go big or go (to someone else’s) home?

Kreplach hit the fan a few Passovers ago. Because ceiling fans are ugly and because triangular noodles filled with chopped meat are a no-go when it comes to keeping kosher for Passover, no, nothing actually hit the fan, but I wanted to hit Phil with a brick. If only certain behaviors were outlawed in the name of keeping things kosher.

I am anticipating the “I refuse to fight” fight that Phil will put up this year. Holding the successful field goal signal of a football referee, he’ll say,  “I’m not involved.” Then, “Don’t look at me.”

My shoulders will fall. I will sigh. “Why can’t we just pull together on this?” My eyebrows will pinch together in a plead.

“‘Cause I want no part of it. It matters to you, not me. So, God-bless. Just leave me out of it.” Also known as, “You’ve made your bed; now fry in it.” If allowed to continue, he’ll bring the word “always” into play, ready with examples of how it’s never straightforward and easy with me.

“But it’s not like I care care. I mean, Passover is no Thanksgiving. I’m not going to obsess. Honestly, I don’t care if we just cater the thing.”

“So, now we’re catering an event?”

Money. He’ll be thinking about how much it will cost to bring in shitty food that no one really wants to eat in the first place. Okay, but we spent all that money, sending our children to Jewish pre-schools, where they learned prayers and songs. We even own a two compact disc set titled, “Pesaschtick: A collection of Family Passover Songs & Parodies,” featuring “Who Led The Slaves Out?” set to the tune “Who Let The Dogs Out.” “And that’s your doing,” he’d accuse. Damn right it’s my doing. Those songs are awesome.

Appetizers before the actual appetizer's at my cousin's home, Christmas 2012

When my first cousin hosted an enormous Christmas dinner at her home this past Christmas, I was over the moon. How wonderful to celebrate with family: she and her husband, her two brothers (also my first cousins), her FOUR kids, and my mom’s sister with her husband, 14 people in all. I love living so close to them, love that my beans have cousins that are kids. My cousins and I grew up spending every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together. Their father is Italian, their mother (my mom’s sister) is half Puerto Rican, half Greek. So, Jews they are not. My cousins grew up coming to our home to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Passover, complete with a full (but likely very abbreviated) Seder.

Over a Christmas ham (and all homemade lasagna, and eggplant parm, and prime rib, not to mention all the homemade appetizers and Arthur Avenue Deli meats and cheeses), my cousin remarked how much she wanted to expose her kids to the Jewish traditions with which she grew up. Her first-born is being raised in her religion, Greek Orthodox, and her other three kids are being raised in her husband’s religion, Catholic. “Of course,” I said, “we’ll have you all over for the Seder this spring.” Shit. Shit. Shit.

Now, I must cook. I must organize. I must print Haggadoth (plural of Haggadah), or buy them somewhere. I bitch, but really, this is what I want out of life, right?! To make the memories, to have the dinners, to follow the traditions. Though this year my tradition might turn into calling a deli and using paper bowls and plates.

With my heavy reliance on “intuitive knowing”—thinking you know exactly what someone will say before they say it—I assume that what bothers Phil just as much, if not more, as being burdened when all he wants to do is relax from a stressful work week, is my taking any of my time to plan, coordinate, and shop for the occasion. “It’s time better spent writing,” he’d argue. Keeping up with the blog, or, dare we say, working on my actual book proposal, which I’ve once again abandoned. I’d argue that there’s room for both, but in truth, once I’m invested in something, I’m all paws on, and I don’t want to stop.

I’m like this with everything:
WRITING: Once I start writing, that’s it. In the zone. I don’t want to break, don’t want to shower, don’t want to feed the kids, pick up a phone, open the email, do anything but write. And if I am pulled away, it takes jumper cables and several attempts before I get going again—it’s why I never want to stop once I’ve started.
SHOPPING: Be it a new makeup product, car, or perfume scent, I obsess, needing to go out of my way searching for it, scouring web sites for reviews and comparisons, forcing Phil to smell strips of paper, where I’ve, yes, sprayed samples of every scent we own, to see what he favors.
CLEANING: Cleaning and organizing the kids’ playroom, updating their bookshelves with books for their reading levels, rummaging through a dress-up bin to make sure there aren’t any blocks or Lego’s, nothing out of place for too long—I do all of this with the kids, so they learn how important it is to be organized. But they’re also learning that once I start something, that’s that, she’s obsessed.
TEACHING: I learn about the new Singapore math program they’re teaching the kids at school, and I read, learn the methods, then scour the house for materials and manipulatives, making pipe cleaner bracelets with plastic beads for counting, stacking unifix cubes into bars of 10, at the ready to supplement their homework. Searching for a watercolor project, gathering the materials (salt, eyedroppers, plastic wrap and masking fluid)… always something, unless I’m writing… then there’s nothing.

So, why haven’t I formally extended the Passover invitation to my cousin yet? I think it’s because I know it takes work and planning and that once I get going, it just goes. Soon, I have the kids crafting Passover placemats, we’re off to the library searching for Passover children’s books, rooting for recipes, making grocery lists, food shopping, prepping the food, masterminding an oven organization schedule, so everything is timed correctly. Choosing outfits, cleaning, THERE IS NOTHING SMALL ABOUT THIS, and I’m not sure how to do something that requires minimal effort, or what that even looks like. I don’t know how to do easy without apologizing.

I’ll repeat that: I don’t know how to do easy without apologizing.

Does anyone set out paper plates and NOT comment on the fact that s/he has used paper plates? We’re not talking about a baby shower, here, just a family dinner… of 10 people, and wine glasses and water cups, and food, and cleaning the house… ordering the food, and making something, at least one thing, homemade. Freezing matzoh balls on a baking sheet in advance?

Why do I get so caught up in holidays?
The answer: because my mother always did. And whether or not I appreciated it at the time, they were all enchanting memories. I don’t recall my day-to-day, but I remember the homemade Seders (and she’s not even Jewish!), and all the work and cooking in advance, cleaning the house (being put in charge of Windexing the glass living room coffee table). I remember the company coming, the special outfits set out for us to wear, and I cherish those holidays more than perhaps anything else I was ever given! And I want to give my own children these same memories. Would the memories have been the same with everything catered and slapped together last minute? No. There would be affectionate memories of family and having company over, the buzz and delight of people, sure—but part of what I hold so dear in my memories is the element of “special.” Fine china was used, the good silver, special linens, crystal serving dishes, and my mother in a silk blouse. The event was elevated, time stopped, and magical memories were made in dress shoes. Can it really be the same?

Why, exactly, must they be the same? What makes one event more memorable than another? Doing something, anything, together—yes, even with paper bowls for the matzoh ball soup— is more memorable than doing away with it, passing over the Passover. So, if you can’t get your act together enough to cook a holiday meal for 10 people, act like you can. Dab on some new perfume, wear a silk blouse, and accessorize with a bottle of wine. Before that, though, you might want to have the actual conversation with your significant other.

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  1. As someone who regularly hosts Jewish holidays, who loves to cook and who always uses the fine china, I just want to suggest that you reconsider The Middle Ground.

    You can cook a tasty Passover meal and have a lovely Seder without obsessing. Even if you like obsessing, if it’s not working in your relationship, maybe just try to find your inner Passover slacker.

    Brisket made ahead of time and frozen in the sauce is actually fantastic. Defrost slowly in the oven and I promise you, no one will know. Ditto the chicken stock – I made mine months ago with organic chicken. All strained, sieved and frozen, ready to go. That’s two major components already completed.

    Dessert – I order from the French bakery St. Honore here in Port Washington – outstanding. Or you can bake if you have time.

    Then, if I want, I can get more creative with the appetizers, salads, decor etc.

    This is one meal where you want to be plugged in to the conversation vs. distracted in the kitchen, imo.

    All that being said, I’m super excited that my SIL is hosting for ONCE (near you, in Woodbury).


    1. Jes – I would love your make-ahead brisket recipe (with instructions for freezing/thawing/cooking…

      I am hosting Passover this year – first time in many years, but need to get some things done ahead.

      Stephanie – enjoy the holiday, spend the time. My oldest is turning 15(!!) this spring, and though I still have little ones too, I realize how very, very quickly it’s going. I dread the year my kids might not be around to spend Passover with me.


  2. I am very similar in the sense that I adore holidays, entertaining, and have hard time reigning myself in during projects.

    Something that has worked for me is, about 2 weeks before the event, I will make a list with three columns, headed with Necessary, Prefer, and If I Have Time. Then I make a list of everything that needs to be done: menu planning, shopping, cleaning, decorating, whatever. After that, I make a schedule of events, with menu planning and grocery shopping a few days before the actual event. Everything else is put in a slot so I can prioritize tasks if I run out of time/energy/coffee.

    This is what I did for Thanksgiving, and when my first pie crust fell on the floor and ended up being a treat for the dog, I just crossed “make wreath with dried cranberries” off the list and made another pie crust.

  3. I am having 23 relatives here. Using real dishes. Menu: Gefilte fish from a jar, half hard boiled egg. lettuce leaf, olive w horseradish from a jar.
    Homemade chicken soup with boiled chicken pieces in it to serve as chicken entree later. Making the soup day of so I don’t have to cool it. Use a lettuce leaf to remove fat off top.
    Matzo balls: 2 boxes mix doctored up with dried ginger and cinnamon, my moms recipe. made afternoon of
    Huge brisket or roast lamb; just throw in oven
    SOmeone is bringing potato kugel and spinach casserole
    I am making carrot tzimmes casserole( fresh baby carrots w ginger and orange juice, thickened w potato starch)
    everyone else bringing passover desserts and fruit salad
    and folding chairs and haggadahs.
    We only do a 5 minute token service
    it’s doable if you dont’ need to be perfect.

  4. So things have not changed at all? Phil still annoyed by your perfectionist ways. You chasing an idealized image. If all you care about is making good memories for your kids- they’ll remember playing some silly game in the basement with their cousins, not what they ate or if the plates were nice. Being you sounds exhausting.

    Since you mentioned phil and $, what car did you ever decide to buy???

    1. Author

      We’re still shopping for a car. We’ve sold the convertible, and we’re still narrowing it down, figuring out what we like best. Since I’m in no rush and happy with our current Lexus SUV, we’re taking our sweet time. So far, I’ve test driven the following:

      Honda Pilot
      GMC Acadia Denali
      Buick Enclave
      Infiniti JX35
      Nissan Pathfinder
      Acura MDX

  5. Agreed. Some of the best Seders are easy ones. Poach a salmon, do some green beans in green goddess dressing or some carrots, store-bought gefilte fish, matzo ball mix and macaroons. It doesn’t have to be a big production.

    I make a great matzo ball soup broth in my slowcooker— fill with half chicken broth and half beef broth, add some parnips, bunch of fresh dill, garlic cloves, peppercorns, carrots. Cook 8 hours then strain out all solids. Divine.

  6. One thing I thought of (if you do end up having your dinner) is to have the cousins make Matzoh Crunch.. or as we like to call it, “Matzoh Crack!” with your kiddies!! Maybe it could turn into a tradition amongst the cousins like it is in my family.

    P.S. I know dish washing is a pain, but I would definitely use real plates for this event!

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