Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is it really easier?

Last year we went to Florida for Passover. Although I did not have to prepare seders - we went with my friend B's for both of them - we had to clean out Grandma Toby's apartment, which had not been used in years, and still needed food to eat all week. But it was limited. We bought certain household items that we thought would be good to have if and when we all started using the apartment more (yeah, nothing since then), and enough food for the week.

Which means it's been two years since I really cleaned my kitchen and prepped for Pesach in my own home. And this year I have two seders. Monday will be David's family - sister, niece, cousin and her two boys, and David's parents. (OY!) Tuesday will be a cast of thousands... or at least 25. Five other families (although only three have kids). We're going to have a separate kids' table for nine of the kids; Sofia and Lilie will be stuck with their mamas at the grownup table.

So I've been shopping and prepping and cleaning. And David's been in Copenhagen all week, which means he brought the dishes up from the basement into the garage last week before he left.

I emptied most of the cabinets that normally get emptied - still have to do the drinking glasses - and piled all the every-day stuff on the coffee table in the family room. Where it certainly CANNOT stay if my Lilie and the two boys are coming! So tomorrow David (who will be home at midnight tonight - YEAH!) and my sons will need to move everything.

Today was a fully day of dishwasher loads (cheating, but hey!). So now all the meat dishes and utensils and pots and pans, and all the plastic ware, are done. Tomorrow will be dairy washing day, since it's not the priority (I do meat seders, so I need to start cooking meat first!).

And I still have a heck of a lot to cook, since I've barely started. The first gefilte fish, for Monday night, is cooking now, and I made fruit granita (ice) this evening. Tomorrow is 16 pounds of brisket, and probably a cake and some macaroons and a few other items. Ramp up Monday with chicken and soup and all the veggies, and a ton to do on Tuesday.

So why do I feel like it's gotten easier over the years? The first time I did my own seder was the spring after David and I were married. I was 7 months pregnant, and landed in the hospital for a day once the seders were done. That was certainly stressful. With the exception of last year, I've always had at least one seder here (sometimes we get invited elsewhere).

A few years ago, I guess I decided to get organized. I bought those terrific "Meat", "Dairy" "Parve" and "Passover" stickers and marked all my stuff, so there was no longer questions each year about which item was for what. We have a full set of dishes for both meat and dairy, and I got appropriate storage containers for them. I labeled all the pots and pans and plastic. I packed things in a sensible way. I have a lot of glass pans in a wide variety of sizes, which can be used for either meat or dairy and go beautifully from oven to table to freezer.

Which means today was actually a very low-key day. Other than loading and unloading dishes, and trying to figure out seating arrangements and table placements, I didn't have much to do. I make a very similar meal each year. Seder is NOT the time to try something radically new! My menu will include:

Gefilte Fish
Hard Boiled Eggs
Chicken Soup and Matzo Balls
Brisket (sweet & sour)
Moroccan Chicken
Mashed Potato
Honey Carrots

and lots of veggies on the table for munching during the seder and assorted deserts.

My big problem with a holiday feeling "easier" is that I forget to prepare for the actual religious part. I need to go through my haggadah, and decide how to tell the story each night. Monday night, four out of the six children will have almost no idea what the seder is about. H's boys are not being raised Jewish, Lilie only gets her Judaism when she comes to me, and Sofia is only just beginning to be aware of anything beyond her beloved Shabbat. Tuesday night's seder kids are almost all in day school, so that's a wildly different approach needed. And on both nights I also have to keep the adults engaged.

Yes, of course, I not only cook but I run the seder. David sure lucked out when he married me ;)

I run into the "it's easier" problem at the high holidays, too. For years, preparing for Rosh Hashanah was a really big deal. I had a lot of music to practice, and usually many meetings with whichever spiritual leader or rabbi I was to work with. But the past couple of years I've had the wonderful Rabbi Sonia, whom I adore, but who insists we meet in JUNE to prepare for the fall. By the time the actual holiday approaches, I've completely lost the mood of our meetings. And since I no longer need to do much review - I already KNOW all the music - I'm not submerging myself in the text for weeks before the holiday.

I think I prefer being in the Learning phase. So I have to force myself to make time to seek out new sources, to learn something new each year. It's hard!

I tried this year to get in the mood by attending last night's service at our shul, where Rabbi Shefa Gold was the guest. That didn't work. Rabbi Gold is a Renewal Movement guru. And I mean guru. She brings her own crowd of groupies whenever she "performs" at Temple Israel. She's big into chanting. I love the music. But last night, I could not find anyone to stay home with my kids, so I had to take them with me (and I had an extra child, who wanted to be with me more than she wanted to run errands with her mom after school!).

So I dragged four children to the service. Micah brought a book, and didn't even bother coming in to the service; he stayed in the hallway. Sam tried for about 10 minutes, but my little yeshiva boy is a service snob, and by the end of the second chanting song, he said "this isn't even a real service" and joined his brother in the hallway. The girls played with Sofia's doll and bag of beauty gear for a while, and then Sofia really got into the music and dancing. The other girl eventually slipped out to join the boys and a couple of other kids.

Sofia followed our rabbi around (he totally blisses out to Rabbi Gold's stuff), and then found a hand drum (tof, dumbek). It was an interesting test. Did Rabbi Gold and her groupies really mean it when they professed all that love and acceptance? Or were they full of it? (Turns out the groupies really mean it. Rabbi Gold shot Sofia the nastiest look when Sofia started banging out of rhythm.)

The big problem was the timing, and an incident with food. The service started at 5:45, and dinner was supposed to be at 7pm. Well, service was still going strong at 7pm, which meant it would likely be at least 20 minutes before any food appeared. And Sofia was getting hungry and crabby.

So I went to the door of the kitchen. The kitchen were I myself have prepared numerous Family Shabbat dinners over the years. And was greeted by the guy who was cooking that night (another congregant), arms folded, who said "there's no more food."

"Nothing? Why were we supposed to be paying $18 per person (and NO kid price!) for dinner?"

"There's nothing left. It's all cleaned out for Passover. Just tonight's meal."

"Yes, well can she have a couple of pieces of salad and maybe a carrot?"

By then, the woman who was running the event came by and asked if Sofia could have some of the soup. The guy went into the kitchen...and came back with a piece of egg matzo.

"Uh. She's allergic to that."

The woman finally dragged me past him into the kitchen, where I gave Sofia a few pieces of lettuce from the counter. He, meanwhile, raided the refrigerator for some tomatoes that were to be for Saturday afternoon's kiddush.


After Sofia ate her veggies, I grabbed the four kids and left. Took them out for sushi, which was very fun (except that I hate going to a restaurant on Shabbat).

Oooooh! Just thinking about it makes me angry again. My first rule of cooking for others - you always go out of your way to please the people! There were dinners where I was still getting RSVPs that afternoon, yet I always had enough food. There were all sorts of allergy requests (none of which phase me, since my own family brings more than our fair share of allergy issues). And I always had munchies on the table (and when there would be a lot of kids, a big tub of pretzels to munch during the service).

Ok. Calm. I'm not gonna think about it any more. Sushi was yummy, and the kids were fun. And I'm loving the freedom this age brings - the boys would babysit Sofia for a while so I could drive A home after we ate.

I love having extra kids. I love the fact that kids want to come here. Tomorrow I have Sofia's school chum, H, and her older sister, who is a year younger than Sam and very sweet. Tuesday I'll have Lilie along with my three (it's school vacation week on top of the holiday!).

A few weeks ago, I picked up 6 kids from the day school. My boys, my regular car-pool sisters, and my friend D's two girls. D's husband showed up unexpectedly at school right after the girls got in the car (he was supposed to be running late, so mom was to pick them up at my house), and the girls refused to get out of my car! They wanted to come to my house. I love that.

So that's that. I wish everyone a sweet, happy, and healthy Pesach. May your seders be joyful and noisy and yummy.