We are now three weeks away from Passover. This is the first time in about twenty years that we will be conducting the Seder in the dining room primarily because twelve of us can fit there. No need to empty out the living room, order extra tables, rent cloths and napkins. Yet instead of being happy about shedding all of the planning and angst that can accompany preparing for a large Seder, why are my thoughts drawn to Seders past with longing and nostalgia and to future Seders with something akin to dread. It has been a difficult year. My 92-year-old father passed away in September and for the first time, he will not be present at our Seder. Growing up in NYC, Seders were pretty traditional affairs; my father and the other men would stand and chant the Haggadah in unison, with no one else participating. The wives read along silently and the children wiggled and giggled and waited for dinner. It was not egalitarian or engaging or educational and yet I have warm and happy memories. The table was beautifully set, the fine china was brought out, wonderful aromas came from the kitchen, new clothing was purchased, cousins got together and my father and the other men argued about politics all through the meal. Pesach was special.When our children were born and my husband Norm and I took over Seder duty, we expanded the guest list. After all, we were transplants from the East Coast and so friends replaced the extended family. My husband and I were determined to do things differently. We wanted to make sure that we would engage the children, involve the guests, and do it all in a warm and inviting way. We wanted to raise children who would grow up not only knowing how to conduct a Seder but we hoped that they would want to conduct their own Seders one day. Although my father was no longer leading the Seder in my house, he always had a special role. His job was to read Ki Lo Naeh Ki Lo Yaeh, one of the supplementary hymns. He had a special way of reading the Hebrew with an Ashkenazi intonation that sounded much more like Yiddish than it did Hebrew. He read it quickly and with a particular chant. There is nobody who can duplicate it and he will be remembered and missed.Yes, our Seder is smaller this year. Our daughter will be joining us but our sons and other family members cannot. Our friends’ children also have commitments elsewhere. It makes me pause and wonder what future Seders will look like but for this year I am grateful to share the Seder with our friends who are like family and hope that next year we will all be together again, in the living room. My daughter Shira, who is coming has already requested her favorite Passover cookies. Here is the recipe.
2 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/2 packet vanillin (passover product)
1/2 tsp vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Let eggs come to room temperature. Melt chocolate in double boiler and allow to cool completely. Separate egg yolks from whites very carefully and then in large bowl,beat whites with salt and vinegar until you can see little bubbles forming. Gradually add sugar and vanillin, increasing speed of mixer until egg whites form soft shiny peaks (like a Hershey kiss). Take a large spoonful of the chocolate mixture and gently fold into whites. Incorporate remaining chocolate mixture into whites slowly and gently. Once combined, drop mixture by tablespoon onto cookie sheets lined with silver foil and bake for 8 minutes. Turn off oven and leave meringues inside oven with door slightly ajar for 5 additional minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, then transfer to a plate with a spatula. Tops may crack and meringues will fall slightly. Centers are soft and chewy. NOTE: I tried several variations of this recipe this past week and the clear winner was baking for exactly eight minutes, turning off the oven and leaving meringues in for an additional 5 minutes. Makes 12 Meringues.