Friday, April 18, 2014

Passover Seder Dinner- Jewish for a Day

My friend Brian decided that since both of us lost our parents we should find something to do for Passover this year.  He spent time with his sister on the first night but wanted to do something for the second night.  I haven't really done much for Passover in years.  Once in a while my cousins wife might do it but she is a busy working woman and I am sure she didn't have time to do anything on a tuesday night.  I suggested going to Caplansky's Delicatessen where Zane Caplansky has started an Annual Passover 2nd Seder Dinner.  He seems to be the only other Jew in town that understands Events outside of a Synagogue or Community Group.   My friend thought that $50 was kind of expensive for a meal.  But it did include a glass of wine.  I don't drink wine so that's lost on me anyway.  Somehow I came up with a stupid idea to maybe do it at my home.  And then my friend said we should see who else we can get to come instead of just the two of us.  I invited my Solo cousin who doesn't have any family here anymore and she was busy.  Her parents and sister have been gone for a long time so I guess she has found something to do over Passover for the past few years.   I just ignore it usually unless my other cousin invites me over.
When I was little my family would go to my aunt's house..  The solo cousin's mother and she would cook the whole meal and we would bring one or two things like my mother's red pepper salad or as she called it Salad de Pimente which my cousins called the red stuff.   Pictured above on the plate of various spreads.  I suppose my aunt had her daughters and husband help her make the dinner.  I was fairly young so I just showed up and ate and then left without having to do anything, so I never knew what went into doing the whole thing.   Later after she stopped doing it due to her health my mother started going to her best friends house on the first night to help her with her family's dinner.  They have a pretty large family.   My brother and I left to fend for ourselves most of the time on the first night.   Sometimes my mother would feel the guilt and make a big deal about having a Passover dinner on the second night after my dad passed away and would kind of do a half version of Passover.   She would make chicken soup, sometimes Gefilte fish, Chicken, potatoes and the red stuff and sometimes the odd other thing.  We didn't do any of the prayers we just ate what she made for dinner.  She would complain about how much work it was for weeks and would start the process two weeks before Passover.  We didn't really care about it as it didn't really feel like a tradition or an event but just to please my mother.   We would tell her not to bother if it was too much work.   I would help her with some of the things but some of it had to be made the day before or the day of so it was always a lot to do.  Lot's of dishes to wash with the salad plate, the soup, the main course and then dessert.  My mother would make a chocolate mousse or Angel Cake for dessert... the Mousse was my favourite.   She finally stopped doing it after we insisted it was too much and not necessary and we wouldn't care if she didn't do it.  It was never a big deal for me.   I liked the fish, and it was the only time of the year I ate chopped liver, sometimes bought and sometimes homemade.  My mother didn't make matzo balls but would use noodles mostly.   It wasn't so Kosher although she did use dishes we only used for company, but that's about it.  At my aunt's house she would have the full traditional meal with Brisket, although her Brisket was always charred to a crisp.  My cousin's wife on the other hand makes the most amazing Brisket and once she told me how she did it I understood the difference.

So fast forward to this year.  I probably wouldn't have tried to get some fish for myself and lately I have been making chopped liver trying to perfect it because it's cheap to make.  I probably would have made a chicken soup and probably would have made matzo balls since they are easy and it's the right time to eat it.   I wouldn't have done a full production for myself for sure.  I make chicken soup all the time when I have leftover chicken bones and vegetables I want to use up so that's no big deal for me.  I will freeze the rest and use it when I need it.

Well... so after I agreed to do it at my house and invited my cousin who couldn't make it but said it would probably cost me more than going to Caplansky's... I told her she was probably right but I didn't realize how right she was until I got in further.   My friend thought we should invite some of our friends from our Film Festival Group.  I didn't think many would be able to come since it was a tuesday night but 2 non Jewish friends decided to come and see what it was all about.  One is Irish who doesn't have family here and the other is English and something else but I can't remember what.  They never went to a Passover dinner so I decided to do it as close to what is normally done and the way my family did it.

That meant making

1. Brisket, I didn't want to make chicken because it's easier just to cook one piece of meat and then cut it up.
2. Chicken Soup from scratch but Matzo Balls from a Manichewitz Box.
3. Babaganoush
4. Roasted Peppers
5. Chopped Liver
6. Roast Potatoes
7. Roasted Brussel Sprouts
8. Cucumber, Tomato salad
9. Gefilte fish roll (bought from Metro) and Horseradish
10. Macaroons made from scratch for the first time.

and then I had to put the Seder plate together so I had to make sure I had an Egg, and a Shank Bone for the plate.  Not that we did that properly but I tried to get everything together.

Well the end result was that everyone loved the food and my friend said the food was better than the food he had the night before.  My other two friends weren't fans of the fish roll though..  but I didn't make it so that's ok.   My friends brought wine and one brought some fresh fruit.

All in all I spent probably just under $200 for everything and I went to 4 grocery stores and started cooking from Saturday to tuesday.  When I told my Jewish friend he said he never realized what it involved.  He's a guy so he probably just shows up to a fully blown meal and leaves after it's done and never has to help do anything.  That's how it was in my family although my cousin does cook and help his wife when she does it.  My brother never lifted a finger in all those years.   My friend finally realized that the Caplansky's dinner was probably a bargain, all things considered.  Although I am sure it wouldn't have been as much food or variety of food.   My friend said he would chip in $40 and appologized profusely and said next year we go to Caplansky's.   His other option was to go to some family relations of his that i don't even know.   That's not an option for me to show up at some strangers house and wait to be served.  It's not my thing.

Well all I can do at this point is reap the rewards of having some leftover Brisket and Macaroons and writing this Blog Post to encourage, warn or explain to people that don't know about Passover what it is.  It's really about a lot of traditions, prayers and history but when you are the one cooking for 3 or more days it becomes about organizing, timing, cooking, cleaning etc.   I worked so hard that I was in pain going to work on the monday and tuesday all day.

I insisted that my friend do the cleanup because I said I wouldn't do that too after working all day and then cooking as soon as I got home and getting things on the table.  I was wiped out.   He ended up standing around for a bit while the girls jumped right into getting the dishes started until one finally said he could jump in anytime.  I think both men and women should both understand what the WHOLE process is.  What it costs,  what it is, what it takes, how long it takes and what you have to do to organize it.   Everyone would appreciate it a lot more.

I found myself constantly wondering how my aunt and mother did it.   In my mother's case she had me as her sous chef and to pick up any ingredients from the store she needed but she spread it out over days to manage it.

What made it tough was using brand new dishes that had to be unpacked and all washed and repacked, and all the large heavy pots and pans that were needed.    You can see the results of my labour in the photos above.

I may never do this again unless people pay me to do it so this may be the only record of it.

My friend that convinced me to do it said I did a good thing and it was Karma.   I told him Karma isn't going to pay my grocery bills.  Did I mention I will be unemployed in two weeks... so probably not the best time to do this.... but I have to look at it as a learning experience and good content for this blog too.

P.S.  I took the rest of the Macaroons to the office I am working at and the disappeared pretty quickly.  One of the guys told me he loved them.   That was the first time I ever made them so at least I know I can cook food for Passover if I want to now.

And my 2 non Jewish friends became Jewish for a Day!


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