Sometimes the Seders were vegetarian, with a golden dill-and-garlic broth bathing the matzoh balls and a "paschal yam" (instead of lamb) on the Seder plate. I tried making sponge cake one year; as it cooled upside down to keep it light, chunks of cake started breaking loose and hitting the counter in clods. My old friend Jen called to tell me she was having doubts about her kugel; I told her I was sitting shiva (the traditional Jewish rite of mourning) for my spongecake.
Much of the food comes with built-in nostalgia, since many dishes are eaten at this time of year and no other. The sinus-clearing blast of horseradish, in particular, is hard-wired to Passover in my brain, no matter how many hip chefs add it to their braised-beef jus or mashed potatoes. Charoseth, a finely chopped mix of apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and sweet kosher wine (and it must be made with that nasty Concord-grape Manischevitz, or it doesn't taste right, right meaning like my grandmother's) is delicious and could be made at any time, but still remains confined to the Seder, where it symbolizes the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves as they built the pyramids, brick by brick.
Every year, I can look around the table and see friends who have been coming for years. The apartments change, the hair may get a little grayer, but each spring, we come back together to celebrate the achievement of freedom, to toast both its fragility and its tenacity, to learn once again that with it comes both responsibility and joy.
And breakfast. In newspapers and magazines, most Passover recipe features tend to focus almost exclusively on the Big Event, forgetting that there are eight days of breakfasts and lunches to get through after the soup and brisket. Since grains, flours, and leavening are the big no-no's during the holiday, baking Jews like myself must get creative once the charm of matzoh wears off around day three.
Now, a large and lucky group of you love Passover for the matzoh brei alone. However, the allure of a frittata fried up with crumbled bits of matzoh remains a mystery to me, hence my reliance on matzoh rolls and matzoh pancakes for my morning-starch needs. Now, there's no denying that everything baked during Passover ends up tasting like eggs and matzoh meal, and these rolls are no exception, but served hot and well-slathered with jam or apple butter, they do the trick.
Being very dependent on my morning toast-and-coffee routine, I had to find something else worth getting up for during these eight bread-free days. These take about as much effort as whipping up a batch of muffins, and they're quite tasty. The technique is similar to making the dough for cream puffs.
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/3 cups matzoh meal
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with baking parchment.
2. Bring water, oil, salt and sugar to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add matzoh meal and stir over medium heat until dough forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pot. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
3. Beat eggs into matzoh mixture one at a time, making sure each one is well-absorbed before adding the next.