A Passover Precis: the Jew and the Carrot Writers Dish About Their Holiday

President Obama hosts a traditional Sedar dinner in the White House on Thursday night, April 9, 2009

In the weeks leading up to the chametz-free eight days of food, family and perhaps some rest, Jew and the Carrot writers have been very busy sharing recipes, tips and other great holiday stories.  Yes, Pesach has ended (I personally marked it by eating a pasta-covered slice of pizza for lunch today) but we asked our writers to share a little more about their holiday experiences.  In particular we asked if they did anything differently this year than they had done in the past.  Here are their responses:

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Teaneck, New Jersey.

What I loved about this Passover was that I was able to blend that which I did differently with that which was familiar. The constants were the rituals, the surrounding family (with a few more recent arrivals, like my daughter), and the recipes. But five years ago, I was more foodie than food advocate. This year, the ecological and ethical dimensions of Passover took on tremendous moral imperative. I ate organic whole wheat matzah (which was actually pretty tasty), organic grass-fed lamb stew (but not for seder), bought fair trade bananas (and found organic fair trade sugar), and tried to find local tomatoes that were not the result of Florida slave labor. Of course, the need to avoid chametz also made me buy some products (such as non-fair trade chocolate) that I tend to avoid. And a friend raised the question of the value of buying organic matzah from a non-union grocery store. This year, our values can be in conflict at times, even when we try to do the right thing. Next year, may we be one step closer to a more sustainable Passover.

Mia-Rut, New York, New York

My boyfriend was born in Brazil and grew up eating meat wrapped in meat topped with meat.  Passover five years ago, disgusted by the the treatment of animals and meat industry in general he became a vegetarian.  However at my seder this year we tried to be very thoughtful about where the food was coming from (local, and organic when possible) and eventually decided on a kosher organic brisket – which he really really enjoyed (after all he rather likes the taste of meat, just not what goes into producing it).

Liz Alpern, Brooklyn, New York

Five years ago I was probably the most machmir (strict) in my Pesach cleaning and kashrut observance than I’ve ever been.  This year I was probably the least I’ve ever been, though I still avoided blatant chametz.  My conclusion?  Beer tastes especially delicious when it is forbidden but I’m grateful for an excuse to stay away from pastries.

Michelle Arkow, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

This was my first seder away from home, the first seder I hosted myself, the first seder I led in Russian… and the first seder in which I ate on a door.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Since my small table was not large enough to seat thirteen, we unhinged my closet door, laid it across the table, and covered it with a tablecloth.  We had actually planned on sitting on the floor– children, adults, and grandmothers alike– when Ilya spotted the door and made us a proper table.  Only in a country that has survived so much and still loves to celebrate could such an inconvenience be so easily shrugged off. “It happens,” Lena responded after I apologetically explained the situation. “So we’ll eat on the floor.” Or on a door. Either way, it was the most fun seder I’ve ever had, and it could only have happened in Ukraine.

passover-table

Arlyn Boltax, Great Neck, New York

Five years ago I was pregnant with my third child. When he was born in October he had major thrush at three days old.  At his bris, an old friend who is a macrobiotic counselor and shitatsu-based healer showed up unexpectedly. I worked with her intensively after that. It was the first time I really practiced seasonal eating and cooking whole foods for myself. What I love about macrobiotics is the awareness that its not just about the food when it’s on our plate and we eat it; there is an awareness of how it was grown-not just the farming practices but the energetic properties of the food based on how and where it grows, how its cooked and how it’s eaten. It was life changing. So, five years ago was like “chevelei Mashiach”-the birth pangs of the Mashiach-so to speak. We were on the cusp of a major food shift and we didn’t even know it!

Lisa Fine, The Berkshires, Massachusetts

For the past year or two my family has been preparing different types of charoset. As a child we always ate the traditional Ashkenazi style, with walnuts, apples, wine, and spices. This year we ate one type that had mango in it (see photo below), and a Sephardic style charoset with dates and figs mixed in. Any type of charoset tastes delicious to me!

charoset2

Zelig Golden, Oakland, California

In the Wilderness near Death Valley, Wilderness Torah gathered 60 hearty souls from around the country for Pesach in the Desert – one night, we ate eco-kosher lamb stew complete with organic parsley tahini, Shmura matza, and apple raisin charoset – I would not have even eaten meat five years ago, but our chef Avishai brought to life an old tradition with modern values – free range, organic, local and Kosher – brought to us by Roger Studly and Kol Foods West! Awesome!!!

Eda Goldstein, Kibbutz Gezer, Israel

Quinoa! More importantly, we didn’t eat any matza pizza or matza lasagna, and somehow our holiday was fine without these traditional dishes. Also, we noticed that some companies in Israel have started adding the possible allergen warning on their packages, and we were amused that our  potato chip bags said “no suspicion of hametz” on the front and “may contain traces of gluten, soy or nuts” on the back.

Rabbi Mark Hurvitz, New York, New York

Till nearly five years ago, as Purim ended, I printed the “Preparing for Pesach” list. This includes: stop buying Chametz and start buying Pesach supplies; prepare a new edition of my Haggadah editing, updating the online version, printing, distributing to “subscribers” and sending it in bulk to bookstores. Next: find afikoman hiding place; write check to Mazon for “one who is hungry“; prepare maror (horehound tea); marinate vegetables to eat following karpas; prepare Yahrtzeit candle with yellow Jude star to light at maror section of the Seder. Final preparation included: find a sheaf of grass gone to seed ready for counting the Omer; set “Miriam’s Vessel” (large glass pitcher with mint and/or citrus slices filled with ice, topped off with cold water) on the table. And, of course, cook the meal.  Since 2006, we have not been “home”. Friends invite us. Often, they and our children use my Haggadah. They have given me the honor of “leading” the Seder.

Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz, Brooklyn, New York

I made homemade gefilte fish – something my grandparents didn’t even do! And when I bought the fish I noticed that they were both wild and domestic.

Susie Kopecky, Los Angeles, California

This year, I enjoyed some Kosher for Passover Coke, which I haven’t drank in quite some time. I enjoyed delving into the history and thought behind soda sweeteners and why some individuals actually prefer the sweet alternative to HFCS (I personally like both!). I also had a wonderful new adventure with K-for-P cakes, courtesy of Savion!  With all of the delightful and spiritually-nourishing foods we are able to enjoy at Passover time, the time truly flew by faster than it has ever gone by before. I look forward to the next holiday!

Liz Lawler, Brooklyn, New York

Everything I ate/cooked for this year’s Passover was different from five years ago, since I wasn’t Jewish five years ago. Conversion has afforded me many new blessings: a husband, a baby, and the sanctified gift of matza pizza..

Lois Leveen, Portland, Oregon

One practical change from five years ago:  my sweetie is from Newfoundland, and is a big fan of parsnips, which he ate a lot growing up.  A couple years ago, I tried grating some into my vegetarian matzah ball soup – and it’s amazingly flavorful, so now that is a regular staple of holiday preparation.  But the newest thing this year was that I’ve discovered stinging nettles, which grow wild here and are perfectly in season now.  A friend gathered me several large batches from outside her house. I boiled them briefly to remove the sting (always handle nettles with gloves until after they’ve been blanched), then made a pesto with olive oil, goat cheese, and garlic. I put it out as a new “symbolic” food:  something that seems so detrimental you can’t even touch it, but that if handled correctly can be a source of great pleasure and nourishment. If you’ve never had nettles before, perhaps this spring is the time to try them.

Miri Levitas, San Francisco, California

Five years ago I was in college and fortunately spent most holidays with my grandparents who live about two hours from where I went to school. We went to our closest family friends’ seder where we read the whole Pesach story in Hebrew!  I have fond memories of those seders!

Cecily Marbach Oberstein, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

I love keeping things the same as far as traditional family holiday foods are concerned but my own mother has changed things quite a bit to accommodate my vegetarian lifestyle. Mom now makes vegetable soup with matzoh balls instead of chicken (no Osem consomme included) and pareve tsimmes.

Ben Murane, Brooklyn, New York

Have you seen the spreadable horseradish by Manischewitz? It’s disgusting. It’s maror mayonaise, essentially. I mean, if bitter herbs are supposed to be nasty and not bitter in the slightest, mission accomplished. Barf.

Delilah Raybee, San Francisco, California

This year, my seder was vegetarian (well, including gefilte fish). Although there were only two strict vegetarians in attendance out of 13 guests, we wanted to have a vegetarian feast. Partially because my partner and co-host is vegetarian. But, I also liked the idea of celebrating and having a vegetarian meal – somewhat turning upside down the idea that you eat special foods, often meaning meat, to celebrate. Why not celebrate by living more lightly? We had roasted asparagus – a beautiful and tasty spring treat. The main dish was a Moroccan-style quinoa with nuts and dried fruits. At least two friends thanked me at the end for not having another course – particularly the usual brisket and potatoes. They would have eaten more, and then felt over full. So, the light, festive pesca/vegetarian meal turned out perfectly for all.

Becca Tanen, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Since I spent Pesach in a dorm room, I subsisted mainly on frozen, microwavable, vegetarian, Kosher for Pesach meals. Definitely a different experience than what I’m used to at home!

Alix Wall, Oakland, California

And as for differently, I’ve added a cauliflower kugel to the Passover repertoire. I first made it last year, I found the recipe on epicurious. I find that seders are usually so meat/fish/starch heavy that it’s nice to add more veggies in there, and this dish is a wonderful way to do that.

Rhea Yablon Kennedy, Washington, D.C.

This year, I volunteered to make the matzah ball soup for a friend’s seder. In past years, my seder contributions had always been things like setting up, writing a funny song, or bringing a side dish. I would do my bit and then marvel at the mastery of whoever had organized the whole thing. With this slightly larger responsibility at hand, I started to worry. I’d never made this dish for 14 people – not five years ago, or ever. What if the vegetarian soup wasn’t tasty enough? What if the balls just dissolved in the boiling water, or the host’s hype about my cooking prowess went to mush? Amazingly, it all worked out! Well, next time I might adjust the seasonings when I multiply the recipe, and come up with a more flavorful stock. But the success was fortifying enough to get me thinking: Next year in hosting?

Jeffrey Yoskowitz, Brooklyn, New York

I now avoid the processed matzah meal and make matzah balls using crushed spelt Matzah to add to its texture, the way that they used to be made before the introduction of matzah meal.  These balls have become an instant holiday favorite and I credit Joan Nathan with the idea.

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