Passover already — so quickly? Well, this happens annually, and this year is no different from all other years …
For me, it’s a good time to remember when I was a child who always envied my down-the-street friend Phyllis because her birthday was in early April. Mine, in mid-July, often decimated annual party attendance because it was camp season; sometimes I was at camp myself, so there was no party at all.
But when spring came around again, I realized I had no reason to envy Phyllis. Yes, she had a party every year, but also had the same cake every year: sponge. Because her big day always fell right in the middle of Pesach!
Try to imagine a light, airy, but oh-so-plain spongecake, no frosting, straining unsuccessfully to support its growing number of candles as the years passed. Not a pretty sight! That’s what I remember most. The other memory is that Phyllis always cried because she never had a “real” birthday cake!
Things have much changed since then — happily for me, since I’m no baker. What comes out of my oven for Pesach are wonderful mixes that come out of boxes first. Sometimes little pans even come right out of the boxes with them! A small variety serves just fine for desserts, especially if augmented with special treats like chocolate matzo, or a fabulous Seder plate made entirely of chocolate. Nobody cries at my house!
And I’m no cook, either, but I do have two Passover specialties to pass along. One is the gefilte fish I “invented” myself. I just buy the appropriate number of jars of the best fish available — always the sweet kind — remove the pieces, getting rid of all traces of liquid or jelly, and place them on a baking sheet. Now, here’s the “secret”: sprinkle them with a little garlic powder and more than a little fresh-ground black pepper, put the pan into a very low oven, and let the fish dry out. A thin slice of fresh carrot is optional, but it’s easier to pull some chunks of cooked carrot from the soup pot and add cut rounds from them at serving time.
That takes me right to the soup, which I must have — if only to assure easy decorations for the fish! And I do make wonderful chicken soup, because I follow basic instructions that are the essence of simplicity from my ancient copy of Sara Kasdan’s Love and Knishes, subtitled An Irrepressible Guide to Jewish Cooking. She has said that “If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then knishes will get there faster… and stay longer.” I don’t make knishes, but here’s her foolproof soup recipe (augmented by a comment or two of my own):
Into your largest pot, put 4 to 5 pounds of chicken (Sara recommends a whole young hen, cut into quarters; I’ve had excellent results with an equal poundage of legs and/or thighs. Either way, trim off all excess fat first). Pour over 3 quarts salted (one tablespoon or less) cold water, cover and bring to a boil. At that point, uncover, reduce heat, and add a whole peeled onion (make a couple of cuts in it to release its juices), one bay leaf, several peeled carrots, and at least four celery tops (the leaves will add more flavor than the stalks). Then put the lid back on the pot and let everything simmer until the chicken is tender, which will be about three hours. (You can take a peek every so often and skim if you think it’s necessary.) Afterward, remove the chicken, strain the soup, chill it, and get rid of all congealed fat on the surface before putting back the amount of chicken you want in it, plus whatever carrots you have left after topping the gefilte fish.
And with that Passover “Bon appétit,” I wish us all a happy and delicious holiday!