One semi-self-contained breakdown in the meat aisle of the local Stop & Shop later, and I am not hosting the Seder. I got through the produce section OK, and managed to create a salad that I thought we could eat, and enough tomatoes and celery and endive and suchlike to make some veggie-type things for dinner. Well enough.
Then I got to the meat department.
No lamb. It’s the Tuesday after Easter and Passover. Of course there’s no lamb. Can I serve chicken? I don’t know. Do I have a pan large enough to cook a chicken large enough to feed twelve people? I don’t know. I had to borrow a pan to cook a turkey large enough to feed eight people. I’ll probably have to cook two birds. Do I have two dishes the right size? Can the main meat at a Seder even be chicken?
The beef liver for chopped liver is sitting next to the pork.
The fish counter is closed. This is just as well, because I am feeling some serious trepidation about making gefelte fish (and it says something about my dictionary program that it’s not raising so much as a peep of a redline about gefelte’s spelling).
The matzoh left over in the Jewish section of the International Foods aisle are all clearly labeled: “Not kosherfor Passover.”
It’s all very well to talk about non-traditional Passovers, but many of these students are hundreds of miles from home, and what they want is comfort food. They want holiday treats that are as familiar to them as Christmas cookies were to me and my family.
But here I am, a goy trying to make Seder. It’s the wrong day — Passover ends on Thursday at sundown, after my meal should start. It’s in a treifkitchen. I have a set recipe list, but no way to enact substitutions; I lack the cultural background that says, “Oh, well, they don’t have lamb so I’ll have to use this brisket instead.”
When I prepare Thanksgiving for my family, I know that I can substitute yams with turnips, but I can’t replace potatoes with onions. I know that green beans and brussels sprouts are interchangeable, as are cranberry pies and mince pies and pumpkin pies. But if I mess with the basics like turkey and stuffing, I may be disowned.
I am skating on thin ice here.
A woman from the school’s daycare program finds me ten inarticulate minutes later, putting groceries back. She looks at me as if I’m weird. I explain, “I was trying to figure out how to host a Seder.” She laughs, and says, “you could prepare for two weeks for one of those, and not be ready.”
I could prepare a whole lifetime for this, and not be ready. That’s finally sinking in. Twenty-four hours notice for a sacred meal that consists largely of a story in the right culinary context… no can do.
Upon coming home, and explaining my dilemma, a Jewish student points out that there’s a kosher deli not far from here. Why don’t I just make a reservation, and take them there? It’s a whole lot easier, and you can tell the story over a pastrami and rye sandwich.
And next year in my apartment!