The first seder I ever went to, I hosted. I was deep into conversion classes with my husband-to-be and we had tons of questions. It was the opposite of scripted. We used a Reconstructionist haggadah a friend’s family had put together, and the conversation flowed. The older generations regaled us with their memories. Though it was over 10 years ago I remember it well. There was just one problem. My food was warming on the stove and in the oven, forever. Who knew that you spent so long talking before eating the meal? I ruined my first seder. Everything was dehydrated to shoe leather, the matzoh balls leaden after simmering for so long.
If a recipe ends with “serve immediately,” it is not for Pesach. That was my first huge lesson. I think I’ve hosted almost every first night since then, but I’ve picked up a lot of things on the second nights when we’ve gone to other people’s houses. The whole evening has changed with the advent of our children, as well. Here are some of our evolving traditions:
1. Everyone gets different haggadot. We NEVER read from the same script, going around the table in order. That leads to deathly boredom, especially since our oldest child is only 7 years old. Different haggadot helps keep things extemporaneous, engaging and interactive.
2. The first glass of wine is champagne. Learned that from Nigel Savage. We also serve special wines throughout the dinner.
3. Finest linens, silver, china. This should be a royal feast; it also really impresses the kids.
4. Serve at least 2 types of charoset, usually an ashkenazic and sephardic version.
5. Start the evening reclining in the living room.
6. 10 plague art project. Everyone depicts a plague with oil pastels on water color paper taped over a popsicle stick, which is then held up at the appropriate time. Have also seen modeling clay at seder tables….
7. Turkish eggs. My husband’s grandfather was from Turkey (after the family was kicked out of Spain circa 1492). He taught my Polish grandmother-in-law to make passover eggs in his family’s tradition. Simmer a huge amount of eggs for 24 hours in coffee grounds with onion skins and olive oil. The eggs turn light brown and taste quite remarkable.
8. Long, slow-cooked food. I’ve cooked lamb shanks; this year I’m making short ribs in a slow-cooker for 12 hours. I am also making a Turkish shredded chicken in walnut sauce that can be served room temperature or withstand being warmed for hours.
9. Moistened matzah. Our Israeli nanny showed me how she likes matzah. She quickly runs cold water over each matzah then wraps them in a dish towel and lets them incubate for several minutes at the table before eating. They are softened but not soggy, and somehow the flavor of the wheat is enhanced. Every year I dread matzah crumbs all over the house, and this helps that problem as well.
10. Many hunts for the afikoman. And many hunts for chametz the night before. I hide baggies of chametz all over the apartment. The hard part is remembering where I put them all….
That’s my incomplete list of tricks and traditions, for the time being. Pesach used to be rather daunting and overwhelming for me. Now I relish it. Especially the food, family, and songs.