Happy times full of love and food. SJ, Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru and Teru, small Queen of Cuteness are in New Mexico for a Passover/Easter visit with HG/BSK. Gorgeous Zena B. flew in for a too brief visit. Non-stop feasting. BSK’s special chile. Pork and green chile stew. Sopapillas. Green chile cheeseburgers (for Haru). Great spread of barbecue from Rudy’s Country BBQ (in Albuquerque). Abondanza, indeed. The traditional Passover Seder was ecumenical and diverse. It was decidedly feminist. Unlike traditional Seders which are dominated by male supremacy — oldest male conducts the ceremonies, youngest male asks “the four questions”, etc. This time BSK was in charge of the ceremonies and they went smoothly and joyously. Yes, Haru asked the four questions since very feminine Teru is still too young to read. Food was splendid. BSK made an unconventional salad of golden beets and mache. Main dish was a beautifully rare boneless leg of lamb accompanied by a potato and cauliflower gratin. SJ was in charge of the starter. Chicken soup with matzo balls. SJ’s matzo balls were sublime. Light, fluffy and full of flavor (SJ added chopped parsley to the matzo meal mix). HG would have been content to consume a dozen matzo balls and call it a meal. (that’s how good they were). Much wine, of course, and for dessert: Japanese cookies called Cigares (thoughtfully provided by EM). Passover kashruth (kosherness) was not observed but the Seder was a rousing tribute to Jewish survival even though HG was the only 100% Jew present. In any case, the diverse group voiced urgent wishes that we will soon be rid of a new Pharaoh.
Passover is upon us and HG is filled with memories of the traditional food and drink from the Seders of HG’s youth. The Seder is the traditional meal at the beginning of Passover when the family reads from the Hagadah, a celebration of the escape by the Jews from Egyptian slavery. (HG, in previous posts, has recalled raucous and irreverent Seders of the past). The food most identified with Passover is the matzo, the unleavened bread that sustained the Jews during their hasty exodus. HG’s late Mom always insisted on Streit’s, a matzo baked for decades in antique ovens on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side. Founded in 1915, Streit’s closed its Rivington Street factory in 2015 and moved to New Jersey, ending a 90 year Manhattan history. Wasn’t gentrification. For years, the family turned down numerous offers to sell their property to real estate developers. The old ovens didn’t work anymore and no one knew how to repair them. Mom always insisted on Horowitz-Margareten egg matzos (HG’s favorite). Horowitz-Maragreten disappeared from New York and (along with Goodman’s, another New York matzo company) was bought by the giant Manischewitz company. Manischewitz’s is owned by Bain, the Boston investment firm once headed by Mitt Romney (Oy Vey!!). Schapiro Wine Company was another Rivington Street landmark. Founded by Sam Schapiro in 1899, the company closed its Lower East Side winery in 2000. Had a brief run as a winery in Monticello, N.Y. Schapiro wine was very sweet (loved by HG’s Mom and despised by HG’s Father). Its motto: “Wine So Thick You Can Almost Cut It With A Knife.” The cool, cool Lower East Side is now filled with expensive condos, art galleries, trendy bars and restaurants, cutting edge fashion shops. The only remnants of traditional Jewish eating are Katz’s Delicatessen, Russ & Daughters Appetizing Shop and Cafe, Yonah Shimmel’s knishes and Economy Candy. A bit of happy news. Kossar’s Bagel and Bialy Bakery has re-opened (after closing for a few months) in totally refurbished premises at 367 Grand Street. Traditional products like bialys and pretzels (onion rolls) are still great but there are some aberrations. Apple/cinnamon bialys, alas.
Lent is ending. Easter Sunday just a day away. The Holy week is very special in northern New Mexico where HG/BSK live. The Pentitntes (Members of the religious brotherhood, Los Hermanos Penitentes) have started to appear trudging along Highway 285/84. They walk for many miles to El Santuario de Chimayo, the church in the little town of Chimayo. The taxing walk serves to link them with “the passion and pain of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” They believe El Santuario has curative powers (Some eat a bit of the earth upon which El Santuario stands). Los Hermanos was founded in Spain and Italy some 800 years ago. It has been active in New Mexico for 400 years. Many New Mexican restaurants like Pojoauque’s El Parasol and Sopaipilla Factory offer Lenten specialties. HG’s favorite is El Parasol’s crisp fried cod on a bun lined with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise. Though an atheist, HG celebrates the Passover Seder meal (Aprill 22 this year). HG/BSK’s Seder is a rather irreverent affair featuring plenty of drinking, laughter and song. After all, Passover is like most Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us. They failed. So, let’s eat and drink a lot.” Traditionally, HG/BSK start the meal with jarred Manischewitz gefilte fish. HG is not fond of this product (It is a mere shadow of the savory, handcrafted gefilte fish–think of it as a Jewish Quenelle– made by HG’s late Mom.) HG is lobbying for Baba Ganoush, a wonderful Middle Eastern eggplant dish made from scratch by HG. (It’s nice scooped up by matzos). The Seder main dish will be brisket or lamb kefte (Garlicky cigar-shaped meatballs). Dessert: Passover cookies plus strong drink–Slivovitz, Vishniak, Grappa, Limoncello, Cognac. Hey, Pharoah. Gotcha!! If there was a Jewish order of Penitentes, HG would join. Might help atone for a sin of HG’s youth: When HG was ten, HG and his pals paid a visit to a large appetizing store in the Bronx. Besides traditional smoked fish, the store offered nuts, dried fruit, hard candies–all in big, open burlap bags. Maxwell House Coffee Company distributed free Hagadahs (the little book used for the story and songs of the Seder) to stores in Jewish neighborhoods (a PR gesture). Having the sunniest and most honest face, HG approached the owner (who worked behind the smoked fish counter) and asked for some free Maxwell House Hagadahs: “We all want to study them before the Seder.” The owner praised the pious lad and while he searched for the religious tomes, HG’s buddies filled their pockets with many goodies. HG believes HG’s diversionary chat with the store owner was the seed which later sprouted into HG’s successful career as a public relations counsel for New York’s mightiest landlords and real estate developers. All goniffs. Like HG’s childhood pals.
A lovely Easter/Passover vacation where HG spent delicious time with Son Jeremy and his family. SJ is one of nature’s originals. A unique sensibility that encompasses music, literature, food, family and many other things. HG is blessed to hang out with this remarkable guy. And, wow, wow, can SJ cook!! The other morning SJ sautéed shallots and combined them with buttery, softly scrambled eggs (with just a touch of sour cream folded into them). The perfect companions were British bangers (from Kaune’s Market) and English Muffins (plenty of butter in those nooks and crannies.). For the evening meal, SJ did pork ribs. Rubbed with his secret ingredients. Roasted in the oven at low temperature for a number of hours. Smoked in the gas barbecue with clippings from the HG/BSK apple trees. The result: Smoky, juicy, spicy, killer ribs. Yes, SJ is beloved by HG. SJ is a person of character. A caring father. A devoted husband. A person of taste, creativity and morality. HG blesses his loins (with some modest help from BSK) that brought this wonderful human being into this very imperfect world.
The Macaron, a light, melt-in-your-mouth, tiny pastry is one of the glories of French cuisine. Its polar opposite is the American Macaroon, a heavy lump of coconut, low-end chocolate and other vile ingredients, that makes its appearance in supermarkets during Jewish holidays and then, for the most part, disappears (thankfully) for a year. HG first discovered the macaroon at his Aunt Marie’s and Uncle Phillip’s home over the Passover holiday. Vaguely stale, chocolate waxy, it was an unpleasant, sweet diversion after the delicious ceremonial meal. HG/BSK first discovered the French Macaron during a Parisian vacation many decades ago. Chilly, rainy afternoon. HG/BSK ducked into Laduree on Rue Royale, the venerable (founded in 1862) tearoom. BSK had heard Laduree served the only good pot of tea in Paris. Correct. The steaming tea was comforting. But, the accompanying Macarons provided an incomparable treat. Laduree and its dazzling pastries was created by an extraordinary Frenchman, Louis-Ernest Laduree. The original Laduree bakery on Rue Royale was destroyed in the Paris Commune uprising but quickly rebuilt. Laduree was a miller. He was also a writer, a cutting satirist whose targets were intolerance, religious dogma and governmental excess. Undismayed by official disapproval, Laduree wrote some 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets. His grandson, Pierre Desfontaines, added a tearoom to the original Laduree pastry shop in 1930 and it quickly became a favorite meeting place for fashionable Parisiennes. Groupe Holder took over Laduree in 1993. There are now scores of Laduree tearooms throughout the world (two in New York) that offer up the same wonderful Macarons. But, nothing quite has the charm of nibbling Macarons at the Original Laduree, preferably on a rainy afternoon.
So, HG was sunbathing below blue New Mexican skies before entering the HG/BSK pool house for a lengthy swim in the lap pool. As the sun warmed HG’s bones, HG thought of the enslaved Jews laboring for the Pharoahs in Egypt. This steered the HG mind (no surprise) in the direction of food, namely the menu for the Seder this week. A Seder is the traditional reading from the Hagadah (the story of the Jews’ escape from Egypt). The Hagadah reading is accompanied by lots of food and wine as is traditional in Jewish holidays because, well, the overall feeling regarding the horrors of the Jewish past is: “They tried to kill us. They failed. So let’s eat a lot.” Words to live and eat by. It is traditional to start the Seder meal with gefilte fish (a form of Eastern European Jewish quenelles). HG is happy to report the discovery of really good jarred gefilte fish. This is Mrs. Adler’s Pike ‘n Whitefish. Nice, slightly coarse structure. Home made taste. Nice fish broth that jells beautifully. Label says there is “artificial flavor” but knowledgeable HG couldn’t discern it. Gefilte fish is bland unless accompanied by powerful horseradish. HG found killer horseradish on the shelves of Sprouts Supermarket in Santa Fe. The label says: Fresh Ground Horseradish. Good-n-Hot. There is no brand name but there is a website: silverspringfoods.com. Main dish should be roast chicken or brisket. Two kugels (puddings): Potato and noodle. A vegetable? HG would like some grated carrots cooked with cinnamon, ginger and honey (This is tzimmes, a dish HG’s Mom cooked with an abundance of chicken feet. Let’s skip the feet this time). To finish: Honey cake, macaroons and Slivovitz (plum brandy). SJ and family will be present for the Seder. Handsome Haru will ask the traditional Four Questions (They concern why the Seder night is different from any other night). Some traditions will be observed. The Afikomen (a gift of money) will be searched for by Handsome Haru and Adorable Teru. Fear not. They will be found because of helpful hints from BSK. A glass of wine will be on the table for the Prophet Elijah. Who knows? This may be the year the thirsty Prophet appears.
Passover is here. Matzos sit next to Easter Bunnies on supermarket shelves across America. It’s that time of year. Boisterous eating and drinking dominated HG’s family Passover celebration, the Seder, when some 76 years ago much of HG’s family was centered in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Though a very young lad then, aged HG still remembers all the details of the raucous family feast. First, a small glass of wine and a tiny plate of food was placed on the table for the prophet Elijah (in the unlikely event that he would manifest himself in Brooklyn). The table was set with the symbolic dishes (these were not eaten) of the Hebrew captivity in Egypt. There was the reading of the Hagaddah, the tale of Passover (In those long ago days, the Hagaddahs were published by the Maxwell House Coffee Company. They were distributed, free of charge, at Jewish “appetizing” stores and kosher butchers. A canny PR move by the coffee merchants). A matzo (the traditional unleavened bread obligatory during Passover) was folded into a napkin and “hidden.” This was called the afikomen and when found by the young members of the family each got a monetary award — a shiny half-dollar. (Many years later, HG learned that when the lucky children of one of HG’s real estate mogul public relations clients found the “afikomen” each were rewarded with a $10,000 check). The big moment for little HG was when he was called upon to ask “the four questions” — the inquiry as to why this celebratory Passover night was different from any other night of the year. The small boy relished the spotlight and asked the questions — spoken in English and chanted in Hebrew — with many bravura, theatrical flourishes. “A regular Thomashefsky!!,” HG’s uncle exclaimed, approvingly. (Boris Thomashefsky was a flamboyant star of the Yiddish stage. The conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas — who shortened the name — is his direct descendant). The serious eating began with copious portions of gefilte fish (a very robust version of the French “quenelle”) with heaps of fiery, freshly grated horseradish. Followed by brisket, copious gravy, roasted carrots and onions plus knaidels — matzo meal dumplings which had a sponge like capacity for soaking up gravy. All of this was accompanied by many glasses of kosher-for-passover Schapiro’s sweet Malaga grape wine (purchased at the Schapiro lower east side winery – now closed). The wine carried a kick so the Seder became louder and more irreverent as the evening progressed. Dessert was a compote of stewed fruit plus special Passover pastries like coconut macaroons. Bottles of Vishniak (cherry brandy) and Slivovitz (plum brandy) appeared and were drunk in abundance. A Seder song, Chad Gadya, a song about the survival of a symbolic kid, was sung and shouted — loudly. More songs. Some secular and even naughty. More brandy drinking. At one memorable Seder, the group was singing: “We love Jesus, yes we do. We love Jesus, yes we do. Hooray for Jesus. Hooray for Jesus. Damn good Jew!!” Two very Irish looking cops appeared at the door. Asked the family to tone things down. Neighbors were complaining. Invited the cops to have a drink They agreed. Big glasses of Slivovitz. HG’s cousin proposed a toast: “To Ireland, a great land.” More Slivovitz and the cops joined in the next toast, shouting with the family, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Last week there was no family and no kids in New Mexico for the Spring holiday season. Therefore: No Seder (although, with grave jealousy, I pored over photos of SJ’s Seder goodies of juicy brisket and Lokshen Kugel). No Easter Bunny. No Easter Eggs. No Easter Basket of goodies. But, don’t feel too sorry for HG. Easter Sunday began with a favorite breakfast. Broad noodles were lightly buttered and topped with poached eggs. Dusted with freshly grated parmesan, Malden sea salt flakes and ground black pepper. Big mugs of Cafe Latte. And, the obligatory Sunday New York Times.
Brilliant sunshine under blue skies. Temperature in the 70’s. Off to the Pueblo San Ildefonso, a scenic ten minute drive from the HG/BSK compound. Watched the mesmerizing Native American dancers. Some forty wonderfully costumed men (many allusions to the earth and animals). Rhythmic chanting, drum beating, gourd shaking. Perfectly timed dance steps. All set against a backdrop of old adobe, dark mesas and the soaring Jemez mountains. A miraculous New Mexico spectacle. Native Americans have been living in San Ildefonso for almost 800 years. Their culture is very much alive.
HG and BSK returned home to a late lunch of Italian escarole and bean soup (with a liberal lashing of Tuscan olive oil). Then, a long afternoon swim in the lap pool. It’s a life. Somebody’s got to live it. Might as well be HG and BSK.
Yes, the great family ritual feast — the Seder — will be celebrated in Jewish and many non-Jewish homes (the Obamas will have a Seder) when Passover comes along this month. Like most great Jewish holidays, Passover and the Seder that goes aong with it exemplifies the theme: “They tried to kill us. They failed. So, let’s eat.”
HG loved the family Seder of his youth. There was gefilte fish (made from scratch by HG’s Mom and served with blazing horse radish hand grated by little HG). Chicken soup with matzo balls (best in the universe). Brisket. Knaidlach (dense matzo meal dumplings that soaked up the lush gravy in the absence of challah or rye bread, forbidden at Passover). Tzimmes (A sweet and tangy carrot stew cooked with honey, ginger and chicken feet. HG was not fond of the chicken feet). Dessert was fruit compote of prunes and apricots plus kosher-for-Passover macaroons. Hot tea served in a glass (HG’s father drank it with a sugar cube clutched in his teeth). Schapiro’s sweet malaga wine was served during the meal along with Horowitz-Margareten matzos (the brand favored by HG’s discerning Mom). Though a life-long Socialist who was skeptical of religion, Hershele Zvi Freimann (HG’s Dad), donned a prayer shawl and yamelkeh (skull cap) for the reading of the Haggadah (Passover prayer book).
The HG family Seder was not a sober affair. There was the aforementioned sweet wine. Little HG was allowed to drink as much of this wine as HG wanted and — foretelling the future — HG wanted a lot! There was also vishniak, a sweet, very potent cherry brandy home brewed by Hershele Tsvi Freimann. HG was allowed only a tiny sip of this fire brew. Best of all, there were the sweet, wrinkled cherries that had been long marinated in the vishniak. HG managed to snare a few of these super-alcoholic goodies which made the little chap a happy and drowsy fellow.
There was a somber note in these festivities. The “blood libel” was very much alive in the Belorussia of HG’s parents youth. The “blood libel” was the claim that Jews killed a Gentile child at Passover because the child’s blood was an essential ingredient in making matzos. This is a claim still being made by some Jihadists, neo-nazis and other rabid Jew haters. HG’s parents both recalled the murderous “blood libel” pogroms in Kishinev, a city in Bessarabia (then part of Rumania). Hundreds of Jews were killed. These dark thoughts were banished from the Seder table by vishniak and the hope that HG, his sister and brother would never experience such horrors.