Saturday, April 11, 2009

Brisket Accomplished

The seders are over and also the wild frenzy of cleaning and cooking that preceded them. I spent the better part of Tuesday in an effort to get all of my favorite Passover recipes posted on my other blog so that they would be available and useful to my friends and family, as well as to those other readers out there in cyberspace who have been logging on in increasing numbers.

Jessica drove in with my granddaughters last Friday and we did have an excellent time together. The girls were very happy to see their G.G. Evelyn, and she was even happier to see them. I hired Beth’s friend, Stacey, who has been laid off from her job since January, to help me take care of Mom as she becomes more and more bedridden, so I was able to get a lot more done for the holidays with a clearer conscience and with less interruption. I roasted my turkeys, one for me on the grill and one for Faith in the oven. The girls helped me get a huge pot of chicken soup cooking by peeling carrots and parsnips. Then, we grated Meyer lemon peels and squeezed them for sorbet. When Ken and Randi called to see how we were handling Shabbat dinner, since the kitchen had just been kashered, we invited ourselves over to their house for dinner. They were both wonderful and magnanimous and prepared an exceptional dinner which included appetizers, spinach salad, grilled striped bass and haddock, mashed cauliflower with parmesan, and brown rice pilaf. For dessert, we had apple strudel, fresh watermelon, and coffee. We stopped in at Adele and Larry’s house to load up baby things that were passing from Erica to Jessica.

Saturday, I arose very early to pack up the chicken soup that had been cooling during the wee hours of the morning. Ken and Randi stayed with Mom in the morning and then were relieved by Stacey in the afternoon so that Saul, Jessica, the girls, and I all could attend services and then visit G.G. Sima at Safe Haven at Lion’s Gate on her birthday, April 4. We brought her a gardenia plant as a gift. Each time we visit, there is less and less cognition. She recognizes us as people she knows, but cannot remember names anymore. When Saul mentioned her youngest sister, Sheva, who died as a child during the Holocaust, she had no memory of her whatsoever. The girls found a box of hats and scarves while we were visiting, and put on a show for us. When we returned home, we ordered pizza for dinner. Then, the girls helped me make 100 matzoh balls. After we tucked them into bed, I made giblet gravy and sliced and packed the two turkeys. Jessica peeled many apples and together we made haroset.

Sunday was gefilte fish day. It is best to get started early in the morning because this is an all-day process, but unfortunately, that was not to be. Saul went out to the garden with Sami and Izzy to assess our horseradish situation before heading off to Assi Market. The girls had a great time finding the distinctive green tops and digging out the roots while oohing and aahing over the wriggly earthworms. When Saul arrived at Assi Market at 9 a.m. to pick up the 25 pounds of carp, it had not been cleaned, filleted and prepared as we had requested. He came back home to help me with other tasks while they prepared the fish. At 10:15 a.m., he went back to pick up the prepared fish. When he arrived home with it, we dumped the frames into the sink so that I could ready them for the stock and discovered that they had merely sliced the fillets away from the bones. The fish had not even been gutted!

When I first began making gefilte fish approximately 30 years ago, I was paying about 40 cents a pound for carp, swimming weight. The price climbed by 15 or 20 cents a year for a few years. Then, suddenly in one year, it went from one dollar a pound to two dollars a pound. I was told that the increased cost was because the carp from The Great Lakes had become too polluted to eat and that it was now being obtained and shipped from California. This year, the fish was $2.99 per pound. Assi Market tacks on an additional $2.00 per pound to clean and fillet the fish. I opted to pay for this service considering my situation this year with my mother. When I saw that for $50 the fillets still had the skin on them and the fish had not even been gutted, I packed everything up and sent Saul back to the market with them. The manager was very apologetic, and for another hour, while Saul watched and waited, they prepared the fish properly, even removing the bitter, tooth-shaped bone near the gills.

While we were waiting at home, the girls helped make the matzoh apple kugel and Adele made the chocolate almond bars. By the time Saul returned, everyone was hungry for lunch and Jessica was anxious to get on the road home. I had given Stacey the day off on Sunday figuring that I would have plenty of help. My cousin, Anne, had come in from upstate New Jersey to help with the fish and learn the process. We left my sister, Adele, with Mom, and the rest of us headed off for a pre-Passover lunch at King Buffet in Plymouth Meeting, the girls’ favorite sushi restaurant.

It was almost three o’clock before I was able to get the fish frames in the pot and start grinding the fillets. Anne stayed until 6 p.m., but was not able to see the process through to its finality because of her long drive back. While the fish stock was cooking and the ground fish mixture was solidifying in the refrigerator, I put the two large briskets on to cook and roasted beets. I was able to finish and pack up the 52 pieces of fish into dishes, finally, by 11:30 p.m. Despite all the hassle, the fish was the most beautiful and delicious that I have ever made. I wanted to record the process for the recipe blog, but I suspect that this will be the last time I will ever prepare gefilte fish from scratch. The time, effort, and expense involved in preparing it properly just is not worth it.

On Monday, we first shopped to pick up last minute food items, like asparagus, and then to replace some of the novelty items we needed to make the seder and the Chad Gadya more interesting. These included a black cap with a rhinestone skull and crossbones for the Angel of Death, a rain stick, animal masks and hats, frog water pistols, and a stuffed goat (or lamb) as an afikomen present for Presley. I made and filled the mocha mousse crepes and made potato knishes. Saul and I prepared the mixtures for blood orange, banana, strawberry, and mango sorbets, in addition to the Meyer lemon. I sliced the brisket as Faith was arriving to move some of the dishes to her refrigerator and freezer to give me additional space.

On Tuesday, Saul whipped and packed the sorbets into the freezer. I began cooking the sweet potatoes and prepared chopped chicken liver. Saul took the food processor out to the garage and ground the horseradish. Then we made the hrain. By Tuesday evening, we were exhausted, not just from the cooking, but from the cleaning up afterward, and from the tension of helping Mom through bad spells. We discussed getting up before dawn on Wednesday, the morning of the first seder, to be present at synagogue for a one-time-in-28-years blessing of the sun, for morning minyan, and for a siyum of the firstborn. Saul is a firstborn child, and has an obligation to fast on the day before the first seder unless he participates in a study session which absolves him from fasting. We decided, after much debate, to wait until the next 28-year blessing, and Saul did his studying alone on the Internet this year, learning more about the blessing of the sun.

We made a wise decision. Getting the last minute chores done and setting the tables for 19 with ironed tablecloths, napkins, china, silver, and crystal used up all the time we had available on Wednesday. Anne picked up Aunt Ruth and arrived early to assemble the 150-year-old seder plate that Uncle Stef, of blessed memory, had brought from Germany. This was the seder plate we all remembered from childhood. We have searched, fruitlessly, all our lives to find one like it for ourselves. It was a joy to behold on the table this year and a remembrance of Uncle Stef and his wonderful seders.

Our guests were: Aunt Ruth, Anne, Bob, Ken, Randi, Jamie, Andy, Presley, Haley, Erik, Marianne, Stacey, Jeff (Ken’s business partner), Barbara, Jeremy and Jeffrey, and Elaine. We started a bit late, as Jamie and Andy had a long drive from Delaware, but the seder went very smoothly, the food was sumptuous, and we finished up a little before midnight, albeit with my prodding Saul to continue with the seder rather than telling “just one more story.” I fear I have taken his mother’s place in constantly urging him to finish more quickly. Mom was wheeled to the table as the seder began and managed to get through the beginning, even having a few bites of dinner. She was awake through most of the after-dinner session and was disappointed that she could not muster the strength to be wheeled back in for the conclusion.

Thursday morning was spent cleaning up from the previous evening. In the afternoon, I slept for almost four hours while Saul answered multiple phone calls. When I finally awoke, I took watch so that he could sleep for an hour. Since the few guests we invited for the second seder had last-minute changes in their plans, my friend Faith invited us to join her family for the seder I had helped prepare for them. Stacey stayed with Mom, as she has become too weak to travel, and we had the opportunity to spend a warm evening catching up with some of Faith’s children and grandchildren whom we have not seen for a number of years. I greatly missed being with my own children and grandchildren for both seders. Perhaps next year will be different.

Friday, I finally organized my kitchen and put away the last of the seder items for next year. I made another batch of Passover rolls to tide us over during the week and another matzoh apple kugel. Ken and Randi joined us for Shabbat dinner and we had delicious leftovers.

Adele came this morning and I slept until 10:30. The Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle was too easy this week and I finished it in an hour. The weather today was raw and rainy and Saul and I found ourselves suffering from post-party (as opposed to post-partum) depression. In the last week, we have had to resort to giving Mom medication (Lorazepam) to help her get through bad periods where even the oxygen mask does not help her to breathe freely as she goes into afibrillation. Jessica’s due date has been moved up to May 10, Mother’s Day, and she could have the baby at any time now. I am trying to deal with each minute as it comes, rather than worry about the future, but it is a struggle, as my brain doesn’t normally work that way. Keeping busy in the kitchen was a great way to forget about my troubles for a while, but now that the brisket is accomplished, I need to find other outlets to keep myself from brooding.

1 comment:

jmedancer said...

love the title of this piece. bravo! thanks for all of the recipes too. =-)