Pessach in Brewster with Bruce Backman: Best program away from home!
I almost spelled Brewster Bruce-Ter, inspired by one of our children’s quips. We Bruced him all day long, so the vamped-up spelling would be quite apt.
For more pictures copy and paste the following link: http://on.fb.me/1i4pra4/
Thank you so much Meir Pliskin for the beautiful pictures you took all week!
A couple years ago, when I wrote my Pessach Kitchen Diaries: Anatomy of a Week in the Kitchen Trenches, I was already married thirty six years, and had hosted all but two Passovers in our home. The previous two times away from home were with Fairmont Scottsdale Passover; this year in Brewster/Cape Cod was our third. My goal in writing so extensively about Pessach Preps, believe it or not, was to infuse the novice hostess with empowerment and a sense of practice that would soon make her look like a pro , and to whisper you-can-do-it encouragement in her ear. And I always hear with undiminished pleasure I have achieved my goal with quite a few soul sisters.
So it is most interesting that the year I wrote my mega Pessach Post was also the year I unceremoniously demoted myself, from La-Di-Da Pessach Kitchen Queen to Semi-Retired, then Mostly Honorary Pessach Hostess with the Mostess, and finally to Eager Unabashed Frequent Pessach Hotel Guest. In my defense I will point out that this shift coincides with the year I became … hmmmm, eligible. Eligible for medical advantages (euphemism for medical conditions), discounted theater tickets and train rides (even so: a courteous train rider who will bequeath his seat to you might not materialize), low-sodium offerings rattled off by doting waiters in restaurants, and dozens other “perks” that mitigate the inexorable passing of years and the inescapable feeling that “I just don’t have the strength to make Pessach at home any more”.
The main impetus for going to Brewster this year, beside the anticipation of spending a whole delightful week with two of our three children and their families (my son Yakov and his wife Elisheva, Shluchim Chabad Washington Heights, hold the fort Uptown), and an invitation to give two cooking demos, was the assurance that devoted Bruce Backman runs a remarkable program. My children had been guests in Passover Programs he ran in previous years, and their great fondness for him was quite catching. Guests had good-natured and eager-to-please Bruce running ragged all week; Talk about wearing many hats! I enjoyed watching him kick butt at that Buchwald-Jacobson-Backman panel!
The only thing Bruce wasn’t Bruced about This Pessach was the weather!
And I am not even totally sure about that. Good optimist that I am, I packed spring stuff with a couple sweaters, and called it a day. The moment I opened my car door in front of the hotel revealed with a blast of cold air I had made a huge mistake. Spring on the Beach can err on the windy and chilly side, especially this year where winter lingered unusually long everywhere (to be fair, it snowed in New York as well as in Cape Cod the first night of Pessach). At first I looked at those few Hotel guests wrapped up in down coats and ensconced in Uggh Boots the way I would look at geeks dressed in belts and suspenders, but after a day of clutching my collar tightly around my neck, I came to look at them with undisguised envy: they were just sensible seasoned travelers, so to speak. Thankfully, weather-wise, Gd Finally Got the Memo (Ribbono Shel Olam! It is Spring! Hello!) and Saved Face with His vacationers the second part of the week, Blessing us with radiant sunny days.
The Ocean Edge Mansion, the pride and joy of the Nickerson Family, is beautiful. Serenely rising behind an immense impeccably manicured lawn as you enter, with cozy wood-paneling in its lobby, tea room and all other communal spaces, it feels like a home away from home. Its location is doubly blessed: it has the great natural asset of being flanked on one side by the Ocean with miles and miles of flawless beach, and on the other by miles and miles of biking/walking trails: Nature in its most glorious unadorned and un-tempered-with state (Hey just wondering: what was that bonfire those Jews lit on the morning before Passover on the beach? We saw them throw pieces of bread in there and poking the flames with sticks and mumbling some incantations! What do you know, Jews do practice VooDoo!)
We loved the rooms, large, clear, uncluttered and comfortable, with all modern furnishings and amenities. Hopping excitedly from one spot of the room to the other, I embarrassed myself by mistaking a hotel room safe for a microwave oven: what do you expect from a lifer cook? But really, don’t these two contraptions look eerily similar? I did somewhat better with the hair-dryer, thank goodness. No wonder the reception desk staffer I asked “how the microwave worked” first remarked, bewildered, that the hotel might have made changes in the rooms that she was not consulted about, then burst out laughing!
The Pessach food: I must tell you, young talented chef Sruli Subar knocked our socks off.
Over lunch at a post-Pessach entre nous meeting we had, he blew me away some more when he told me that at age eight, he made a whole Seder Meal for his family. I believed him. This wondrous trivia alone bears out the great Aristotle’s classic line “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit”. Sruli travels as a personal chef pretty much all over the world for exciting events and meaningful milestones. Interested? Get in touch with him! Hey Chef Sruli, please share your recipe for those outrageous smoked barbecued turkey drumsticks you served at that great BBQ dinner! Likewise, it was a pleasure to discover that our hard-working Mashgiach, Rabbi Reuven Flamer, is devoted to all things healthy and natural, in business as in his personal life, a man after my own heart. Chef Matt, friend of my children in Washington Heights, where he works at Chopchop Restaurant, whipped up some serious quinoa sushi: trust me, I know, I had semi-industrial amounts of it! It was good to have a chef dote on me because I am the proud mother of Reb Yakov!
Trying to control yourself on Pessach Food Programs?
Uhuh, nice try! A Schul friend, who also was in a Passover program with his family, said his Rabbi was only half joking when he gave him a special dispensation from Benching after meals because there is hardly ever a time when the mandatory full seventy two minutes ever elapsed between the end of a meal and the beginning of the next one. Seriously: Try as I might, I just can’t wrap my head around the full implication of this sobering statement. Seen in this light, eating becomes the culinary equivalent of, say, Bungee Jumping. Suppose for a minute we had helped ourselves to all meals in their natural sequence: Breakfast, followed by Kiddush, followed by lunch, followed by tearoom, followed by dinner, followed by tearoom (should we also count the food some anxious guests took up to their rooms, or should we kindly let it slide?). Add to it that all food was absolutely delicious, every display lavish and irresistible.
I am aware there are treadmills and a swimming pool in the hotel to help you soldier on, but I suspect what would really make a dent here in working out the sheer volume of food consumed would be nothing short of swimming across the Hudson River! On a day when a zealous chef flipped his omelette a little too high in the skillet, inadvertently triggering the fire alarm, prompting a dramatic visit from the Fire Department complete with a brief evacuation of all guests, I chuckled when Rabbi Jacobson quipped it was probably overeating that made the alarms go off. At one of the particularly fantastic Kiddushes, a guest asked with a nervous laugh if there was a cardiologist among the guests. You know how it is with the see-food diet: We rationalize that some people are starving in the Third World, and we polish it off. Sorry it doesn’t work that way! Remember Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt , sending a letter to his destitute little penpal in Africa, “Dear Mgudu, I am including a check, buy yourself some lunch!”? Nice try!
We were honored to attend daily inspiring talks by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, Director of Meaningful Life Center, Rebetzin Shaindy Jacobson, Director of JLI Women Studies Division; Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of NJOP; Daniel Retter, Esq and other distinguished Retter family members.
Among the lovely guests: Bella Matusoff, whom I remember as a little girl in Casablanca and as a young lady living on the Upper West Side, daughter of our dear Morocco Chabad Shluchim Z”L, now Beila Palatinsky, living in Boston with her husband and their lovely daughters, was the original inspiration for passing the torch to her namesake, our own precious Bella; Elizabeth Sherr, a frequent guest at our house some twenty years ago, now Chana Liba Lebowitz, there with her beautiful family; Yankee Klein, owner of Gourmet Butcher, and his beautiful wife and two daughters are dear friends (hey Yankee and Etty, whatever happened to the idea of some Kirschenbaums adopting little Talia and little Shayna? the offer still stands! Just sayin’….); Avrumy Jordan, Ash & Crew Aka Right Brain Staff & Left Brain Stuff, sitting with his wonderful family at the table next to us, we so enjoyed your fabulous singing/hugging/kissing with your dear boys, your amazing collection of funky glasses and your sheer zest for life; the talented Fitche Benshimon, his lovely wife and children, and his beautiful music (have band, will travel!); Bentzi Marcus, his popular Eighth Day Band, and his lovely family; Rabbi Buchwald and his wonderful family, our dear old friends and neighbors, what a treat to be with all of you a whole week and reminisce about our exciting summers in Tannersville! I’m only sorry we threw away all those half coconuts I worked on so hard to dislodge from their hard shells by stabbing them all over, instead of saving them as Yarmulkes for some of your dear Beginners! Dearest Effy, tell me just one thing: Is your Nifty still a sound sleeper? Chaya and Mr Dimmer (my go-to appliance store), Malka Krausz and her beautiful family, Susan Yevick, Dr Debbie, and so many more. I loved our endless talks, our walks on the beach and on the trails, and the togetherness!
The children were busy with loads of exciting Pessach stuff
They couldn’t be bothered to hang out with any of us boring adults, because their social agenda was just about maxed out, thanks to lovely Elissa Green and her legion of counselors. Boy am I sorry I was too old to be a camper! Face painting, kite flying, arts and crafts, swimming, dancing, performances and whatnot: garden-variety soccer moms scooted their pitzles shuttle-style from the main building to the party space that housed the children’s activities a dozen times a day. My great favorite was the Karaoke. I had never attended one until the one that took place in the tent on Chol Hamoed: So sorry I can’t recall their first names: Little boy Traff and little boy Jacobs just blew me away: I will pay good money to go see them perform in their very own gig, soon IYH. And since my very own granddaughter Sara sang the Frozen song everyone is obsessed with, I will never again say Let It Go without closing my eyes, scrunching my face, and lowering my voice to a perfect poised confidential rasp; I have no hope to ever look as cute, but I’m an adoring fan, always have been!
Hope to see you all next year IYH! Kudos to Bruce and his crew for a beautiful program!