It's Seder time again. If you don't celebrate Passover, you can substitute the details of your traditional holiday gathering. I'm sure many of you share my love/hate relationship with preparing the big family meal to celebrate something. Mostly it's love, but let's be honest -- there's also an element of panic that sets in for many of us.
Once again, I am agonizing over hosting a very simple version of Passover. With nine kids coming, can the service be shorter? Also, most of them won't eat the traditional foods, so can I skip the chopped liver? Why do I spend part of each day ruminating about what I will do on April 4?
Cartoon by Marcia Liss
Saturday night is the second Seder this year, so some of my guests will have been to a proper celebration the night before. The rest won't care. In fact, many of them would rather eat a pizza or pasta (forbidden on this holiday, so no ordering in).
I'm not a particularly observant Jew, so I really have no right to complain about Passover. After all, I don't switch all of my dishes or buy a totally new pantry full of food or clean my house obsessively to remove all traces of chametz (leavened bread). The latter might not be such a bad idea. I could rid my home of all those cracker crumbs and Pirate Booty pieces wedged in my furniture by my grandkids. Does anyone do spring cleaning anymore?
I digress -- back to Passover. Here's what I worry about on a daily basis:
Planning the menu that will include a ridiculous variety of food that none of the kids will eat. Along with the dreaded gefilte fish and chopped liver, we will need chicken-matzo ball soup, kishke, hard-boiled eggs, a matzo casserole (call it what you will - they all taste the same), seasonal vegetables, potatoes, chicken, and at least 3 desserts. Plus extra food for the vegetarians and most of the kids who won't touch any of this.
Shop many times over, searching for foods that are easy to make and also kosher for Passover. This means going to several markets in neighborhoods that stock these things. And going back again and again because I have forgotten one thing.
Buy a huge quantity of matzo. I could buy 1 or 2 boxes but it's so much cheaper to get the 5-pack. Ditto a massive number of eggs. This is not a holiday for the healthy.
Create the Seder plate. That means making charoses, a dish of chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon, wine, and assorted other goodies, depending on family tradition. We will also need parsley, a roasted egg, horseradish root (or a jar of horseradish). Finally, my personal challenge. I will need a lamb bone. This item is not usually available where I shop, but I can't bring myself to use a chicken bone. So I go to a butcher shop where they stock these. It's just one more shopping trip.
Make a special dessert that everyone will eat without using flour. It's not impossible. I've made flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse trifles, and any number of special mixes (see shopping above). All of these items call for 1,000 eggs and lots of sugar. More healthy eating.
For a woman who is accustomed to cooking easy meals for two, all of the domestic demands tend to freak me out. But who am I to complain? If I were observant, I would be covering all of my counter tops and preparing all of this in specials pots and pans.
The next step is planning the Passover service. Since I have young grandkids, none of the six sets of Haggadahs I have purchased over the years will work. The traditional Seder starts at sundown and can last past midnight. Ours can't be more than 15 minutes long or my grandkids will bolt. So I spend hours editing A Children's Haggadah, which is already abridged, to its essential parts. I know. They should learn to sit and listen, but I know they won't. So I decided a few years ago that it was better for them to participate and enjoy it than to watch them squirm and for me to sit and listen to their whining.
If I were setting a proper Passover table, I would need my nicest tablecloth and napkins as well as special dishes, silver, glasses, and wine glasses that I only use for this holiday. Since I am far from proper, I shop (again) for the nicest paper and plastic ware I can find. I must remember to put out dishes of salt water for dipping and lots of wine in case we get past the first cup.
A website on how to prepare for the holiday recommends a nap before guests arrive, but I know that will never happen. In my tradition, I must work myself into a state of exhaustion to begin the Seder in the proper frame of mind. Then, I must miss parts of it going back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen to fetch important foods and keep everything hot. By the time we get to the page that says, "Dinner is Served," I'm ready for my nap.
When our kiddy Haggadah proclaims, "This year all Jews are not free," I briefly think that applies to all of the folks (mostly women) who put this production together. But I know I am being ridiculous. I think about people all over the world who wish they were lucky enough to have all of this food to share with people they love in the comfort of a home. I look at my family and guests and understand why this is the one holiday celebrated in the home rather than in a place of worship. After slaving over all of the preparations, I am free to partake in the blessing that is sharing a wonderful tradition.