Monday, March 25, 2013

What Passes for Passover

I've done multiple holidays and celebratory dinners in Beijing, including two Thanksgivings and now my second Passover. This, apparently, has given me the impression that I could step up the game a bit, go a little fancy on this Passover meal. For instance, Bob still talks about the year I made my own gefilte fish. And a matzo ball soup is always better with homemade chicken stock.  No matter that there isn't exactly a kosher for Passover aisle in the supermarket, and things like matzo meal and horseradish need to be ordered from the local Chabad network.

Okay then. The Passover Challenge began with a visit by the Three Pengyous to Sanyuanli market. We three Pengyous -- me, Rachel, and Nora -- set out with our bags, our warm winter hats, and a long list. Other than specialty items like capers and semi-sweet chocolate chips, I found everything I needed. Brisket, sea bass for the gefilte fish, dried apricots, rosemary, thyme, parsley, dill, fennel bulbs, baby potatoes, and mulberries in place of blackberries for the coulis that would be served with the chocolate torte.

This was coming together nicely.

That is, until I actually started cooking. Purée the berries with sugar in the food processor, said the recipe. So I loaded up the food processor with mulberries and sugar, plugged it into the transformer, and turned it on. Pffffit. Blew a fuse in the transformer, which was odd because I've used it that way before. I replaced the fuse and tried again. Pfffffit. Blew my last fuse. Now I had a half-smashed pulp of mulberries in the processor and no more processor. Could it be because I had the oven running, the washing machine going, and the heater going in the living room because China has turned off our heat? Possibly.

I used my frustration to mash the mulberries and later to whisk the eggs for the chocolate torte. But how I hand-chop the sea bass into gefilte fish is still to be determined. Stay tuned. I haven't given up yet. I also haven't figured out how to keep our ten dinner guests warm with one space heater that has the power of a hair dryer. Eat more, drink more, I guess. And when we tuck ten-month-old Leah to bed in the study, she's getting the heater. This might make for the speediest Passover in history: 7 plagues instead of 10 and three questions instead of four.

Update: So the Seder worked out well, except for a few glitches. (For Bob’s take on the strange person he calls Rabbi Bruno, ask him to put you on his In Lieu of Blog list:
Glitch one was the beef. I’m done with beef in this country. I bought what I thought was a nice brisket. And you know how you can cook brisket until it’s falling apart and it’s delicious and tender? Well, my so-called brisket had the consistency of shoe leather. Actually, shoe leather would have been better. But my fish cakes tasted good, even if they kind of fell apart in the process. Everything else was satisfactory.

And Bob went out and bought a second space heater, although there may have been, ahem, a guest who ended up putting on a coat towards the end of the dinner. I guess it depended on where you sat around the table.

I’ve had better dinners and I’ve had worse. Next year, roast chicken.

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