedly. I’m ealing! Shicken and wice (quinoa)! Pasgetti and meatballs! (meatballs sans spaghetti)
They are all watching the game. I read my book: Talking with my mouth full, by Gail Simmons. How à propos! Delightful: I can totally relate!
I take out to thaw: trays of tongue, cabbage soup; poached breasts, a chunk of smoked turkey breast (for the chicken salad), uncooked chicken thighs.
Tuesday: All little nephews and nieces, grand nephews and grand nieces coming for lunch. From Israel, California, Australia, France. Yolanda is here. We have our meal practically ready. We roast the chicken thighs with lots of baby potatoes, make a big greens salad, and make the chicken salad. Tongue: Yum! Thank G-d for an appreciative crowd who welcomes tongue: I only make it twice a year, but would make it more often if it were not known to raise so many eyebrows and send so many people heaving at the mere mention of it. Dicing it mitigates the objectionable look….
Menu served: Russian salad; red cabbage salad; cucumber salad; vegetarian chopped liver; cabbage soup; tongue in Swiss chard lemon sauce; chicken salad with horseradish dressing; roasted chicken thighs and baby potatoes; mixed greens; tabouleh; assorted pastries; green fruit salad. What beautiful children big and small Tfutfutfu! I spirit away a little container of tongue, for my son Maimon, coming the last days, everything else is practically gone. They love the chocolate espresso vodka. What little food is left is packed away for my nephew Ari, who couldn’t make it, and served that same night to my husband and our dear friend Yael, here on a visit from Israel.
I give a cookbook to every nephew and niece, and sign it to each of them. They are excited, and delighted!
My niece Rivkah has hired a clown to entertain all the kiddies right after lunch, and paint their faces. What great fun! I joked that they all went from the Bronx zoo (Monday) to the Kirschenbaum zoo (Tuesday).
After all the crowds leave, I take Tsofia out with me. She still repeats, reproachfully: You broke the cup! I show her my spanking new cup, and she asks anxiously: Bubbie, you like this one? You not going to break it? I take her to the park, then to Screme, where I have just heard they serve Kosher-for-Passover ice cream (what a pity I am fleishik and can’t have any!), then buy her a toy, and bring her home happy and sleepy.
Wednesday Chol Hamoed: Bella, Meir and Tsofia leave for the day, to visit Meir’s parents, in town from Israel. I babysit my son Yakov’s twins, we play for a couple delightful hours, then Yakov and Elisheva come, and we serve lunch. I make sure I touch no meat, because I intend to have my ice cream fix at Screme. I serve London broil, meatballs and tomatoes, vegetable soup, salad, tabouleh, kugel. Yakov sticks to dishes using only peeled veggies, and enjoys the meatballs and London broil (I was right: London broil made out of butterflied minute roast is fantastic, and zero labor).
I go out for ice cream at Screme: Delish!
Wednesday night: Just the four of us and Tsofia. I serve dinner in the living room (same as lunch, not the same guests so we’re OK) so they can all watch the ball game.
Thursday Chol Hamoed/Erev Yom Tov: Maimon and his family are on their way from the airport. I take out fish soup and the saved tongue for the big ones’ lunch, and meatballs and quinoa for kids. I take out sea trout to thaw.
I poke around in the refrigerator and see what we’ve got. Now is a good time for some off-the-cuff treat. I see some dark-fried onions, celery root, a head of fennel, fresh tarragon, fresh thyme, lots of roasted chestnuts, port wine. I know just what to do! I make a pot of chestnut fennel soup, ready in less than 30 minutes, and cream it: Outrageous!
I also roast lots of Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, boil some tiny potatoes for potato salad, and sauté lots of mushrooms with rosemary and garlic.
Maimon and his family arrive, kids pounding at the door: How tan they look, and how beautiful with their straw hats and purple and fuschia tiered dresses! They all look pretty exhausted, having waken up at 4 am to make an early flight out from Miami, so it’s lunch and off to bed with everyone.
I go out for some errands. The outing includes a gift from myself to myself: A beautiful black silk blouse, and a necklace of large red Czechoslovakian beads, from Liberty House (attention ladies with the lower part of hour-glass figures like mine: This store is for you! For us!) When I get back a couple hours later, I find another beautiful gift: Ruthie has taken gorgeous pictures of the children, and bought Indian tile picture frames for them. I admire the girls some more.
Thursday night: Yom Tov. A dozen guests. A fish meal
Vegetable soup; mixed greens; vegetarian chopped liver; tomato, basil, artichoke hearts and olive salad; endive salad; roasted spinach-stuffed sea trout (outrageous); potato kugel; roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower; assorted pastries (we ran all out of cakes); strawberry rhubarb sauce; chocolate espresso vodka.
I take out a slab of fresh tuna to thaw out.
Friday lunch: Yom Tov. Just us. 6 adults, 3 children
I take out to thaw what I need for dinner, all cooked: ribeye roast, roasted roots, poached chicken breasts.
Vegetable soup (no, we never get tired of soup, or salad: I think you can tell!); sliced seared tuna steaks with 2 sauces: Jalapeno sauce (we’ve been eating it with everything, and we still have a little left) and horseradish ginger sauce; big salad. Kids eat their own thing: Chicken, quinoa, avocado, no end of chocolate-dipped coconut meringues. We are off to the playground right after lunch. Tsofia, Sarah and I. What fun! Sarah gives the signal, throws her head back, scrunches her eyes, stretches her arms, makes two tight fists, and laughs at the top of her lungs for no apparent reason, and Tsofia, her worshipping younger cousin, follows Sarah’s lead and does just as Sarah does. Passersby crack up at the sight, and let them pet their doggies. They love the lake and chat away at the ducks, and fly down the slides in the playground.
Again, everyone pleads: no cholent, no cholent for shabbos.
Friday night. Yom Tov. 18 guests.
This is a biggie. Chestnut fennel soup; big salad; vegetarian chopped liver; tomato, basil, artichoke hearts and olive salad; endive salad; ribeye roast with sauté mushrooms; roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower; poached chicken breasts with red pepper sauce; roasted roots; assorted pastries; Tapioca (which Musia pronounces Tapokia) almond pudding; lots of chocolate-dipped coconut meringues; chocolate truffles; nut truffles; chocolate espresso vodka
Saturday lunch; Yom Tov. Last day
Sliced London broil with horseradish sauce; shitaki and leeks sauce; potato salad; roasted roots; big salad, roasted asparagus. Assorted pastries.
We go out to Riverside Park, just Musia (my oldest granddaughter, eight) and I. We marvel at the cherry blossoms and all other gorgeous trees in bloom and the intoxicating fragrances that envelop us. I show Musia the playground where I used to take my children. Her father is one of the children who used to play here: She gets a kick out of this. I show her the Boat Basin, and tell her that years ago, I catered a wedding for a couple who lived on one of these boats (For real, Bubbie? Yes, for real!). We walk back towards the schul for Seudas Mashiach. I am surprised to see my son Maimon has prepared a wonderful Dvar (talk), and leads the guests to song (four nigunim): I am not the only one who admires his accomplishments: G-d bless!
We spend the evening dismantling the kitchen yet again, this time in reverse, with Meir and my husband putting all Passover stuff away, Maurice handing to Meir, and Meir perched on a stepladder, making it all fit, mysteriously, neatly, in the storage space.
Maimon and his family leave first, followed by Meir, Bella and Tsofia a couple hours later! I can’t help crying. What’s the matter? Am I not glad it’s over, and we’ll all be going back to normal? Yes I am, but I will miss everyone immensely. It was just wonderful! And yes, Bella is still in one piece: Wow! Thanks for asking!
Sunday is a regular workday for me. Beautiful day. At around five I walk from my house to Columbus Circle via Riverside Park (not as much fun without my Musia, but still gorgeous), to meet my dear friend Geila, my fellow cookbook author (author of the beautiful Kosher Revolution) at the brand-new Latin restaurant Ladino. I have been on an exclusive Passover diet for 12 days now, so I welcome scooping my guacamole with corn chips. The food is good for the most part, the tapas overpriced, the guacamole too tame, the mashed potatoes hmmm what’s up with’em? the company delightful, and some details in the service simply absurd, so we get a good laugh out of it: I love my steak with mustard, like all Frenchies, so I ask for some mustard. We don’t have mustard, they say as unflappably and patiently as if I, not they, were the problem. Likewise, they don’t serve coffee and tea. No sangria either, and no drinks other than wine. This is decidedly NOT ok! So the best part of the evening is still, a couple fun hours spent with Geila. I’ll let you know if and when mustard, coffee, tea and sangria materialize!
I walk back home, stopping along the way for some coffee, the coffee that was unattainable in the restaurant about an hour ago.
Monday morning: Yolanda is here. We clean the house from top to bottom, strip the beds, etc…. Looking great.
Would I do this again? You bet, in a heartbeat. As long as G-d gives me the strength. See you next Passover! Ciao!
PS: One dish never got eaten: The brisket. The survivor still enjoys shelter in the freezer, safe and sound, but not for too long: it will be next Shabbos’s dinner or lunch!