It’s that time of the year again when we boil eggs, cook for days, and gather with family and friends to celebrate a very important holiday.
And no, I don’t mean Easter – I mean Passover.
For those of you who don’t celebrate Passover, it is, in a nutshell, an eight day holiday consisting of a seder the first night, filled with readings from the Hagaddah, special foods, lots of wine, angels, singing, and of course matzo ball soup. It’s a holiday when many Jewish families abstain from all bread products, resulting in lots of Jewish children heading to school with matzoh sandwiches in their lunch box. For the even more observant, the home is emptied of all leavened bread products and the kitchen cleaned from top to bottom, giving the phrase “spring cleaning” a new meaning. In my house, however, our celebration of Passover has always been only about the seder – and often there has been a second night seder with friends, where we would bring our leftovers and have a much more relaxed evening.
When I tell you preparing for a seder takes days of preparation, I’m not exaggerating. There are many special types of food and drink needed for the seder, ranging from small dishes of salt water to chocolate covered matzoh. A seder table is usually set with the most luxurious and beautiful dishes, silver, linens and wine glasses available in the home. There should be an abundance of flowers, signifying the joy of spring, and candles to add to the mood. If the seder falls on a Friday night, like it does this year, shabbat must also be observed with a special set of candles just for that purpose. There are multiple courses, starting with the aforementioned soup, then the brisket, maybe chicken, vegetables, a kugel or two – sometimes savory, sometimes sweet – and possibly chopped liver to spread on the matzo. There’s gefilte fish, another delicacy associated closely with Passover. Anyway, I think you get the idea.
I used to host a seder every year, and though it was hard work, I enjoyed it. We don’t have a large family, but we usually had at least one or two other families here with us, plus a stray single or two. Children are integral to the seder, as they are participants who are required to answer the Ma Nishtanah (the four questions). It was fun to plan the evening, set the table – always using the sterling that my grandmother gave me – and shop for the ingredients to make the soup, cook the brisket, and prepare the rest of the delicious and ritualistic food that makes a seder a seder. My kids were assigned the making of the place cards and setting out the Hagaddahs for everyone, and my husband would, without fail, do the dishes – which was very much appreciated, believe me. In the past few years, I haven’t hosted a seder, and though I don’t mind not having all the work to do, there’s still a part of me that misses it. My kids are away at college, and since my father passed away in 2007 it just hasn’t been the same for me, as there was something very special about making a seder and having him come to my home to celebrate the holiday, always so appreciative of the good food and hard work required in preparing it all. He would lead the seder, since my husband is not Jewish. The rest of my family lives far enough away that driving here on a weeknight is not very convenient – and to be honest, a seder with less than 12 or so people just isn’t as meaningful to me.
We have been so fortunate to be included, the past few years, in seders at friend’s homes, which has been a wonderful way to continue to celebrate the holiday. Next year both of my kids will be nearby for Passover, and I plan on making a seder. I’ll enjoy every moment.
Here is my recipe for “Easiest Noodle Kugel” – a favorite among family and friends. Enjoy!
8 ounces (kosher) wide egg noodles
1 cup dark raisins
5 large eggs
1 cup regular sour cream (don’t use low fat)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups WHOLE milk
3 cups Cinnamon Toast Crunch (or similar generic brand) cereal, coarsely crushed
Preheat oven to 350. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Spread uncooked noodles over bottom of prepared dish and sprinkle with raisins. Whisk eggs, sour cream, butter and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Whisk in milk and pour mixture over noodles. Let stand for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, spread crushed cereal gently over kugel.
Bake kugel until set in center, about 1 hour. Cut kugel into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Please note: the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal is not kosher, so for very observant families this recipe would not be appropriate.