Passover

sedertable.jpgMy husband is Jewish, my stepchildren are Jewish, even my son is Jewish.  And yet, I, myself, am merely Jew-ish, which is to say that I go to temple with my family, participate in our Jewish life, but have yet to officially convert.  Why?  I don’t know exactly.  I believe that it’s either in your heart or it isn’t, and it is in mine, and no amount of mikvehs will make it more so.

My first seder was easily a decade ago.  I slaved (no pun intended), I sweated, I researched.   I even figured out how to get a lamb shank bone for my seder plate.  And for dinner, I made a fine lamb roast.  We invited my husband’s best friend since high school, and his family.  Turns out, they don’t eat lamb.  That was awkward.   But it had nothing to do with Passover.  (I had no idea that there were people who felt funny about lamb. Now I ask, every single time, and there’s only been one other occasion where someone categorically turned their back on it.) 

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alanmedadAs a half-and-halfer who leaned too much to the gentile side, I might have secretly liked one Jewish holiday -- Passover. To be honest, it’s the only one I knew. Barely. “We’re going to Seder dinner at Celie’s,” my dad would announce each year. Celie was my dad’s younger sister who treated him like the baby of the family. My dad, known as Duke, and stricken with polio as a child, walked his whole life with a brace & cane. It was Celie, till she died, who hand made for him the flesh-colored, stretchy compression socks that improved his circulation. Chappy, my aunt Celie’s husband -- okay, my uncle -- would conduct a pretty serious, religious event. He was sanctimonious, no-nonsense, and an easy foil for my fun-loving dad. I always came starved, but ate very little.

This was a rowdy, boisterous group -- a ton of aunts, uncles and cousins that all knew each other well and lived in the VALLEY. They seemed to include my brother in their group. Me, not so much. So, I clung to my dad for comfort, laughing at and enjoying everything he said, hanging on like it was his last day on earth. That’s how it was with us all my life. He was an older dad. Magical. My hero. And out there in the Valley I was often petrified. I secretly longed for that other soon-to-be-celebrated holiday, Easter -- with the gentiles.  

For some reason, I identified much more with my mother’s side. If my father’s chaotic mishpucha was like Alvy Singer’s in “Annie Hall “(with dad as Uncle Joey Nickels) for my mother’s family, think Grammy Hall. Only stranger and more white trash. Yep, I was more comfortable in a room full of pathologically quiet people who just kind of stared blankly into space. Occasionally, someone like my uncle R.T. might whisper a word or even an incoherent monologue. Something inaudible.  

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ricottagnudiSpinach ricotta gnudi, made with no wheat flour, are my latest recipe, just in time for Passover. Since the Israelites had to flee their oppressors quickly they didn't have time to allow bread to rise, so the story goes. To commemorate that time, during Passover Jews eat foods made with matzo meal or matzo cake meal, but not with regular flour. Most other non-wheat flours are also not allowed.

Gnudi are a little larger and plumper than gnocchi but somewhat similar. Some people think of them as "ravioli without the pasta."  This recipe is very easy because you use one of those "blocks" of frozen spinach. The secret is getting as much water as possible out of the spinach. You want the dough to be very stiff.

Rolling the dumplings in potato starch also helps keep them from falling apart in the water when you boil them. Since I used potato starch instead of flour, these gnudi are also gluten free. I adapted my recipe from the Weelicious recipe for Spinach Gnocchi.

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about_photo1.jpg It probably never would have happened had it not been for the fact that we were trapped in Studio 8H for camera blocking for hours on end which was business as usual.  A group of us were sitting around the Green Room, which was next to Lorne’s office on the 9th floor overlooking the studio stage.

This was where we took our meals between the dress rehearsal and the live show. It was also where we got notes and the chopping block for sketches. But you’d never know that kind of carnage took place at any other time in this unassuming spot. It was furnished with the kind of couches and chairs that said ‘we don’t give a crap about this late night summer replacement show, let’s give them the stuff we have in storage’. The color palate was ‘tan 70s vomit’.

In the room were Gilda Radner, Paul Schaffer, Cathy Vasapoli (Paul’s girlfriend, now, his wife) Marilyn Miller, Alan Zweibel, Al Franken, and me. We were all in varying stages of exhaustion (the writers, obviously, even more so) and were draped over the furniture like the kids in the “Going Steady” number from Bye Bye Birdie.

“Hey, isn’t it pasacccchhhhhhhhhh?” Zweibel asked, shredding his throat and getting the laugh his sacrifice deserved.

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matzoballsoup.jpgMaking Passover dinner takes a bit of planning, but it doesn't have to be a chore. If you're cooking for a big group, hand out assignments so you don't do all the work. If your kitchen is large enough, invite people over to help. Cooking the dinner with friends and family can be as much a part of a celebration as the meal itself.

Everyone wants to save money these days. But keeping an eye on food costs shouldn't mean cutting corners on quality and flavor. Avoid buying packaged or frozen meals and you'll be way ahead of the game. Besides saving money, you'll be eating healthier food.

On Passover, I practice what I preach by using one chicken to make three dishes. My Jewish mother would be very proud.

For me it's not Passover without matzo ball soup. But soup is only as good as the stock. Canned and packaged chicken broth are very high in salt content and, in my opinion, have an unpleasant flavor. It's much better to make your own.

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