Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Changing rituals...

My family’s annual spring ritual typically begins weeks in advance while the frigid weather still clings to the land: My mother calls to see which night of Passover I want to hold the Seder.

"The first," I would say, after taking into account the day of the week and the boys' spring break schedule.

"Fine," she would say, "I'll do the second."

Well, that was up until last year when Pesach passed over us while Dad was in the hospital. We ate matzah in the cafeteria, but the closest we got to a haggadah was our prayers that Next Year We’ll All Be Home.

Unfortunately, Dad passed away in June and all our rituals have been turned on ear since last Purim. This is rather ironic, since Dad was all about rituals. But changes affect every family (even if it's not as extreme as this) and the story of the Exodus must be told.

So, I'm sitting here, putting fingertip to keyboard thinking about what foods I will make this year to grace both our table and Dad’s memory.

I’m sure there will be some tried-and-true standards and some soon-to-become standards as old and new friends ring our table. Some will be store-bought, but all will be homemade, even if it wasn't made in my house.

And while my biggest conundrum may be the main course… Do we want Chicken Marbella? Or the family brisket that’s been on holiday for the past couple years? How about grilled leg of lamb? Is this the year to ‘be’ Sephardic and go through with the sushi threat? I’ve always thought wasabi would a cool twist on maror. Or maybe make MY fried chicken using matzah meal... Dad’s favorite – chocolate – will make an appearance as a flourless cake and the requisite jelly rings and marshmallow twists (frozen, of course!) and we’ll make sure there’s enough hard-boiled eggs and salt water for the ‘soup’ he’d concoct before the gefilte fish comes to the table.

It’s a difficult year of firsts for us and I know too many of you can relate to this too. We’ll all set an empty place for Elijahu and hope he brings our loved ones along to sing Dayenu, whisper words of encouragement to the little one saying the Four Questions and giggle when the maror gets the better of us.

When the afikomen is found in Dad’s favorite hiding place – under his plate – I’ll feel him standing behind me with his hands on my shoulders and know that our family’s rituals really do live on l’dor va dor.

If I were making the cake for Dad, I'd probably omit the orange so nothing would distract from the chocolate!

Here goes :
(And in a switch from my usual, I listed the ingredients first...It's for Passover after all, a time that's different from all others!)

Butter, melted
1 1/4 cups walnuts
1 cup sugar, divided
6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 large eggs, separated
Zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

-Preheat oven to 350°F.
-Brush bottom of 9-inch-diameter springform pan generously with butter.
-Blend walnuts and 1/4 cup sugar in processor until finely ground. Add chopped chocolate and zest; blend until chocolate is finely ground, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally.
-Combine egg yolks and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl then add vanilla.
-Using an electric mixer, beat until yolk mixture is very thick, about 4 minutes, then beat in cocoa.
-Fold in walnut mixture.
-Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and salt in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until whites are stiff but not dry.
-Fold whites into chocolate batter in 3 additions. Transfer to prepared pan.
-Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on rack, release from pan and serve. 

May Dad’s and your loved ones’ memories all be for a zissen Pesach blessing.