puking on passover, a story

This passover we went to the Moshans, where I made dinner of course. Tangy Spiced Brisket (in the slow cooker ala SmittenKitchen) matzoh ball soup, gefilte fish etc. It was good, and much appreciated...which isn't crazy considering the passovers of yore. 

When I first met Michael, we went to a Passover seder with his family. I had been warned that Aunt Alice was the worst cook and that the seder is unbearably long. Sure, sure, I thought. (Michael's family is famously over-enthusiastic—every movie is either the best or worst film they have ever seen in their entire lives—until the next one. Plus they're Long Island Jews so not only do they know little about Passover, they have never heard of Purim.)

I was so unimpressed by their dramatic tales of past seders gone bad, that I balked when we pulled into the parking lot of Teaneck’s Starlite diner—just 20 minutes before we were due at Aunt Alice’s. "You can't eat a double cheeseburger now!"

"You have to," my future brother in law explained. "Or you'll starve."

But I didn't starve. The service was, as predicted, very long, but there was a bowl of boiled potato chunks to tide us over. And after the praying, we dove right into the meal. "GEFILTE FISH! WHO WANTS IT HOT? WHO WANTS IT COLD?" Alice yelled from the kitchen.

COLD! I was hungry. I scarfed down Alice's gefilte fish and her version of matzoh ball soup, which looked stones floating in muddy water and then a small bowl of hard-boiled eggs mashed into cold water and then some kind of green loaf. Uncle Larry reminded us that we, like the Israelites, were still slaves. Ah, I thought, they are going for the slave-food theme.

After dinner, at which I think I was the only one, besides Alice and Larry, who ate, we quickly congratulated Alice on becoming president of her synagogue and hurried to the car. Halfway home, I couldn't hold back any longer. Pull over! I yelled from the back seat. Michael's dad nervously turned off the East Side Highway and sped to a Burger King where I rushed into the bathroom (smelly enough to induce nausea alone) and puked up an unprecedented amount of kosher vegetarian mush. "We told you so" didn't even need to be uttered during the quiet ride home.

Jews have puked up seder meals for centuries. This is not news to me. But as Passover plans started to be discussed for this year, I decided that in the name of freedom, we could and should start a different tradition.

No really, let's NOT go back to Alice's house, I pleaded.

Look whose talking now, my new brother in law joked.

We can do it at our new apartment! It was out of my mouth before I had time to think or even consult Michael. But Michael and I were married now. And we had 400 new serving bowls.

Everyone agreed.

I'm not exactly a professionally trained cook but I do have a subscription to Gourmet and an unhealthy devotion to the Food Network. I've also dated more than my fair share of chefs who taught me a thing or two—about food, that is. That myth about men who can cook? I've never been able to confirm that one, but dinner dates with chefs—highly illuminating. For example, one potential mate religiously refused a second bite of his gazpacho because it had—in his opinion—an unacceptable to the point of repulsive ratio of cilantro to red pepper. It was our last date.

My audience wasn’t quite as cynical but it was complicated: my gourmet mother; my highly critical corporate lawyer father who has eaten at all of the best restaurants; my highly critical little sister who brought her highly critical Israeli friend and the Moshans—who are always a little surprised when something tastes good. This might have something to do with the fact that they store their winter clothes in the oven—which you can't open anyway because the dog's feeding bench blocks the door. Cooking in their house, which I've done occasionally, is like a scavenger hut—the one sharp knife is in the freezer, the plates are stacked in an old chest in the bedroom, and the spices are behind plants. When I have managed to throw together a meal here, the family used words like "magic" and "amazing" to describe turkey burgers.

A few days before the big event, my brother in law made a Haggadah with a picture of Charleton Heston in the Ten Commandments on the cover. It quoted Wikipedia instead of God. Michael made a “Passover Playlist” on his iPod including songs like The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows;” George Michael’s “Freedom;” and Olabelle’s “High on a Mountain.” And I put together a classic Passover meal with a modern gourmet twist: spinach matzoh balls in a saffron chicken broth; gefilte fish slices on fennel and arugula salad with a tangy horseradish dressing; braised lamb with parsley over a potato parsnip mash.

That night the angel of nausea passed over our house. The meal was so unexpectedly delicious that the Moshans were rendered speechless (a rare occurrence). My dad said it was better than any restaurant meal he’d had. My mom even suggested I write my recipes down so generations after me wouldn't have to endure cold mushy-egg soup. It was the least I could do for my people.