Monday, March 29, 2010

Getting Ready for Pesach 2010

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The last week and a half has not been as dismal as I thought it would be. Returning from a land of exotic flower-scented breezes and temperate sunshine, I thought I would be incredibly depressed by the chilly, damp, and gray Philadelphia weather, but lo and behold, spring arrived almost immediately upon our return. All traces of snow had melted away, and within a few days, crocuses, daffodils, cherry blossoms, forsythia, and all the other harbingers of spring native to our area had exploded into a riotous kaleidoscope of color that reminded me of all the reasons I love this area as well. We spent the first few days in jet-lagged stupor trying to catch up with work, laundry and mail. I hated to put away our vacation-washed, summer-type clothes because they smell like Kauai and the next time they go through the laundry, that fragrance will be gone.

Our refrigerator remained empty for the first few days until we had a chance to shop. Only Larry and Beth joined us for Shabbat dinner that Friday, and most of the dinner came out of our freezer to make room for the Passover items that needed to be prepared the following week. We had homemade challah, homemade chicken soup with the last of Saul’s dumplings, a salad of red-leaf lettuce with craisins and nuts, spicy Moroccan sausages, chicken paprikash, mushroom and apple bread stuffing, potato latkes with applesauce, fresh-steamed asparagus, and leftover cake from the freezer. On Saturday, Saul slept as late as I have ever seen him sleep, not arising until almost 11 a.m. I stayed in bed also, dozing on and off and watching t.v. for a while. We had thought by then that we would be over the jet lag, but apparently, mornings of awaking at 6:00 a.m. had taken their toll. On Saturday evening, we began the process of cleaning and readying the house for Pesach.

Our cousin Anne with her son, Ben, joined us on Sunday afternoon and we were supposed to have dinner out together, but Ben had forgotten our plans and had invited some friends over for a barbecue. We took Ben’s new cell phone over to Best Buy to be treated with an Invisible Shield and then to Costco to buy supplies and charcoal for the barbecue. Then Anne drove him home and rejoined us for dinner at Pho Thai Nam, where we shared a delicious meal of Thai specialties. For dessert, we ordered their taro cake, which looks very homely, but which we think is a delight of creamy textures and complex flavors. When we asked the owner what goes into it, she explained to us that she has tried to duplicate it in her restaurant many times, but that she finally gave up and imports what she considers to be the best example of it from Thailand for her restaurant.

On Monday, before and after a visit to my doctor for a yearly checkup, I began preparing the dishes for our seder that Jessica and Alex requested, mostly the desserts for which Alex does not have time. During the week, Saul and I made nine different types of fresh fruit sorbets, strawberry, banana, papaya, guava (we found fresh ones at Assi Market), tangerine, Meyer lemon, grapefruit, pineapple, and mango. I made 75 mocha mousse crepes, two batches of chocolate almond bars, 120 passover potato knishes, and 2 dozen eggs-worth of passover noodles for the soup. The Meyer lemons were so beautiful that I did not want the zest to be thrown away. I improvised a new and easier way to produce delicious candied peel. I also, because the mashed potato dough was too fluffy this year, figured out a way to produce the knishes that was twice as fast and even more delicious than in the past. Necessity is truly the mother of invention, or perhaps desperation is. Instead of forming the dough around the fried onions and patting it delicately with oiled hands, I used a standard ice cream scoop to release uniform mounds of dough onto the oiled jelly-roll pan. Then, I used an oiled finger to make a well in the center, scooped the fried onions with a mini scoop into the center, topped that with a mini-scoop of mashed potato dough, and flattened and blended the dough into the appropriate shape with an oiled finger again. It worked like a charm!

On Wednesday, in honor of my birthday, I met my good friend, Roxy, who treated me to lunch at the exemplary vegetarian restaurant, Blue Sage at 11:30 a.m. We had a delicious lunch, but after a while the restaurant grew crowded and we needed to vacate the table. We engaged in a conversation for a while outside the restaurant. The weather was beautiful, so we decided to sit on a bench in front of the restaurant to gab for a while. Eventually, we were interrupted by a cell phone call from Saul, who was on his way home from a meeting after school. When he told us the time, we were both completely shocked to discover that we had been sitting on that bench, talking, until 4:00 p.m. If he hadn’t called, I think we might be sitting there still :-).

At our Talmud study class on Thursday, several of the members had met the previous day to prepare a post-class, surprise, light luncheon in honor of Faith’s 70th birthday. When Saul arrived from school on Thursday, we went to Costco once again to buy snacks for a seminar with which he was assisting at Chestnut Hill College on Friday morning to encourage women to enter the field of computer science. When we returned, we both fell asleep immediately, still jet-lagged I suppose, and awoke only in time to have a very late, light dinner at Chili’s. While Saul was off at the seminar, I finished up the Passover cooking, cleaned up, and began packing for Baltimore. In the afternoon, both Faith and Adele stopped in, Faith to pick up some of the goodies I had been preparing for her family’s seder, and Adele, to drop off some clothing that was passing from Brenna to Sami. The light rain that morning had given way to sunshine, and we all went out to the garden together to dig up fresh horseradish root that had just begun sending out feathery crowns of green leaves. The pungent fragrance of the main root, as it inevitably breaks off from its deep slender branching roots, is quintessentially the odor I most associate with this holiday.

Our friend Larry, as he has for many years, hosted us for the last Shabbat dinner before Pesach. I brought my challahs from the freezer, and we had tossed salad, broiled flounder, kasha and potato knishes, and pesto tortellini with butter. For dessert, we had cinnamon buns, and rice pudding.

During his sermon at services on Shabbat morning, Rabbi Addison posed the question “Why do we eat matzah, the bread of affliction, during a feast that is meant to be an expression and celebration of our freedom?” As with Sukkot, at the times of our most joyous celebrations, instead of reveling in our prosperity, we are reminded of the austerity endured by our ancestors. We move out of our comfy houses into purposely cobbled-together booths. Our celebrations are joyous, nevertheless, and we are reminded how few material possessions are really necessary to truly enjoy life and the blessings that God has bestowed on us.

Saturday evening, Faith’s children hosted a dessert party in honor of her birthday, and we were able to catch up with many of our old friends whom we had seen just recently at Marilyn’s funeral, but only for a few moments before we left for Hawaii. The party was a warm and inviting way to spend the evening and we enjoyed the camaraderie with those people and their families with whom we had spent almost 25 years teaching.

On Sunday, after packing all our Passover paraphernalia and food, we headed off to Baltimore/DC for the week of the holiday. After attending a number of open houses in search of a house for Ari, we decided to take advantage of one of my coupons to have a large brunch at a nearby restaurant, just around the corner, called Domku. The restaurant was uncharacteristically crowded and the service was extremely slow, taking over an hour and a half before our food was presented, but the food was delicious. That evening, Ari was so involved in meeting a deadline for a huge court-ordered document production that he went into the office at 10:30 p.m. and did not return until 11:30 a.m. Upon returning, he completed the form to make an offer on the shell of a house he was interested in purchasing, and went off to bed to try to get as much sleep as possible before it was time to leave for the first seder in Baltimore. We found out, within 24 hours, that although he had offered $35,000 more than the asking price, the house had been sold by the foreclosing bank to a cash buyer for an undisclosed sum.

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