Medical Monday: Postponed a Little for Passover

Hello Readers ! 

I am dropping you a quick line to let you know that medical and policy news proceeds apace, and that I will report on it shortly. However, this weekend I was much engaged in preparations for Passover and Easter. Yes that's right, both. Our family is blessedly mixed and we celebrate the fusion of spring and new life. Tonight we will attend Seder and Sunday we will have an egg hunt in the possibly snowy forest. Stay tuned for pictures and for Medical Monday News. 

Happy Spring. 

Food Friday: Our Passover 2016 Menu

Friday night is the beginning of the 8 day holiday of Passover. It commemorates the journey of the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and into freedom. This passage can be seen on many levels: geographic, cultural, religious,  psychological, and, concerning our topic today, culinary. 

It is an archetypal story that the Jewish people have seen fit to memorialize and celebrate with the Passover Holiday. And, more than every other Jewish Holiday, it is celebrated with food. True, the Seder, or Passover celebration service has a beautiful and music-laden liturgy in a volume called the Haggadah, but the special food items eaten are written right into the text.

The ceremony begins with blessings over wine and candle lighting. The narrative proceeds to bring us into a desert land, into the fold of an impoverished and weakened people. Moses, with divine inspiration, invokes the plagues upon Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let his people go. Finally the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn of Egypt breaks him, but he reneges, and the people are pursued by Pharaoh's chariots through the Red Sea, where they are delivered to freedom and the soldiers drowned. 

As the story proceeds, we at the table are permitted meager portions. We must wait patiently and hear the story unfold. We may dip bitter green herbs in salt water symbolizing the bitterness of slavery and the tears the people. Of course, everyone at the table is quite hungry by now, and we are reminded to remember the suffering of people everywhere, and even into the present. Fairly soon we can have a sip of wine. At last we are given the Matzah. It is a flat tasteless cracker made of flour and water. It is the closest thing to cardboard that you can actually eat. It has its appeals, but I think mainly from association to the festive family gatherings. It depicts a “ poor bread”, a bread made in haste, the bread of slaves on the run, the bread of people who can afford nothing else. Everyone eats some in ceremonial fashion, and often with a spread. But no ! It is a spread of pungent horseradish called Maror, again to symbolize suffering. It is traditional to see who can take the biggest bite and wince the worst. 

The rabbis must have known about being hangry, since right about then we are permitted also to spread Charoset on the matzah. Charoset is strange compared to typical American foods, one the hearkens to other lands and other times. . It is a paste made of fresh and dried fruit, perhaps citrus, spices and various nuts. It is mulled with sweet red wine. It can be made chunky or smooth, and can be delicious. It symbolizes the mortar for the bricks with which the slaves built. People make a sandwich of Matzah, Charoset, and Maror, as did the famous Rabbi Hillel centuries ago, since he taught that the bitter went with the sweet. 

Finally the meal is announced, and it is ritually begun with an elaborate blessing and a boiled or roasted egg. The egg is, of course, a symbol of new life. The entire “ Seder plate “ is presented. The plate is often very large and ornate, with special spots and labels for each of the ceremonial foods, including lamb and the ones already mentioned. As the meal unfolds in many courses, we are encouraged to recline and take our time, and to use pillows to highlight our status as free people.

Modern Seders make mention of various forms of oppression in modern times. In that spirit, the Seder is for passing on wisdom as well as celebrating, and elders at the table are meant to tell the young people what they have seen in their day. I can remember one Seder I attended with a friend as a young high school student. It was in Los Angeles in the 1970s. After the meal was largely finished, the elders started telling stories. I was brought to a table where several very old people had pulled up their sleeves. I could see numbers tattooed on their arms. I realized in silent horror that they were survivors of the concentration camps of World War 2. They spoke at length about what they had seen, and admonished us to never forget. These stories were tragic, but they encouraged us by saying, “Look at us now !” .

Indeed they were filled with joy and pride, in a grand ballroom filled with family and friends, dressed to the nines, and sitting before a splendid table with a spread fit for royalty. I will never forget it. 

So Friday when I make our small family Seder, I will think of them. Friday afternoon, however, I will think of all the things I have to prepare. To conclude, I would like to share with you my planned menu. For a Passover menu, it is one part traditional and one part eclectic, just like our family. I hope whatever your tradition, whatever your religion or lack of it, that you can celebrate with us in your heart. 


Passover Menu 2016 


The Wine: organic grape juice of course. 


Bitter herbs: Mixed greens to include arugula, mizuna, mustard greens spinach and kale for the sweet and bitter (with a citrus vinaigrette for later in the meal) 


Roasted eggs, deviled by my son in law if he has time. 


My own Charoset, featuring dried mango, golden raisins, dates, dried cranberries, almonds, orange juice and champagne, and spices. 


Home made matzah- very rustic and hot out of the oven. 


Horseradish - straight up no embellishment. 


Halibut and salmon terrine - My substitute for the traditional gefilte fish. 


Roasted carrot fries - yum 


Matzoh ball soup - A family favorite - essentially a chicken soup variation with these amazing smooth light dumplings called matzoh balls. Mix the matzoh meal (wheat crumbs essentially) with eggs and oil and let them sit in the fridge. You will drop them in broth later. Then you roast a couple chickens (done ! ) reserve the meat, make broth, then prepare a mirepoix. A mirepoix is a mixture of finely chopped carrots, onion, and celery, which together give wonderful aroma and taste to soup. Sauté the mirepoix in olive oiling a big pot, add the meat as well, with herbes de provence and pepper. Add broth over all of it, garnish with white wine, bring to a low boil, then drop in your formed Matzoh balls. It won’t take long until they are ready and rise to the top. Serve with matzah. 


Fresh fruit- I cannot serve a meal without fresh fruit. Any will do. Strawberries, watermelon, mango and blueberries tomorrow. 




Always more than one. 


Coconut macaroons- some dipped in chocolate - Love ! 


Flourless or fallen chocolate cake - Need I say more ? 

Food Friday: Passover Food, Part One

This year the first night of Passover falls on Friday night April 22nd. This means the upcoming week will be one of preparing. Observant households are cleaned and cleared of all leavened (yeasted or raised) bread and grains, since for the entire 8 days of the holiday, they are not eaten. 

Passover is the biblical holiday of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It commemorates the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. It is celebrated by both Jews and Christians. Jesus famously celebrated the Feast of Passover at what is now called The Last Supper. It is important to me as Jew among Christians to highlight the fact that we share this common narrative of liberation and redemption. Passover is always fresh, modern and relevant. It is one of my favorite holidays because of these themes, and since it involves food and family. 

Passover is celebrated over an eight day period not at a synagogue, but at the dinner table. The story of the Exodus is retold at the table though the reading of a work of liturgy called the Haggadah, which is essentially a narrative recounting of the portion of the book of Exodus which chronicles the event.

Here is the real genius of the observance in my opinion: The series of dishes in the meal serve as illustrations for the major points in the story ! This serves to keep the attendants engaged and makes the elements of the story unforgettable. Our ancestors felt so strongly about instilling within us this story of freedom that they enshrined it in a festive meal. 

This post will cover the elements of the festive meal, in order, and their meanings. Next week we will look at modern recipes for the same. 


Historical Culinary Elements of the Passover Seder: 



1st cup of wine or grape juice              

To sanctify the day 


Karpas (green herbs)    

To announce spring 


Salt water for dipping     

To signify the tears of the people 


Matzah (unleavened flat bread)                          

made in haste for an urgent departure


Maror ( Bitter herbs) traditionally horseradish,

to symbolize the bitterness of slavery    


Charoset (chopped fruit, nut and spice mixture)

to signify the mortar with which the slaves built the cities 


2nd cup to signify redemption 


3rd cup to signify blessing


The festive meal beginning with a roasted egg to symbolize new life. A roasted lamb shank is included and lamb is often served to symbolize the sacrificial Paschal lamb. Typically potatoes are served since they are in season, and they are not a leavened grain. 


4th cup to commemorate acceptance

of the Covenant of Law 


The historical ingredients of the meal are a bit peculiar to work with but are imbued with meaning. Stay tuned next week for the delicious modern adaptations of these ancient dishes.