Sunday, April 26, 2015

It’s All About Passover, April 2015

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Passover fell right at the beginning of April this year, and much of our activities during the month of March were devoted to hunting, gathering, and preparing all the diverse items that are needed to pull off two relatively large kosher seders and a week’s worth of three-plus-meals-a-day for the nine-plus people staying with us for the week. In the “wilds” of Orlando, that was no easy feat, but it all worked out beautifully. Because Izzy had been rehearsing for a musical at school which took place the evening before the first seder, the kids were not able to help out at all with the prep this year. They got in their packed car immediately after the show, stopped in DC to drop off Alex’s mom, Elaine, at his sister Naomi’s house, and drove here straight through the night, arriving at about 1:00 p.m. a few hours before the seder. Also, Ari and Beth did not arrive until the Thursday evening before the first seder. We picked up Ari at Orlando International Airport just in time for him to have his fill of Southern barbecue at Fat Boys in Kissimmee. Did I mention that the seders were on Shabbat this year, making it necessary to have all the cooking preparations for both seders done ahead of time?

Helping through all this, was our friend, Larry, who came the week before and spent three weeks with us. Ken and Randi were a big help also this year, a luxury we did not have last year before they moved down here. I was hindered by a nasty cold and cough, which I caught right as the preparations began, but I am proud to say that I was so fanatic about not spreading it that no one else, including Saul, caught it even though it hung on for about 10 days. Our efforts were aided this year by not having to order online from a very expensive kosher supplier. During Purim services and the following Shabbat, our Rabbi, Hillel Skolnik, mentioned that the Winn-Dixie near our synagogue was stocking a large variety of glatt kosher meats, dairy products, wines, and grocery items to accommodate the Jewish community of Orlando (thankfully too, kosher for Passover pareve margarine for my baking needs). While we were delighted to be able to stock up on the needed provisions because of their interest, we had a situation with our turkey that soured our experience. They ordered a particularly large turkey at our request. When we came to pick it up, we were told the price was $4.89 per lb. making the turkey over $85. When Saul noticed and pointed out to the manager that the other smaller kosher turkeys in the case were $2.79 per pound, he immediately called someone over to remove them all from the case to mark them up to $4.89 also. We put back the large turkey and took two smaller ones before they removed them to mark them up. Later, we had the reverse situation at the Publix near Orange Lake. They had a 21-lb. frozen turkey in the case that was marked $4.29 per pound next to their sign advertising kosher turkeys at $2.79 per pound. When Saul pointed out the discrepancy to the manager, he immediately took the 21-lb. turkey and marked it down for us, saving us almost $40. We appreciated the interest of the Winn-Dixie, but guess where I will be shopping for everything other than kosher esoterica?

Saul and I had some fun together before the whole prep thing started. We, again, attended the huge, state-fair-like Strawberry Festival in Plant City, FL, where we walked for hours on a very hot day and sampled some of the street food available from the dozens of vendors there. We really lucked out by finding a legal parking spot just a few blocks from the entrance in front of the elementary school. On my birthday, one of Saul’s former colleagues, Lauren B. was in Orlando for a conference. We picked her up at her hotel, spent a few hours schmoozing at our home, and then dined together at the wonderful Grand Floridian Café. After dinner, we grabbed the Disney monorail at the hotel and made a circuit around the parks. We wound up viewing the Magic Kingdom fireworks from just outside the gate, a good area to view them, while Lauren struck up a conversation with an Orlando police officer assigned as a Disney security person about the prison systems in the Orlando environs, her area of expertise. Afterward, we hopped the Resort Launch back to the hotel, and we were able to view the entire Electric Water Pageant on the way. Saul and I had never before seen the whole flotilla. We also had a few days to enjoy the opening of Disney’s annual Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot with its accompanying weekend concerts and international kiosks offering small bites and libations from around the world. Saul had deferred his jury duty until March 9, and we were nervous about whether he would be placed on a long-term case. He really lucked out in that the circumstances were such that he only spent two days at the courthouse in Bartow. He was selected for a jury on the one day, and the case was settled by 3:00 p.m. on the second day. One of his fellow jurors recommended a solar electric company, and we interviewed two different companies about installing both solar water heating for the pool, and also photovoltaic systems for the whole house. Both were extremely expensive and we fear the technology will soon be changing dramatically, so we nixed both ideas. We did, however, decide to switch our chlorine-based pool to a salt-water pool. If we had known how easily, reasonably, and quickly this was accomplished, we would have done it as soon as we moved in. Swimming in a salt water pool is so much better on so many levels—hair, skin, and eyes are happier, the pool water seems much more sparkling and clean, it is more buoyant, and the awful chlorine smell is gone.

Ken and Randi, their new friends Meta and Mario, and Saul and I had the brilliant idea of going to Devenney’s, a nearby Irish pub for dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, but (surprise!) found it so crowded and serving only drinks and bar food, that we looked for another alternative, which turned out to be Ay Jalisco. So on St. Patrick’s day, we had very good Mexican food in an uncrowded setting. Perhaps we should consider revisiting Devenney’s on Cinco de Mayo! :o) Also with Ken and Randi, after an evening walk around Epcot, we revisited the lounge at Blue Zoo for late night snacks. That Friday night, for Shabbat dinner, I baked my last set of challahs before Passover, and made kasha and bowties in advance of our friend Larry coming to stay for a few weeks. On Saturday, after services and a quick lunch at home, we hied over to the Magic Kingdom to watch my cousin Alan’s daughter, Emily, march down Main Street, as the cymbalist with her high school band in advance of the Festival of Fantasy Parade. Each time we are in the Magic Kingdom, Saul and I collect a free set of sorceror’s cards for the girls so that they can activate higher levels of the game each time they play. We had parked at the Grand Floridian that day and when we returned to pick up our car, we viewed the exquisite collection of giant edible Easter eggs on display there.

On March 24, we picked up our friend, Larry, at Tampa airport. We think he finally had enough Southern barbecue because he suggested that we have dinner at Sweet Tomatoes, a desire we were happy to indulge. We spent a day or two in the parks with Larry before Saul and Larry spent a day being soaked by a driving Florida rain at the Phillies vs. Yankees Spring Training game in Clearwater. The Phillies lost, badly. I was very happy to stay at home! We began the arduous task of kashering the kitchen for Passover on Saturday night after Shabbat HaGadol. By Sunday evening, the kitchen was ready for the serious cooking to begin. We were having 13 guests the first night, and 11 the second. This year, our guests were Larry and Adele, Beth, Ari, Ken and Randi, Jess, Alex, Sami, Izzy, and Yona. Adele and Larry did not join us the second night, as usual. Since we had a full house sleeping in, Beth roomed with Ken and Randi this year. I had developed a daily schedule for completing all the dishes I wanted to make for the seders and beyond, and happily, despite my miserable cold, everything was delicious and went almost according to schedule. We ate out a lot during that week while we prepared for Passover. The asparagus in Florida was skinny and tough-looking this year, so we steamed the beautiful Brussels sprouts we get in Florida to replace them. This made certain of our guests very happy. (You know who you are!) We actually used two of the frozen turkeys I had bought during the holiday. Jess and Alex came loaded with Passover provisions for the week that we could not find here, in addition to various types of produce leftover from their C.S.A.

Considering the logistics involved and the last-minute nature of everyone’s arrival from all over the globe, it all came together beautifully. The seders themselves were stress-free, beautiful, delicious, and enjoyable beyond all expectation. We will never forget Izzy eyeing the salami hanging to dry and exclaiming, “You love me!” In the week that followed, the weather was gorgeous every day. We visited the parks during Chol HaMoed, and swam in our new salt water pool almost daily. The girl’s set up their new pin collection board, and continued their game with their sorceror’s cards at the Magic Kingdom.  While Ari and I shopped at the nearby outlet malls, the rest of the family went to see Cinderella’s golden coach featured in the new live-action movie at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. At Ari’s request, we all prepared and tried a new breakfast dish for us—shakshuka. It was a triumph! One evening, with prep from Alex, Ari took over the grill and prepared amazing tuna steaks. In an effort to get rid of some leftovers, mini hot dogs and matzoh ball dough, we invented a new hors d’oeuvre which we dubbed “Matzohball Park Franks”—a Pesach version of “pigs in the blanket.”  Towards the end, Ari and Jessica took Sami and Izzy for a day at Universal Studios and wound up getting annual passes for the four of them. They especially enjoyed the Harry Potter areas of Universal. Beth, unfortunately, could only stay for a few days, and went home on Tuesday. Towards the end of the week, Haley arrived to stay with Ken and Randi, and Randi’s sister, Lori, came with her two girls so they could all visit for a few days. The only down side was that Saul developed an ear infection the last few days that required a hospital visit to the emergency room at Celebration Hospital, and Haley caught a bad cold and sinus infection. Both were fine within a few days and after much chicken soup. On Saturday afternoon, as the holiday ended, everyone pitched in to put the kitchen back in order and pack away the Pesach things until next year. After sunset, we dropped Ari at the airport for his flight back to London, and had dinner with Jess, Alex and the girls at Sweet Tomatoes before they got on the road for the long drive home. They arrived there on Sunday afternoon around noon.

Larry was here for an additional week and we finally got to try Keke’s Breakfast Café (so good that we ate there three times, twice before, and once after the holidays) and Sundays, a nearby British pub, where the double chocolate stout and fish and chips were incredible. On the day that we returned Larry to Tampa airport, we arranged to have lunch at the 110-year-old restaurant, Columbia, in Ybor City. The menu and service were like the branch we love in Celebration, but the building, and how it has evolved, were really something to see. After dropping him at the airport, Saul and I continued on to Clearwater for a leisurely stroll down the beach. There is so much construction going on along the beach that it has completely swallowed up two of the public parking lots, so we were very happy to find our secret beach on Sand Key as accessible as ever. Just as we had received an invitation to view the previews of Cinderella, we received an invitation to view a preview of the new Disney movie coming soon—Tomorrowland. We went with Ken and Randi to see it at Epcot, in the venue where Captain Eo used to play, and we were very pleased to all receive special Tomorrowland pins for attending. Looks like it will be fun to watch!

For Ken’s birthday, we finally managed to bag reservations at California Grill at the top of the Contemporary Resort in the Magic Kingdom, by stopping in at the hotel while we were riding the monorail, and begging for them from a receptionist from the restaurant. She managed to squeeze us in at the proper time and date so that we could watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the special viewing deck outside on the roof. While the food on the menu seemed fairly ordinary, the actual dishes were exceptional both in flavor and presentation. The restaurant itself is truly gorgeous and sophisticated in design, with magnificent panoramic views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. In true Disney spirit, we had a “magical” evening there celebrating his birthday. The next night, we had another wonderful meal, watching sundown over our lakeside, outdoor table on the deck at Johnny’s Hideaway. All our fun has been augmented by the concert series at Epcot on the weekends. So far, we have seen, Gin Blossoms, Pablo Cruise, En Vogue, Starship, The Orchestra starring former members of ELO, The Village People (who taught us the proper way to form the letter “M” in YMCA) and The Guess Who. We have also taken advantage of $6 movies on Tuesdays at the Epic Theater in Clermont to see Cinderella (good), Divergent (awful), Woman in Gold (fantastic), and Home (terrible). We received promotional materials to see a sneak preview of The Age of Adaline for free at an AMC in Kissimmee. Saul liked it, but I was so-so.

Even though we had a great time leading up to Passover, and a great time afterward, it is difficult to see March and April as anything but the prelude and epilogue of an epic and amazing family gathering and feast.

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