Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ah, Passover

And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste--it is the LORD'S Passover. -Exodus 12:11

Passover, aka Pesach, aka Peisack, aka the Festival of Freedom, aka the Festival of Matzah, aka (according to some of my kids) the Festival of OMG Whatarewegoingtoeatthere’snothingtoeatinthishouseIhatePesach! is this week.

During the year, Judaism has, to put it mildly, a complex set of dietary laws. No meat and milk can be eaten together; certain meats and fish are verboten; no taste or smell allowed…. (just kidding – kosher food is very often more delicious than I can describe, just not in my house. That fact has nothing to do with the complex set of dietary laws. But I digress).

The Pesach laws are a tad more complex, because Jews, for the seven days of Pesach (eight outside the Land of Israel hahahahahahaha Old Country) are not allowed to eat anything ‘leavened’ or, in the vernacular, chametz. This is all very complicated so, suffice to say, we can’t eat anything made with any sort of flour, except matzah. (Flour, per se, is not chametz, but because it becomes chametz when wet, we don’t eat it, except, as I said, in Matzah.) Instead, we make flour out of crushed up matzah. Yummy.

Plus – and this is a whole other story – Ashkenazi Jews are not allowed to eat legumes (known as kitniyot) during the holiday. This includes, but is not limited to: corn, peas, beans, humous, sesame, mustard, or anything with nutrients or flavour.

We are also not allowed to eat anything from a packet or container that had been opened during the year, even if there is no chametz in it. Therefore, we are required to purchase, for the holiday, new packages of salt, coffee, tea, paprika, soup mix, mayonnaise, oil, ketchup, sugar, chocolate chips, etc. etc.

In addition, we can’t use utensils that might once have come in contact with chametz. Therefore, we clean out the house, making sure to get rid of the chametz, and switch our dishes to Pesach dishes. This includes everything: plates, cups, glasses, pots, pans, baking pans, salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowl, mixing bowls, food processor, mixer, juicer, spatulas, tongs, wooden spoons, whisk, meat grinder, grater, shears, can opener, cork screw (very important), measuring cups and spoons, salad spinner, colander (not really essential as you’re not eating pasta - aka chametz), pizza cutter (ditto – but hold on), ice cube trays, hotdog dicer, electric griddle, funnel, mandoline, (not the ukulele type thing), pastry bag, roasters, wok, poached egg holders, milk container, smoothy maker, coffee grinder, and cutting boards.

The only think you don’t need is a bread knife.

This all translates into what is known in my house as “why don’t we just buy a small island instead”, aka, “which kid are we going to sell this year to pay for all this.”

There is a great deal of cooking done for the holiday. Though, over the years, more and more pre-made kosher for Passover food is available in the supermarkets, it is about 2000 times more expensive than the same sort of food that is not kosher for Passover, and 5000 times more expensive than what I can make out of raw ingredients. Also, the pre-packaged cakes and cookies tend to taste of what they are made – dust.

And so I cook, and bake, and stew, and braise, and stir, and fry, and boil, broil, and roast. I chop, and dice, and slice, and whisk, and sift, and mix, and mince.

And still there doesn’t seem to be anything to eat.

There are a lot of people in my house. Some live here, some don’t. Some come to visit or play, some come for no reason. Some come just to eat. Whatever the reason, there is a great deal of consumption going on around me during the holiday.

Therefore, in an effort to cut back on expenses (and enable me to keep a kid or two – hey I gotta have somebody around to wash the floor), I have come up with some inexpensive Passover recipes and dishes.

While my friends and neighbors are dining on salmon and veal and brisket and broiled broccoli and asparagus tips with wine, I am feeding my family matzaroni and cheese. Another staple is matzagna. The kids like quiche m’ziyon (aka quiche mir tuchus, but only when we don’t have company). We’ve had matzarekas, tuna matzarole, and grilled cheese matzwhiches. I’ve not yet tried matpizza, but only because I don’t have a Pesach pizza cutter.

The high point of our whole week, however, is hotdog night.

I know, hotdogs are really really really bad for you. They are made out of feathers and toe nails. But my kids like hotdogs. And, well, they’re cheap. And low maintenance, i.e., it’s not hard to make hotdogs; no chopping, slicing, stirring, or braising involved. Just pop them in a pot of water, and voila, it’s done. You don’t even really need that hotdog dicer.

Many years ago, it was simply a way to make an easy supper amidst all the holiday chopping and dicing and roasting. I’d cut up a few potatoes, toss ‘em in oil, chuck ‘em in the oven, and make chips too. Some years, I’d go all out and also open a can of pickles. All very easy peasy.

One day, however, someone (and it might have been me) discovered fried hotdogs. Fried hotdogs, it turns out, are related to boiled hotdogs in the same manner as fresh figs are related to dried figs, i.e., not at all. Fried hotdogs, dripping with oil, hot and gooey, even MORE unhealthy than boiled ones, are simply delicious, toenails and feathers notwithstanding.

Over the years, hotdog night has become a gala event. I don’t know why. People phone me up and ask me when’s hotdog night, so they can plan their week. People come in from abroad for the event. Perhaps these people are sick of their quail eggs and veal liver with braised tomatoes. Perhaps it is the sight of adults sitting around eating fried hotdogs, dripping with oil, flowing with ketchup (mustard being kitniyot and therefore off limits – see above),  clamped – along with slices of tomatoes, some fried onions, a leaf of lettuce, and a couple of pickles – between two pieces of disintegrating matzah and awash in crumbs. It’s quite a scene – on the one hand totally gross, on the other, impossible to look away.

I still make chips in the oven.

Wishing all of Am Yisrael a happy holiday, filled, not just with crumbs, but also with joy and love and chocolate (chocolate matzawitches being awesome).

Chag Samaech!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Picture This

Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.
-Vietnamese Proverb

Apparently, yesterday was Siblings’ Day.

(Every day of the calendar is something, by the way. Today is Cheese Fondue Day, and tomorrow is Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day (what's up with cheese days??). Last week was Zoo Lovers' Day and April 7th was, not only Tell a Lie Day, but it was also NO HOUSEWORK DAY!! Which really means little to me, as everyday in my house, is No Housework Day.)

But I digress.

I have a bunch of siblings. My kids have a bunch of siblings. A lot of people have siblings. Some have more and some have fewer, but having siblings is not very rare, except maybe in China.

I live in Israel. My siblings don’t. We have not all been together at the same place and same time for very many years; mostly this is my fault because I don’t like to travel.

My kids’ siblings, though, all live in Israel, baruch HaShem, which is one reason why I left my siblings and came to live in Israel in the first place; though I came before my kids had siblings, I wanted to make sure that their future siblings would be in Israel, unlike mine.

A few weeks ago, my youngest child, G, had an ערב שורשים, (a family tree evening) at her school, where each student was required to find out as much as possible about their families and their place of origin, and their histories.

Having done the same sort of project three years previously, my kid didn’t have much work to do. However, I decided to dig around a bit and was able to uncover the dates of death of my paternal grandparents, something I never knew. I actually discovered quite a lot of information thanks to the work of my cousins and Facebook (Cousins’ Day, by the way, is July 24).

Many family pictures had already been scanned from the previous work, and I barely looked through the pages before we headed out – armed with a large pan of lasagna (my kid told her teacher it was our traditional family food….) – to the school in Yerucham, a half hour drive south of Beer Sheva, to enjoy the evening.

As we entered the school, a wall, hung with various family portraits, was the first exhibit we saw. The kids had taken scanned pictures from the projects, blown them up and hung them in a kind of rogues gallery.
The second portrait in the row was a copy of a picture of my paternal grandmother with one of my older cousins taken in the 1950s.
Baba Rose and oldest Granddaughter
A couple of pictures later were my maternal grandparents in the 40s

Baba Rifka and Zeida Meir

and then my parents wedding picture from 1948.

Mom and Dad
At the end of the row was a picture of me and my siblings taken in 1973, the time of my brother’s Bar Mitzvah.

It took me a long time to stop staring at that wall.

My grandparents – עליהם השלום, may their memories be blessed, all born in Eastern Europe at a time when the State of Israel was barely a dream, and from towns and villages long destroyed – never visited Israel, probably never even considered visiting Israel. Yet, here were their pictures hung on a wall somewhere in the middle of the Israeli desert. 

My own parents were married about six months after the birth of the Modern State of Israel. At that time, the War of Independence was still raging, and Israel's survival was anything but assured, Yet, here was their wedding picture, in the hallway of a school, in a town in Israel, which hadn't even been a plan on paper in September 1948. 

I stared and stared and stared at their likenesses, and wondered what they would have thought of their picture on this wall, in this place, so very far - in both time and place - from everything they knew. 

I know what I was thinking. I was thinking of the miracle that after so many generations, after so much persecution, we are finally back home. I was thinking of the honor and privilege and blessing I had been given; that,of all the members and generations or my family, it was I who brought those pictures back home where they belong.

I stared at the picture of my siblings also. The first thing I thought was 'hey!! we weren't as funny-looking as I remember!". Then I thought "we, unlike the previous generations, were all born into a world where the State of Israel existed". (Then I thought "No, we were as funny-looking as I remember.")

The point is that my siblings and I have never experienced not having Israel around. It's hard to imagine such a world. What did everyone hate? Oh. Right. The Jews....

My siblings' kids are slowly leaving the Old Country and making their way home to Israel. Of my mother's (may she be well and healthy till 120!) 29 descendants (four children, twenty grandchildren, and five great-grands), fifteen live in Israel. Not bad for a family who, for a few years anyway, had only one representative here.

One sibling comes to visit her descendants fairly often. Another is visiting here right now visiting his. The third hasn't quite made it in a while, but I'm waiting patiently.

Yesterday was Siblings Day. I propose that by next Siblings Day, we should all get together. In Yerucham.

Oh, and by the way, according to Judaism, all Jews are considered brothes and sisters. I hope the bakery in Yerucham can handle it.