Jewish and Catholic: An interview with my father, Phil Prever

Back in 2018, I interviewed several people for an article about what it means to be both Jewish and Catholic. The interview never made it to print for various reasons, but I have always wanted to share the conversation I had with my father.

He and my mother both grew up in Brooklyn with a cultural Judaism. They married young, had two children, became hippies, drove cross country and back, moved to Israel and back, dallied with Buddhism, moved to a ski lodge in Vermont, had a dramatic conversion to evangelical Christianity, briefly landed in a cult, had two more children (including me), and eventually made their way into the Catholic Church, where they stayed (and had four more children).

 

 
My parents with their eight adult children
 
Here is my father’s account of what his Jewish origins meant to him. 
 
What was your experience of Judaism growing up?
 

We were cultural Jews. We celebrated Chanukah, but it didn’t mean a whole lot. It was just something Jews did around Christmas time. We never had a “Chanukah bush!” 

My grandmother, Anna Olshansky Prever, with my father
 

The only other thing we did in my family was we fasted on Yom Kippur. My father . . . I don’t even know what he believed. He felt a great lack in his life, because he had never been bar mitzvah’d. His parents wanted to get away from all that. He felt he had missed out, so when I was studying for bar mitzvah, I had to learn scriptures, and recite in front of the congregation in a synagogue, and he asked the rabbi if he could be bar mitzvah’d, in his 50’s.

 
My grandfather, Jacob Prever, with my father
 
On Yom Kippur, we would all fast. He would sit in a room with the lights off, no radio, no entertainment, wouldn’t read, would just sit there for all of the whole day and night. I don’t know what he was doing. It was a very solemn kind of thing, really spooky. Everyone tiptoed around him.
 
As kid, on the whole block, we were all Jewish. The joke was, “Are you fasting, or are you feasting?” Most of the kids fasted. We didn’t go to the synagogue, but we hung out around the synagogue and peeped in the windows.
 
Everything was done in Hebrew. The way they did it, the men who went there knew the prayers so well, they recited them at a very high speed. I don’t know if they knew what they were saying, but it was just a jumble and it didn’t seem very meaningful to me, but that’s what you did. 
 
Why did you hang around, if it wasn’t meaningful?
 
There was a lot of horseplay. We weren’t in a devout frame of mind, or anything. But we were drawn to it. We didn’t understand it, but we knew we were Jews and this was what Jews did on the high holidays. Our families didn’t go to Shul, but somehow we wanted something to do with it. 
There was a synagogue where I was growing up, and one day I’m walking along the street and a man comes up and says, “Are you Jewish?” 
“Yeah.”
“Have you been bar mitzvah’d?”
“Yeah.”
“We need one more for a minyan.”
I must have been in my early teens. I sat through the service that was meaningless to me, but on the other hand, I felt like I was doing something devout. After I was bar mitzvah’d, I took it somewhat seriously. I got phylacteries, and for at least a month I used to put on the tefillin every day and said the prayers. Eventually I got tired of doing it. 
 
Some years, we would go to my uncle’s father from the old country. He used to do a seder. He did it all in Hebrew. That’s the only time I ever went to a real seder. Other than that, on Passover, we’d have a special meal with Passover foods, but no seder. I went to Hebrew school until I was bar mitzvah’d, to read and write Hebrew to an elementary level. Then once I was bar mitzvah’d, that was all over with. 
 
My mother used to light yarhzeit candles on the anniversary of someone’s death, which I still do. That’s about it. And a lot of Jewish food. 
 
My father with his parents
 
All the people we knew were like us. None of my friends were observant. I didn’t know any Catholics or Christians when I was growing up. I never saw anyone who wasn’t Jewish until I was in sixth grade. There was an Italian girl in my class from a couple of blocks away. 
 
How did your parents respond when you converted? 

My mother was distressed. Ima’s mother was, too, even though they were less observant than my family.
 
My father’s father, my mother, my father, and my mother’s father at a party
 
But what happened was, they saw we started to live differently. We had lived a crazy life before, with drugs and hippie craziness. We were leading a disordered kind of life, and they saw we cleaned up our lives and stopped messing around so much, so they were impressed by that. That made a difference. My mother softened over the years. She wasn’t actively hostile. She got over it. She came to live with us, so it couldn’t have been too uncomfortable for her. 
 
 
My grandmother with my younger brother, Jacob
 
Early on, when we were protestants, Ima’s mother and my mother came to visit. They drove up. At that time, we thought it was our duty to preach the Gospel to everybody we met, so we started working on our mothers. They weren’t having any of it. We tried to explain to them why they needed to be saved. They didn’t want to hear it. I said something like, “You know, driving home, you could be in an accident and die, and where would you be then?” That was the wrong thing to say. That was the approach that was favored at the Community Bible Chapel: Hit ’em between the eyes. They were horrified, probably rightly so. We never did that again. 
 
Does anyone respond negatively to your explanation of who you are?
 
Early on, Ima and I ran into some Catholics who didn’t understand why we, as Jews, wanted to become Catholics. They had been taught the idea that there were two covenants, and that Jews belonged to one covenant and Christians to another, and there was no necessity for Jews to become Christians to be saved. There was a time in the Church when that was the going explanation of the relationship between Jews and Catholics. It’s kind of passé now. That was in the early ’80’s. Ima converted in ’78 and I converted in ’79.
 
My parents with my three older sisters and me
 
I know some christians have a kind of fascination with Jews. Did you run into that?
 
People were interested in us because of that. The priest at St. Mary’s where we first started going said, “You know, people are watching you.” Really? What do they expect to see? They wondered how a Jew would deal with all this Catholic stuff. But nobody said anything to me.
 
My father with me and my sister Sarah
 
When we were protestants, we had a special status as Jews who had become Christians. It was kind of a special prize, because here we were, members of the chosen people, and we had converted, when so many Jews were against Christianity. 
 
We were kind of minor celebrities when we were protestants. Once Ima and I were up in front of some protestant congregation explaining Judaism, which we didn’t know all that much about. I remember explaining about the mezuzah on the door post, and the pastor said, “That has the blood of a lamb in it, right?” And I said, “No! It has the scroll that has the Sh’ma in it.” “Oh!” he says.
 
People expected us to be well versed in the Old Testament, which I was not. I became well versed in it when I became a Christian. Certain things in my background that I didn’t quite understand the significance of became clearer to me when I became a Christian.
 
a print my parents made for a card shortly after their conversion
 
Like what?
 
I’m trying to think of an example. I had a cousin, quite a bit older than me, more of my mother’s generation. When there would be a funeral and the whole family would be there, he would stand outside the fence and not go in the cemetery ground, and I never knew why, until I read somewhere in the Old Testament that because he was called a Cohen, born in some kind of priestly line, he was forbidden to set foot in a cemetery. Some kind of taboo against dealing with the dead, somewhere in Leviticus, no doubt. A light went on over my head: Oh! That’s why Seymour Katz never went into the cemetery. 
 
Why is it important to you to preserve your Jewish identity?
 
There’s a feeling among the Jewish people that Jew who becomes a Christian is kind of a traitor to his people I don’t believe that. Because I think Jesus is God, you know? And I believe in God! I don’t feel that I’m betraying the Jewish people. I feel like I’m accepting the Jewish messiah. But maintaining my Jewish identity is important to me because I want to assure myself that I’m not a traitor, I guess. I’ve never reasoned it out on such an explicit level, but I think that’s how I feel.
 
It’s a wonderful thing to be a Jew. It’s special. The Jewish people are like no other. I’m glad some of you kids have maintained that. Some of you haven’t. We let you go your own way on that, presented it as something that was meaningful to us. I feel a deep bond with the state of Israel and the fate of the Jewish people around the world, wherever they are. I feel connected, and I don’t want to lose that.
 
Do you also feel connected to Catholics around the world, or is it a different kind of thing?
 
I feel like I’d like to, but it’s not on the same emotional level. I do feel some connectedness, but it’s not the same. 
 

How do you express your Jewishness now? 

I go to my parents’ graves once a year. I say the kaddish prayers over their graves, and put a stone on the gravestone. One other thing: I’m a lector at church. There’s a three-year cycle of readings. Once every three years comes the passage from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Before I read it, I say the Sh’ma in Hebrew in front of the congregation, and no one has ever asked me about it. Once or twice I even chanted it, just for the hell of it. I don’t know why I do it. It seems like it should be said in Hebrew. 
 
 
You’re pretty conservative. Does it bother you that many American Jews are liberal?
 
It bothers me. I wish they’d open their eyes a little and see who the friends of the Jewish people are. The left in America is getting really anti-Israel. On the other hand, who knows if the Christians in America are really friends of the Jews when push comes to shove. I always think of The Sopranos, with the Jewish character Hesh. He and his daughter go to visit Tony in the hospital, and this evangelical preacher comes in to visit. He wants to pray with Tony. Hesh is rolling his eyes around, but his daughter says Evangelical Christians are great friends of the Jews. And Hesh says, “Just wait.”
 
Catholics, Catholics are all over the place. Although it seems like, among Catholic theologians, there’s been an awakening to the connection between the Catholic religion and how it grew out of the Jewish religions. 
 
 

Have you encountered antisemitism in your lifetime? 

Believe it or not, I have hardly any experience with antisemitism in my life, that I’m aware of. Growing up, I never ran into it because I was surrounded by Jews. 

I remember once, when I must have been a Christian already, and I was at a gas station in New York. I must have gone down to visit family. This guy also filling up gas was talking to me, and I could tell by his accent he’s from down south. He looks at the price on the gas pump, which was much higher than what he was used to, and said, “Aw, G-ddamn Jews.” Blaming the Jews for high gas prices. It was insane. I was shocked. I had never run across that kind of overt antisemitism. Afterwards, I thought of a thousand things I could have said, but I didn’t say anything. It was a moment of realizing what’s out there, so many people who feel that way. 
 
Didn’t you once have a customer for your book business who made some antisemitic remarks?
 
Oh, this guy was a nut. He turned out to be Pope Pius XIII. Fr. Pulvermacher, was his name. He ordered a traditional Catholic book. I started out selling pre-Vatican II books, before I understood what a trad was. Now I look back and I realize I was getting a lot of orders from trads. They assumed I was one, too. Little did they know I was a Novus Ordo Jew!
 
Some of them found out we were Jewish and were thrilled, but not all of them. This Pulvermacher passed some kind of remark. Ima wrote back to him, had some kind of back and forth with him, and he backed off.
 
My. mother
 
He didn’t want to kill us or anything. He’s the one who said, “If you disagree with me, you’re a heretic.” Later years, we found out he became Pope Pius XIII.
 
Why do you think antisemitism is such a perennial thing?
 
Historically, I think antisemitism was basically a kind of hatred of God. That’s not the basis of all antisemitism; but in Europe, some of the pogroms was done trying to get at God through the Jews in some weird kind of way. And it sure has lasted a long time, huh? Three, four thousand years. Come on, enough already. 
 
 
My father was born in America in 1900, so his family came over in the 1880s or 90’s. The pogroms has something to do with it. Being a Jew in Eastern Europe was not a comfortable thing. My mother’s father, at one point, they were trying to get him to come into the Russian army, and he didn’t want to go. It’s a good thing; he would have been slaughtered in World War I. Living under the Czar was not a comfortable thing. You were on the razor’s edge all the time. There were pogroms, and no one knew when they were going to start up again. By the time he left, there was a lot of communist agitation or socialist agitation. They got out a year before the 1917 revolution.
 
My father’s maternal grandfather, Phillip (Feivel) Olshansky, shortly before the family fled Russia
My grandfather would not have done well. He was a capitalist, so that was part of it.
 
A visa photo of my great grandparents Zelda (Jenny) and Feivel (Phillip), my grandmother Hana (Anne), and two of my great-uncles, Gosel and Schloima.
 
Other than that, I don’t really know why they left, other than that they figured they would be better off in America, and they were. 

 

My grandfather in his pharmacy

There’s nobody to ask anymore. There’s a lot of things I wish I knew, but now there’s nobody to ask. 

My father with his mother’s sister, Mickey (Miriam)
 
How did you come to do the seder that you do today?
 
When we first started doing it, I had a Haggadah which was a Christian seder, and it was put out by protestants. It was completely Christian prayers all throughout, always drawing out parallels. After a couple of years, I said, “I don’t feel comfortable doing this.” It didn’t sit right. I went back to using the traditional Haggadah and adding onto it, and I feel more comfortable with that. I’ve never done a seder in a Christian setting, for a church group or anything. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that, but I know I reacted against over-Christianizing it. 
 
My parents at a seder in 2016
 
If your Jewishness were somehow taken away, what would it do to your faith, or to your relationship with God?

Why would such a thing be necessary? I would feel less like myself. I would feel I had lost something, and I was less of the person I had been all these years. I don’t think I would feel like I had less of a relationship with God, but it’s hard to say what that loss would consist of. 
 
Do you pray as a Jew?

Sometimes.What does that mean?
Sometimes I think of Abraham praying for Lot. Sometimes I fall into that mode of praying. I speak to God in a kind of overfamiliar way, and I say, “Hey, you know, what’s the deal here?” I’ve been in that frame of mind while praying. Sometimes I find myself davening unconsciously [Note: “Davening” means “praying.” I believe my father was referring specifically to shuckling while praying.] It wasn’t something I grew up with. I used to see the men in synagogue doing it, but I never did. 
 
my father in Brooklyn
 
Have you heard much about a Hebrew Catholic Rite? Would you get involved with it if it came about in your lifetime? 
 
I would be very interested in seeing that come to fruition, but I don’t think I could help, because I don’t know enough. I can sound out Hebrew, but I don’t understand it except a phrase here and there. I don’t have any experience of praying in a synagogue or different Jewish holidays. I just don’t know enough. I would definitely like to see it happen.  
 
You say you don’t have experience, but you spent a whole year living in Israel!
 
We did absolutely zero religious observation when we were in Israel. When we were in Israel, we were Buddhists. I can’t explain how such stupidity can happen, but it did. 
 
What meant a lot to me, living in Israel: At that time, before the Six Day War, we lived in Western Jerusalem. Jerusalem was like a peninsula into Arab territory. It came about during the war of Independence in 1948. They fought so hard to get at least a piece of Jerusalem. They never conquered the historical Jerusalem. It’s mountainous, and when you come up from the farther western part of Israel, you go uphill, and the road winds on these different hills. All along the hill, you see these rusted out military vehicles, relics of the war of ’48. It made a tremendous impression on me. You could see how hard these Jews had fought to get to Jerusalem, at least to get a piece of it. 
 
 
Would you go back if you could?

I’d love to go back. I think about it a lot, but I don’t think I’ll ever do it. It would mean more to me now. We were there for [a year, which extended into] a few weeks after the war in ’67, and we went into the Old City after the war. We were looking at the Via Dolorosa, and I saw lots of ancient sites, and then came up into some kind of building. We looked out a window, and there was the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. It’s a relic of the temple, all that’s left of the wall that supported what the temple was built on. All these people praying, and I never went down to it. People make pilgrimages from the ends of the earth to get to it. I was there, and I didn’t even take five minutes to go downstairs and go to the wall. It just didn’t mean that much to me. I’ve always been ashamed that I never did. 
 
Do you think Jews have some kind of special mission or place or obligation in the Church or in the world?
 
If you go back to Romans 10, Paul talks about the mission of the Jews. He says the conversion of the Jews will be the resurrection of the dead. I don’t know what that means, exactly, but it’s a big thing, something very important. He says the gift and the calling of God are irrevocable. There’s these gifts that have been given to the Jews, and when they come into the Church, it’s going to be apocalyptic. I don’t know, I don’t know what it’s going to be. 
 
 
What do you want people to know about Hebrew Catholics?
 
There’s the idea that Jews in the Catholic Church will somehow subvert the Church. That’s crazy. I don’t know any Hebrew Catholic who would want to subvert the Church in any way. If you go far enough onto the fringe, they think the great sin of the Church was then the Church said the Jews didn’t kill Christ. 
 
There’s this idea I run into with some Catholics that Catholics are Catholics and Jews are Jews, and Jews don’t need Christ. That bothers me that anyone should think that: That there’s anyone who doesn’t need Christ. Although I think the Jews are special in many ways, they’re not so special that they don’t need Christ. Everyone does. 
 
***
 

My father died just about a year ago on April 3. We had been planning to celebrate Passover with him via Zoom, and instead ended up live streaming his funeral. This year, I was bracing myself for the first anniversary of his death, and then my mother died on March 12. I know what my father would say: The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. 

 
 

Holy chicken soup with matzoh balls

Today I am making chicken soup with matzoh balls. One of my kids requested it as a birthday meal, and even though we usually reserve this soup for Passover, I couldn’t say no. I’m also making two giant challahs, because it’s not Passover and we can have yeast! My goal was to have the house smelling wonderful by the time the birthday girl woke up, and I achieved that goal. 
 
Let me tell you about this soup. When I was little, my mother would cook and bake for a full week before Passover, one or two dishes a day, slowly filling the freezer with tinfoil-wrapped packages. We kids would help with simple tasks like washing the sprigs of parsley or chopping the nuts for charoset, but my mother still did the actual cooking and baking: tzimmes and pot roast, charoset, spinach pie, latkes, garlic-studded lamb, chocolate sponge cake and lemon sponge cake, and of course a vast pot of chicken soup with matzoh balls. By noon on the day of the feast, the air would be shimmering with schmaltz, the kitchen windows steamed up against the cold spring air outside. This golden soup was the first course, and it was glorious. 
 
 
Shortly after my father died this past spring, I was hunting through my email archives for something, and I came across an old letter my mother sent to my sister Sarah and me, in which she describes how to make soup. It may have been the first year we split up the cooking and baking duties.  Maybe she wasn’t feeling strong enough to turn out an entire feast by herself;. or maybe we had done it before, but she still thought of us as little girls with yarn bows in our hair (notice the part where she thinks we may not own a whisk). 
 

Anyway, here is her recipe (and I’ll put my challah recipe at the end). Who couldn’t use a big pot of wonderful soup on a random Tuesday in this difficult, comfortless year? It’s easy and rewarding, and if you haven’t met my mother, this is a good way. 

***
 

Oh, I didn’t mean you should do the sponge cakes and ALSO the soup and matzo balls! I will be eternally grateful if you can find the time & energy to make the soup and matzo balls. The cakes and the rest I’m so used to doing every year that it’s really no trouble at all. I was mainly hoping you would do the soup & matzo balls. If somebody is taking care of that, nothing seems difficult to me!

Here is how I make chicken soup:

You start early. You fill up two big pots with water and start heating it up. You wash and cut up the chicken, one very big one or two small ones, complete with fat and skin but take out the raw livers and put them aside to saute for Reggie or Abba or whoever likes it, and you heat up the water and put everything into it–I can bring you big pots–along with cut-up onions, a big bunch of carrots, peeled & sliced, a few sticks of celery, salt and pepper, and if possible fresh dill and parsley–it’s a good idea to get those early, especially the dill, because not all stores have it. (Fresh dill is what makes the soup taste so home-made, and also it’s pretty. You rinse the parsley and dill, shake it out, and put it in closed jars or plastic bags or a big container till you need it.)
 
You put everything in the big pots and bring it to a boil, and let it simmer and after a while there will be all this yucky stuff at the top, which you carefully skim off with a big, flat spoon, till most of it is gone. Then cover the pot and let it simmer for a long time, enough to cook everything and get all the flavor into the broth. You cook it for a few hours, leaving the top on the pots most of the time so it won’t get boiled down very much, and check it every once in a while–it should be at a nice simmer or a quiet boil.
 
When it’s all done you put the soup through one big or two regular colanders (I should have gotten you a bigger one!) and the soup back in the pots, and let all the vegetables and chicken and everything cool down so you don’t burn your fingers. Then you separate out the carrots, the chicken, and the other vegetables and as much of the dill and parsley as you can find and cut up a bit. Put the carrots (sliced), the dill, and the parsley back into the soup, cut up in pieces, and maybe a few pieces of chicken too (watch for little bones!).
 

You can save the cooked chicken and vegetables but they will be pretty much tasteless and if you serve them in a recipe it will need spicing up. The soup, meanwhile, you can refrigerate and the next day the fat will have risen to the top and hardened and you can take some of it off easily, but leave enough in to give it a good taste and to have those nice shiny circles of fat floating in the soup. Save the extra fat, because you’ll need some of it for the knaidlach (matzo balls).

The soup together with the matzo balls in it freezes very nicely, and it can be thawed and heated under a low heat on Passover day (that’s Holy Saturday for us).

If you know an easier way of making chicken soup, you should use it, because any kind of home-made chicken soup is yummy and holy and special. I hope I explained it right.

Matzo Balls (k’naidlach)

After the soup, this will be easy. How many to make I can’t tell you, only The More the Better. They will be delicious even if they turn out rubbery. This recipe says it makes 8:

You will need: eggs, matzoh meal (kosher for Pesach), chicken fat (melted) from the soup, and some salt.

First heat up a big pot or two of water and get it simmering, covered. Beat up 2 eggs (with an egg whisk if you have one) with 2 tablespoons of chicken fat from the soup and maybe some salt but not too much. (If for some reason you don’t have enough fat you can use vegetable oil). Add half a cup matzo meal and mix with a fork. Chill in refrig for about 15 minutes. Wet your hands and make 8 matzo balls (about one inch in diameter each) for each recipe, and put them into the boiling water.

Cover tightly, reduce heat, and simmer till done–about 20 minutes, maybe a little more. Sometimes they stick on the bottom a little bit and have to be gently dislodged with a spoon. Usually they just sink and then float up by themselves. They should be fluffy but if they’re not they’ll still be loved by one and all.

You can cook more than 8 at a time. The big pots can hold many matzo balls at a time.

I have reason to believe that some recipes call for 2 Tbs. of soup broth along with the eggs, fat, and matzo meal. I’m not sure which recipe we’ve been using all these years, or if there really are two recipes. I always just took the recipe off the matzo meal box and never noticed if there were two versions. You might want to call Simmy and see what she uses.

Do you still want to do all this cooking?? Now that I write it all down I remember why I’ve been trying to get out of doing it every year, mostly by foisting it off on Simmy.

Love,

Ima

***
 

Challah (braided bread)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup oil (preferably olive oil)
  • 2 eggs
  • 6-8 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp yeast
  • 2 egg yolks for egg wash
  • poppy seeds or "everything bagel" topping (optional)
  • corn meal (or flour) for pan, to keep loaf from sticking

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve a bit of the sugar into the water, and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir gently, and let sit for five minutes or more, until it foams.

  2. In the bowl of standing mixer, put the flour (starting with six cups), salt, remaining sugar, oil, and eggs, mix slightly, then add the yeast liquid. Mix with dough hook until the dough doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl, adding flour as needed. It's good if it has a slightly scaly appearance on the outside.

  3. (If you're kneading by hand, knead until it feels soft and giving. It will take quite a lot of kneading!)

  4. Put the dough in a greased bowl and lightly cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for at least an hour, until it's double in size.

  5. Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle it with flour or corn meal. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll three into "snakes" and make a large braid, pinching the ends to keep them together. Divide the fourth piece into three and make a smaller braid, and lay this over the larger braid. Lay the braided loaf on the pan.

  6. Cover again and let rise again for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 350.

  7. Before baking, make an egg wash out of egg yolks and a little water. Brush the egg wash all over the loaf, and sprinkle with poppy seeds or "everything" topping.

  8. Bake 25 minutes or more until the loaf is a deep golden color.

What’s for supper? Vol. 208: They tried to kill us; they failed; let’s eat (alleluia!)

It’s Friday! It is; I checked.

This week is always pretty crazy even when there isn’t a pandemic. It’s the week after Easter and Passover, and the food situation is what we in the Association of Intermittent Food Bloggers With Complex Faith Backgrounds call “bonkers.”

And this year, my father, who loved food and who usually presides over our Passover seder, was not there, because he is dead. Good thing I definitely don’t have any deep psychological confusion concerning food and family and holidays and faith and memories. NOT AT ALL.

So! Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY

Well, on Holy Saturday, we celebrate Passover. This is because we celebrate it like Jews (more or less), which means a tremendous amount of food and wine and dessert and singing and laughing; but also of course we’re Catholics, and Easter is preeminent. So we celebrate Passover in light of Easter, which means we need to celebrate it before Easter, and not on whichever day it happens to fall by the Jewish calendar; but we can’t do it on Holy Thursday, because there’s a tremendous amount of food and wine and dessert and singing and laughing. And also we buried my father on Holy Thursday. Which, this year, was actual Passover. So we had our seder on Holy Saturday. I’m telling you. It has been A Week. 

I have once again failed to fix up the Passover recipe page I made a few years ago, but here it is in its current shambolic form. We had chicken soup with matzoh balls

 

chopped liver

gefilte fish

charoset

spinach pie

and roast lamb

and roast garlic cinnamon chicken; and for dessert, sponge cake with lemon icing, chocolate cake with almonds, macaroons, red and orange chocolate-covered jelly rings, jelly fruit slices, chocolate caramel matzoh, and halvah. 

Again, you can find these recipes here

Everything turned out really well. Well, I burned the soup and had to make it again (and when I complained about it on Facebook, Pope Michael commented “How can you burn soup? It’s mostly water,” so there was that), and someone burned the sponge cake, so we had to cut it up into little pieces and try to make petits fours like in the Joy of Cooking, but there wasn’t enough icing, so they were just very small pieces of cake. But eventually, everything turned out really well!

Damien made the lamb with a new recipe posted on Twitter by Tom Nichols.

 

Ignore the part about not wanting your house to smell like garlic (why not?) and just follow the recipe, which is basically to murder it with garlic powder, garlic salt, and oregano. It was the tenderest, juiciest lamb I’ve ever eaten. You didn’t need a knife, no kidding. 

We decided to stream the Easter Vigil on Saturday night from our home parish, and it was a delight. They had a wonderful tenor sing the full Exultet into the empty, echoing church, and I gave everyone a juice glass with a tea light in it, and . . . I know we’re supposed to feel bad because we can’t be there in person, and I know my father just died, but I was absolutely filled with joy. I know it’s Friday and everyone’s gone back to feeling bad but STILL ALLELUIA! Can’t help it. 

SUNDAY

On Sunday, of course everybody was eating hard boiled eggs and candy all day. Then Dora made potato latkes in the late afternoon. These are much more labor intensive than matzoh meal latkes, but she apparently didn’t realize there was such a thing? I didn’t get a pic of the potato latkes, but they were delish. 

Jump to Recipe

We had tons of leftovers of everything, and I packed up a bunch for my mother. Usually I send them home with my father after the seder so he can bring them to her in the nursing home, but I just put them in the freezer until . . .undetermined. Still, Alleluia. I mean it. 

MONDAY
I think we had. . .  chicken nuggets and chips? That seems plausible

TUESDAY
Meatloaf and garlic mashed potatoes

If you are wondering how I have been holding up with all the everything going on, it’s because Damien has been doing everything, including making meatloaf and mashed potatoes on Monday. I once again forgot to take a picture — actually, what it is is my phone is completely full of pictures. I actually filled up the whole entire memory with photos, and then my phone stopped working. I know there are various things you can do, and I have been working on them, but what seemed to me to be the most prudent was to sit there drinking gin and permanently deleting thousands of photos, because you have to face facts, and you can’t hold onto these things forever. Halfway through the process, it occurred to me that my behavior might have something to do with processing my father’s death. Anyway, my phone is working again. But I don’t have any photos of meatloaf.

But I will put my recipes at the end!

Meatloaf:

Jump to Recipe

Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes:

Jump to Recipe

 

WEDNESDAY
Fried rice, egg rolls, deviled eggs

Like most of American we had some leftover ham from something or other, and a bunch of hard boiled eggs. I bought frozen egg rolls, and then I looked up a bunch of recipes for fried rice, and came away with the conclusion that the reason it tastes like that is soy sauce.

I had a pretty picture which isn’t currently cooperating. Will try again later.My rice came out too mushy, but it tasted fine. It had chopped ham, snow peas, onion, scallions, egg, and sesame oil. Almost more like one of those bullshit “just add an egg” thingies than fried rice, oh well.

I assigned the making of the deviled eggs to a middle child. You can see that an attempt was made.

PIC

THURSDAY
Pork ribs, risotto, peas

Always popular. For the pork ribs, you just sprinkle them heavily with salt and pepper, lay them on a broiler pan, and give it several minutes on each side until they’re sizzling. Delicious. 

I used the Instant Pot to make a giant amount of plain risotto, and everyone was well pleased. 

Jump to Recipe

FRIDAY
Shrimp scampi with spaghetti, stuffed clams, bread

I seem to have repeatedly stocked up on frozen shrimp during the last few weeks, so now is the time to scampify it. Gotta face facts, can’t hold onto these things forever. Alleluia.

I’ll add in the recipe after I actually make it!

 

 

Potato latkes

Serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce for Hanukkah or ANY TIME. Makes about 25+ latkes

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs potatoes, peeled
  • 6 eggs beaten
  • 6 Tbsp flour (substitute matzoh meal for Passover)
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Grate the potatoes. Let them sit in a colander for a while, if you can, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. 

  2. Mix together the eggs, salt and pepper, and flour. Stir into the potato mixture and mix well. 

  3. Turn the oven on to 350 and put a paper-lined pan in the oven to receive the latkes and keep them warm while you're frying. 

  4. Put 1/4 to 1/2 and inch of oil in your frying pan and heat it up until a drop of batter will bubble.  

  5. Take a handful of the potato mixture, flatten it slightly, and lay it in the pan, leaving room between latkes. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, making several batches to leave room in between latkes. Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Eat right away or keep warm in oven, but not too long. 

  6. Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce or apple slices. 

 

Meatloaf (actually two giant meatloaves)

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup milk OR red wine
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

plenty of salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, onion powder or minced onions, fresh parsley, etc.

  • ketchup for the top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450

  2. Mix all meat, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, and seasonings together with your hands until well blended.

  3. Form meat into two oblong loaves on pan with drainage

  4. Squirt ketchup all over the outside of the loaves and spread to cover with spatula. Don't pretend you're too good for this. It's delicious. 

  5. Bake for an hour or so, until meat is cooked all the way through. Slice and serve. 

 

Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs potatoes
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel the potatoes and put them in a pot. Cover the with water. Add a bit of salt and the smashed garlic cloves.

  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with lid loosely on until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

  3. Drain the water out of the pot. Add the butter and milk and mash well.

  4. Add the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and stir until combined.

Instant Pot Risotto

Almost as good as stovetop risotto, and ten billion times easier. Makes about eight cups. 

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground sage
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups rice, raw
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • pepper
  • 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Turn IP on sautee, add oil, and sautee the onion, garlic, salt, and sage until onions are soft.

  2. Add rice and butter and cook for five minutes or more, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly opaque and butter is melted.

  3. Press "cancel," add the broth and wine, and stir.

  4. Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 9 minutes.

  5. Release the pressure and carefully stir in the parmesan cheese and pepper. Add salt if necessary. 

Shrimp Scampi

 

 

Suggested Lenten reading: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

This year for Lent, we’re reading aloud Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (affiliate link) by Brant Pitre.  I’m hoping to finish before Easter, so we’ll have plenty to think about over the Triduum. The high school kids are following it fine, and the younger kids are listening in and picking up some, if not all. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Pitre is a teacher, so the book is a pleasure to read out loud.

(You may recall that we were reading Bendict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth. Well, I really dug it, and so did Damien, but the kids were just not into it. So after a few chapters, we gave up. I still heartily recommend it, for high school-aged kids and up. If you’re looking for Lenten reading, you could go with the Holy Week volume of this three-book series.)

Here’s my review of Brant Pitre’s book, which was originally published on Patheos in 2011.

***

Having celebrated more than forty Passover Seders with my Hebrew Catholic family, I anticipated already knowing most of what Brant Pitre has to say in Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper I already knew that Moses prefigured the Messiah to come; that the Last Supper was a Passover meal; that Jesus is both the paschal lamb and the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews, and that we celebrate this same mystery at Mass.

But, the details!

Did you know that the Jews’ Passover lamb was commonly nailed to a cross-shaped board? Did you know that the manna which sustained the Hebrews in the desert was thought to have been created before the Fall, and “had existed ‘on high’ in heaven” until God gave it to the people to eat? Did you know that the Bread of the Presence, which was consecrated and reserved in the tabernacle of the Temple, constituted both meal and unbloody sacrifice, and was offered with wine each Sabbath?

Did you know that temporarily-celibate Jewish priests would elevate this bread on feast days, and proclaim, “Behold, God’s love for you!”

All astonishing and illuminating facts. But this book is no mere collection of obscure coincidences and historical novelties related to Christ. Pitre sweeps the reader up in his enthusiastic rediscovery of the glorious symmetry of salvation history. It is a gorgeous, persuasive, and enthralling story that you’ve heard bits of here and there, but never with this cohesion. Pitre puts it all together.

The overwhelming sensation I had on reading this book was one of relief. I had fallen into thinking of the New Testament as the half of the Bible that is bright, hopeful, and fresh; whereas the Old Testament is blood and thunder, irrationality and murkiness, with flashes of half-understood prophecies whose fulfillment could only be appreciated in retrospect. As I read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, I imagined Pitre’s research and exegesis rescuing generations of pre-Christian believers from that terrifying squalor of the half-life of prefigurement. He shows how all the world always has been, and always will be, loved and guided, and nourished most tenderly by the one true God.

A minor quibble—and I offer it mostly to show some balance to my enthusiasm; in his zeal to illustrate how Jesus’ contemporaries would have perceived his words and actions, Pitre occasionally strays into slightly jarring language. He speaks of Christ “expecting” and “hoping for” future events in His own life to fulfill the prophecies and traditions of the Jews. Although Pitre by no means implies that Jesus was not omniscient, this vocabulary sat oddly with me. It is, perhaps, the natural way to speak about the life of Christ in a book about the fulfillment of promises; but I wish he had made it more clear that the Exodus, the manna, the Bread of Presence, the Passover meal and its fourth and final cup of wine were all ordained expressly for, and in anticipation of, the things to come. Pitre does say this, to be sure (and the evangelist John says the same thing: that Jesus did things “to fulfill scripture”); but his tone occasionally implies that Christ’s actions were cannily calculated to persuade the Jews.

This is, as I say, a very minor and debatable quibble, which is overwhelmed by the true brilliance of the rest of the book.

Although this book is rigorously researched, Pitre’s tone is conversational and appealing. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist began as a lecture, and reading it is like sitting in class with a gentle and intelligent teacher who anticipates questions, reminds us of what he told us before, and even suggests that we mark certain pages for future reference. The book is highly accessible, but by no means light reading. It is insightful, original, and frequently profound. Pitre shows his sources, and he warns the reader when his ideas are speculative.

This is, above all joyful book. And who may appreciate it? Curious Jews who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Protestants who think of the Eucharist as mere symbol. Casual scholars who sanction the mundane dumbing-down of miracles. Indifferent Confirmation students, whose eyes glaze over when they hear the words “sacrifice” and “covenant.”

And most of all, Catholics who desperately want to be more attentive, more engaged in the mystery of the Eucharist, because every time they go to Mass they know it’s really, really important, but it’s so hard to pay attention after all these years.

Pitre’s book will get your attention. With his strange and beautiful story of how God brings us the gift we receive every week, Pitre’s book will make you rejoice again—or maybe for the very first time—for what you have.

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 78: Hallelujah! Let’s eat!

Hooray, a Friday food post again! I actually spent last Friday, Good Friday, cooking and not tasting. IT WAS HARD. But I was way behind on Passover cooking, so that’s how it turned out.

Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY 

Holy Saturday is when we have our Passover seder. On the menu for the feast:
Chicken soup with matzo balls

The soup turned out much buttier than usual; no idea why. It’s supposed to be on the clear side, and “golden” (i.e. shimmering with fat). Tasted great, though.

Chopped liver


Gefilte fish (store bought) with horseradish


Charoset


Spinach pie


and Garlic cinnamon chicken and
A tiny bit of roast lamb (it hadn’t gone on sale yet!)

You can find recipes for all of the foods above in this post.

The only thing I intentionally made different this year was to cook the spinach pies in mini muffin tins, rather than in a pie plate. I just don’t think you should hear “pie” and then taste spinach and onions. (For some reason “spinach muffin” doesn’t trouble me.) I thought they were cute and tasty this way, and will make them this way again.

I didn’t have a meat grinder this year (but am eyeing this attachment for my Kitchen Aid), so I made the four pounds of chopped liver in small batches in the blender. This was not a gratifying experience. It wasn’t velvety smooth, but still delicious.

Dessert:
Chocolate walnut cake with apricot
Lemon sponge cake
Four kinds of macaroons (store bought)
Chocolate-covered jelly rings
Chocolate-covered halvah (sesame candy)
Sesame crunch candies
Pistachios and almonds
Chocolate caramel matzoh

I moaned and groaned over not having any fruit slice candy this year, but we survived.
Both cakes were from new recipes this year. The chocolate one had a nice flavor, but it was squashier than I would like. Pretty, though.


The lemon one also tasted fine, but man, it was dense. No sponge about it. I just don’t have a light touch with baking, and baking without flour or yeast is just asking for some really compact treats! I think I used the recipe on the side of the potato starch can.

***

SUNDAY
Seder leftovers!

And boy, there were plenty.  And of course hard boiled eggs, and a world of Easter candy.

***

MONDAY
Matzo brei, salami, dill pickles, grapes

Matzo brei is a weird little recipe that everyone should know. You take a sheet of matzo, break it into chunks in a bowl, and pour hot water over it. Let it sit for thirty seconds or so, and then press the water out. Then beat up two eggs, stir in the drained matzo, and fry the mixture up in some hot oil, turning once, until the edges are crisp.

You can serve it with jelly, you can serve it with salt and pepper and fried onions, whatever. It’s SO GOOD. Worth venturing into the Jewby aisle to get yourself a box of two of matzo, believe me.

***

TUESDAY
Beef banh mi

Remember when I asked how to make Easter last for fifty days? You could do worse than making a lot of banh mi, especially if you just happen to have a lot of leftover chopped liver in the house. These sandwiches were out of this world.

In the morning, I sliced up some carrots as thin as I could, then put them in a jar to pickle with some white vinegar, a little water, and some sugar.

Then I sliced the meat (I used London broil) pretty thin and put it in a bag to marinate, using this recipe. I let it go for about six hours. My husband cooked up the meat — well, first he ran out for more bread, because I burned the first batch while toasting it. Then he toasted more bread, and then he cooked up the meat in a single layer on a roasting pan under a hot broiler, just enough to blacken the edges a tiny bit.

So, the smell. This marinade calls for garlic, shallots, and fish sauce. Benny spent the dinner hour hiding under a fleece Our Lady of Guadalupe blanket and weeping because the house smelled “wike dog frow up.” Which, well, she wasn’t wrong, especially early in the cooking. But it tasted so good.

Toasted rolls with mayonnaise, lots of cilantro, pickled carrots, sliced cucumbers, the meat, and then chopped liver. Oh, my stars. The sweet, savory meat frolicking with the snappy, sour carrots, and the strong, bitey liver cuddling up to the cool cucumbers and cilantro. It was so good, it was almost indecent.

***

WEDNESDAY
Hot dogs, chips

I spent the afternoon sorting winter clothes to be stored away. Four hours from start to finish:

so the kids made hot dogs.

***

THURSDAY
Instant pot mac and cheese

I made a triple recipe of this in my Instant Pot (associates link). The hot sauce and mustard give it a good flavor. This is miles easier and faster than cooking the pasta, cooking the sauce, and then mixing them together and baking it. Also, this time, I read the directions more carefully and did not shoot a geyser of yellow cheese at the ceiling through the steam vent.

***

FRIDAY
Roast lamb, challah, maybe asparagus if I remember to get some

Today is Friday within the octave of Easter, or, as it’s traditionally known, Meatster Friday. Leg of lamb was at the astonishing price of $2.99 a pound, so I got a niiiiiice big one. Gonna stud it with slivered garlic and rosemary, slather it with white wine and honey, and roast it.

Gonna try out this challah recipe. Here’s a pic of the last time I made challah:

And now I’m running out to buy some yeast. Benny says, “Yeast makes everything rise! God thought of it! He thought of everything! He made friends and family! He made sisters and brothers! And cousins! Well . . . I’m not so sure about cousins.”

Sorry, cousins. I don’t know how you earned a place in Benny’s theodicy, but there it is.
Happy Easter! Happy Meatster! He is risen! Let’s eat.

Simcha’s favorite passover recipes that will have you schvitzing under the eyeballs

In the past, I’ve written about the emotional and spiritual experience of celebrating the Passover seder as Hebrew Catholics.

passover

This year, I’d like to talk about what’s really important: THE FOOD.

We do not keep kosher, and we don’t clean the house of chametz (leavened bread), and we don’t follow the special, even stricter “kosher for Passover” rules. The foods we prepare for Passover are symbolic and nostalgic, as well as delicious; but I wouldn’t serve them if we had a rabbi for a guest! We serve some homemade and some store bought food.

To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll post all the recipes on a separate page. Click on the names of any of the homemade foods below to get to the recipe page. Here’s what’s on the menu:

 

WINE

For the full Jewish American experience, you should at least know what Manischwitz tastes like.

horror

I’ll save you some trouble: It’s completely awful. With every swallow, you will feel like a giant hand made out of hot syrup is squeezing your brain to death. MD 20/20 (here listed as #3 in the top five Bum Wines) is only marginally better. So unless you’re keeping kosher, which you’re not if you’re coming to me for recipes, then go ahead and just have whatever goyishe red wine you actually enjoy drinking (for cheap and drinkable, I’m partial to Yellow Tail). The seder is supposed to be a spiritual exercise, but not a penitential one.

 

CHICKEN SOUP WITH MATZOH BALLS

You know what schmaltz is, right? It’s anything corny, sappy, sentimental, and overdone (but you secretly love it)

But literally, schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. That’s the secret ingredient in what is sometimes called “Golden Chicken Soup.”

Chicken_fat

That tightness you feel in your chest is just your heart being happy!

Talk about “beaded bubbles winking at the brim!”  You want to give the flavor ple-e-e-e-e-e-enty of time to develop — all day, at the very least. You know it’s almost done when the air in the kitchen is shimmering with a golden, chickeny haze. If you can walk through the room and not come out smelling like a happy childhood in Eastern Europe, keep simmering.

Some years, the matzoh balls turn out fluffy and airy; some years they stay small and rubbery with a dry nut of undercooked matzoh meal in the center. Every year, they all get gobbled up.

 

CHOPPED LIVER

If you can get your hands on one of these:

meat grinder 2

then do!  (The good ones are pretty expensive, new.) You could, of course, use a food processor, but there are few tactile experiences more fulfilling than turning a heavy steel crank and watching the velvety pate come churning out the other end. If, you know, you like that kind of thing. WHICH I DO.

GEFILTE FISH

I was never, ever, ever tempted to make this by hand. Apparently the authentic method is to buy a few live cod and pike from the fishmonger in the Bowery, dump them in your bathtub, and then on Friday morning you head in there with a club and WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK.
Then the real work begins. “Gefilte” means “stuffed,” as in “a fish stuffed with other fish”

gefilte fish whole

For those days when you have seven or eight hours to spend wrist deep in a fish that you have clubbed to death. So, we get it in jars.

gefilte fish jar

I prefer the Manischewitz brand — the other ones I’ve tried are sweeter. I prefer the fish packed in gel, rather than broth. We serve this on top of a sheet of matzoh with a dab of horseradish. It’s likely that, if you haven’t tasted gefilte fish by age five, you’ll never learn to like it. I’m okay with that. More for me.

CHAROSET

Best best best best best. Chopped walnuts, chopped apples, red wine, cinnamon, and sugar or honey.

charoset

The charoset is supposed to remind us of the mortar the Hebrew slaves used between bricks as they worked building Pharaoh’s cities. When I was little, this gave me the impression that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad after all, because best best best best best!

This is the year I finally bought what is apparently called a mezzaluna

mezzaluna

a sharp rocking knife, for chopping all those apples and walnuts. I like this tool very much. It’s heavy and quite sharp. And if this is the year that Elijah comes back and he turns out to be a zombie– wait, no, that’s inappropriate.

 

SPICED GARLIC CHICKEN

I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it’s moist and yummy, and I only make it at Passover, so therefore it’s Passover chicken. You already know what roast chicken looks like, so here instead is a picture of something that is very, very important to our family:

garlic

We put the lick in garlic!

as well as to this particular recipe. And here is a gratuitous chicken joke:

Tevye: As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.
Mendel: Where does the book say that?
Tevye: Well, it doesn’t say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken.

 

SPINACH PIE

A vegetable dish for the times when you can’t bring yourself to say, “But we areserving something green! See? Olives!” It’s pretty, anyway, and doesn’t take much time to throw together, especially if you have a food processor. Bunch of vegetables shredded up, sauteed, mixed with egg and matzoh meal, and baked (no crust involved).

TSIMMIS

not to be confused with tsuris. I don’t actually make tsimmis, but I remember when my mother used to, and it gives me an excuse to tell this joke:

Two old friends reunite after many years. One brags about her children, their professional success, their beautiful houses, their talented offspring. The other one says, “Well, I don’t have any children.” The first one says, “No children? So what do you do for tsuris?”

Anyway, Wikipedia describes tsimmes as “Ashkenazi Jewish sweet stew typically made from carrots and dried fruits such as prunes or raisins, often combined with other root vegetables. Some cooks add chunks of meat.” Am I punchy, or is that hilarious? You can almost hear the sigh at the end. “Look, this is what we eat, what do you want from my life.”

 

ROAST LAMB

Some day, when we win a million dollars or a sheep farm, we’ll serve this as the main dish. As it is, we usually buy the biggest leg of lamb we can afford for the seder dish. Last year, the electricity went out just as we were putting the lamb in the oven, so we ended up grilling it outside

grilled leg of lamb

and it was magnificent. Gonna do it that way every year now.

EXTRAS

Two kinds of horseradish, olives, and dill pickles. We ground our own horseradish one year, and it was unbelievably strong. The air around the dish went all wobbly, and it made an audible snarling sound when you spooned it onto your plate. Call me a coward, but I’m sticking with the jarred kind. I’ve never really tasted bad horseradish, so I don’t have a particular brand to recommend. The red horseradish is just dyed with beet juice, but tastes about the same.

Also, don’t forget a little dish of blonde raisins. These are like raisins, only they areyellow. I know.

 

DESSERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

MACAROONS

macaroons

Not to be confused with macarons, which are an entirely different food! I always think I’m going to make these myself, but I always run out of time, so I buy them ready made. My favorite are the plain almond-flavored ones, but there are dozens of varieties.

HALVAH

Halvah is not strictly a Jewish food, but just a Middle Eastern one. It’s made of crushed sesame seeds, and I’m not gonna lie to you, it tastes kind of like sweet, gritty Play Doh.

halvah

I usually buy a few bars of it, some plain, some dipped in chocolate, and serve it in little slices. You gotta have it, but a little goes a long way.

CHOCOLATE MATZOH CRUNCH

Nice easy recipe. I didn’t grow up with this, but my kids go berserk for it.

SPONGE CAKE

We usually have two kinds of sponge cake made with matzoh cake meal and made poofy with tons of egg whites. We usually make two chocolate walnut cakes and two white ones. So nice with the slightly eggy crunch of the crust and the light, spongy insides.

JELLY FRUIT SLICES

fruit jell slices

 

possibly my kids’ favorite part of Passover.  These symbolic confections remind us of, um, the Land of Caanan, I guess? With fruit? Anyway, I like them, too.

***

Passover begins on the evening of April 3 this year. We always have our seder on Holy Saturday, regardless of when actual Passover is. Since Jesus’ last Passover seder with the disciples (the Last Supper) was on Holy Thursday, it almost works out this year! We usually spend Holy Week cooking and baking, and try to schedule things so the most fragrant foods are already made and in the freezer before we start fasting for Good Friday, because nobody needs to suffer that much.

Again, click here to get to the page with just the recipes.

L’chaim! Let’s eat.

 

***

Simcha’s passover menu, part two: just the recipes

If you’re here, it means you waded all the way through my last post. Good work!  Here’s your food!

passover lucy


Chicken soup (can be made ahead and frozen)

 

In a very large pot, put one whole chicken, chicken parts, or chicken carcass. Do not include giblets.
Add a quartered onion, 2-3 peeled carrots, a few sprigs of dill and a few sprigs of parsley.
Cover, bring to a boil, cover loosely, and allow soup to simmer for many hours.
Strain the soup with a colander and return the broth to the pot. When the chicken and veggies are cool enough, sort through them and add several handsful of shredded chicken back into the broth.
Cut the carrots into thin discs and add them, too, along with some bits of onion and herbs. Some people like lots of chicken and vegetables, some people like it to be just a tasty broth with a few bits and pieces in it — it’s up to you.
You may want to skim some of the fat off. If so, cool the soup completely. The fat will rise to the top and solidify, and you can scoop off as much as you like. Do leave some, to make the soup “golden!”
When you’re ready to serve the soup, heat it up (don’t let it boil) and then add salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

Matzoh balls (can be made ahead and refrigerated)

 

If you buy matzoh meal or a matzoh ball kit, there will be directions on the side of the box or can! Just follow them. This is time consuming, but quite simple.
Just remember to chill the batter before attempting to form the balls; and rinse your hands frequently.
And don’t crowd the matzoh balls, or they will be dense and rubbery.
I find that it’s easier to make the matzoh balls in a separate pot of chicken broth (made from bouillon) or water and then transferring the cooked matzoh balls into the pot of soup.
Don’t try to make them too many days ahead of time, or they will sit there sopping up the broth and getting all gelatinous and yucky.

 

Chopped liver (can be made ahead and frozen. Just remember to take it out of the freezer several hours before you want to eat! It’s very dense and thaws slowly.)

 

2 lbs. chicken livers, rinsed and trimmed
2 eggs
3 onions
2 cubes chicken bouillon
2 Tbs. vegetable oil salt and pepper

1. Put liver, whole eggs, and 1 whole onion into saucepan with a quart of water.
2. Boil, stir in bouillon, simmer 1 hr. Drain out water and set liver, onion, and eggs aside to cool.
3. Chop the other two onions. Set one aside.
4. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the third onion.
5. When the liver is cool, grind it up together with the peeled eggs and the three onions.
6. Season with salt and pepper and chill.

 

Charoset (can be made ahead and refrigerated)

Peel, core, and chop three pounds of firm apples (like Cortland, Fuji, or Gala) into bits
Chop two cups of walnuts until they are about the same size as the apples
Add several Tbs. of sweet red wine and a few Tbs. of white sugar to taste. It should taste sweet, but more fruity than sugary
Add a tbs. or so of cinnamon.
Mix thoroughly and chill.

 

Sweet garlic and cinnamon chicken (can be made ahead, carved, and then frozen or refrigerated. You can reheat it or even serve it cold.)

Preheat oven to 500.
Mix together:
2 tsp salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp.  nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Rinse and dry a 4 lb chicken
Rub the spice mixture all over the skin
Stuff the cavity with 5 cloves crushed garlic
Put the chicken breast side down on a rack in a roasting oven.

Roast 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 450, roast another 15 minutes.
Baste chicken with pan drippings, reduce heat to 425, and roast another 30 minutes until the thermy reads 180.
Let stand 20 minutes before carving.

 

 Chocolate Matzoh Crunch (can be made ahead and stored in plastic wrap or an airtight container for good long time)
 
I just use this recipe from Epicurious. I was going to rewrite it so it seems like my recipe, but why? I found the recipe a little confusing, but then realized you’re basically just making caramel on top of the matzoh. Then you take it matzoh out of the oven and sprinkle chocolate on it. The caramel is so hot that it melts the chocolate while it sits there, and then you can spread it around. This looks nice with almond slivers or slices on it.
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Spinach pie (this can be frozen and reheated or served at room temp)

Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease a pie plate.
Cook one package of frozen or fresh spinach and squeeze the water out.
Heat a saute pan, add some oil, and fry up:
1/2 cup celery chopped or grated
1-1/2 cups grated carrot
1 cup diced or grated onion
When the veg are soft, add the drained spinach, salt and pepper.
Beat 3 eggs and add them to the veggies.
Add 3/4 cup matzoh  meal
Mix this all thoroughly, put it into the greased pie plate, and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until firm and very slightly browned.

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Roast leg of lamb (you really want to cook this right before you eat it and serve it hot!)

The lamb should be at room temperature. Rub it with olive oil.
Score it all over with a sharp knife and stud it generously with slivers of raw garlic.
Salt and pepper all over. Add rosemary if you like.

Put it in a shallow pan and broil for a few minutes on all sides, then lower the temp to 325.
Loosely wrap the lamb in foil and continue cooking for an hour or so, depending on how big it is, until the internal temp is 135.
Let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. You can serve it with mint jelly if you must, but mint jelly is kind of disgusting. Just eat the lamb. It’s amazing.

 

Sponge cakes. Okay, I can’t find my recipes, so I’ll just link to some that look similar. You can usually find decent recipes on the side of the box of matzoh cake meal, too.

Chocolate walnut sponge cake

Lemon Sponge Cake

Next Year in Jerusalem

Have you taught your children that, while Christmas is very important, it’s really Easter that’s the greatest feast of the year? Do they buy it?

When I was little, this point of doctrine was obvious: All during Holy Week, my father could be heard practicing the Exsultet to chant at the Easter vigil, as my mother fried and ground up liver and onions in preparation for the Passover seder. The fragrant schmaltzy steam of the chicken soup, the palm leaves, bags of jelly beans for Easter Sunday and the boxes of jellied fruit slices for the seder—these were all equally essential for Holy Week. We drooled over the growing heaps of luscious Passover food as we suffered the final pangs of Lenten sacrifices. My mother covered her head to bless the candles at the start of the seder, and then a few hours later, hovered over us in the pew to save us from singeing our hair on the Easter candles. I can’t imagine eating leftover gefilte fish without a chocolate bunny on the side; and I can’t imagine hearing “Christ our light!” without echoes of “Dayenu!” – “It would have been enough!” still lingering, both exultant prayers of thanksgiving to the God who always gives more than we deserve.

You might be pardoned for imagining some kind of schizophrenic clash of cultures in my house, but that’s not how it was. My parents did struggle to synthesize the incongruities between Catholicism and Judaism (and for a hilarious read, check out my mother’s account of interfaith communications). My parents were raised secular Jews, and went through a long and strange exodus through the desert together, and eventually converted to Christianity—and then, when I was about 4, to Catholicism.

But for us kids, there was no incongruity: Growing up Hebrew Catholics just meant having much more FUN on Easter than anyone else. My Christian friends wore straw hats, ate jelly beans, and maybe dyed eggs if their mothers could abide the mess. We, on the other hand, whooped it up for an entire weekend as we prepared for and celebrated the Passover seder, the ceremonial feast which Jesus ate with his disciples at the Last Supper. At our seder, which we held on Holy Saturday, there was chanting and clapping, giggling over the mysterious and grisly ceremonial roasted egg and horseradish root, glass after glass of terrible, irresistible sweet wine,

special silver and china that only saw the light of day once a year, pillows for the chairs so we could “recline,” and the almost unbearable sweetness as the youngest child asked, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

It was different because, every single year on that night, there were laughter and tears. The laughter was always more: I waited with bated breath for my father, after drinking his third or fourth ceremonial glass of wine, to trip over the Psalm and say, “What ails thee, o mountains, that you skip like rams? And o ye hills, like lung yams?” And then there are the tears, when we remember the slaying of the first born, and a drop of wine slips from our fingertips onto the plate.

Most Catholics are familiar with the idea that Moses prefigured Christ: Baby Moses was spared from Pharaoh’s infanticide, as baby Jesus was spared from Herod’s; Moses rescued his people from slavery, as Christ rescues us all from sin and death; the angel of death passed over the houses whose doors were marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, just as death passes over the souls of those marked with the sign of baptism. Moses brought the Jews on a generation-long journey through the desert, during which God showed constant mercy and forgiveness, and the people demonstrated constant faithlessness and ingratitude—a journey which is mirrored in the lives of everyone. And Moses eventually brought the people within sight of the promised land of Canaan, as Christ has promised He will lead us to the gates of Heaven.

I will always remember my father pausing in the middle of the ceremony, and holding up the broken afikomen matzoh to the light of the candles. When he had the attention of all the children he would ask, “Do you see the light, shining through the holes? Do you see it?

It is pierced, just like Jesus’ hands, feet and sides were pierced. And do you see the stripes? Just like Jesus was striped by the whip of the Romans.” And then we would replace the matzoh in the middle compartment of a silken pouch. This special pouch held three sheets of matzoh (a Trinity?)—and the middle one would be hidden away (as if in a tomb?). Until it was taken out and consumed, we couldn’t have dessert. All the sweets that were waiting in the other room—the chocolate and honey sponge cake, the fruit slices, the nuts and blonde raisins, the halvah and the macaroons—all of these had to wait until that middle piece was found and found (resurrected?) again.

But what always stopped me in my tracks is something my father discovered one year. Imagine, he told us, the Hebrews in their homes, painting their doorpost and lintel with the blood of the lamb as the Lord commanded. They would raise their arm to brush the blood on the top of the door, and then down again to dip again into the blood; and then up to the left, to mark the post on one side, and then to the right … does this sound familiar?

Act it out: up, down, left, right.  It’s very possible that, thousands of years before Calvary, the children of God were already making the sign of the cross.

Make of it what you will. At our house, what we made of it was that God loves us, has always loved us, and always will love us. “I have been young, and I have grown old, and I have never seen the righteous man forsaken or his children wanting for bread” (Ps 37:25). We are all the chosen people, and God speaks to us each in our own language, through our own traditions.

And I believe that he laughs and weeps along with us when we say with a mixture of bitterness and hope at the end of the seder, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

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[This post originally ran in Register in 2011 – re-posted at the request of several readers]

God Said “Gevalt”

Are you a SCOIT (Suffering Catholic of Insulted Taste)? Have you white-knuckled your way through “Ashes” and “Hosea,” and bitten your tongue as your PinterEst pals gush over empty tomb rolls?

PIC empty tomb rolls. “Gather ’round, children, as I tell you a tale of a marshmallow named Jesus, who melted. Now eat His grave. EAT IT!”

In the spirit of ecumenism, I would like to remind you that Christians by no means corner the market on ghastly religious kitsch bordering on blasphemy. As your token mudblood Jew who is allowed to make fun of stuff like this, I present

TEN PLAGUE FINGER PUPPETS

For Passover.  Because, in the words of Sepharidic Medieval philosopher Mosheh ben Maimon, when you want to convey an ontologically freighted story of misery, death, loss and salvation, you want to do it in the most oogly googly, felty welty, puppety wuppety way possible.

Then this morning, my daughter sent me this link from from Etsy:

Yarr, it’s the Ten Plagues Fingernail Decals.

You won’t want to Pass-over these Ten Plagues Nail Decals! These adorable frogs, flies, and locusts are bound to be a hit at your Seder. Order yours today!

And God is saying, “Gevalt, did you want Me to smite you again? Is that what you want?