Wednesday, April 23, 2008

a meeting of minds and children

Well, the oat matzot are eaten, and they were lousy. But boy, are they gone nonetheless...

Looking around the bloggish world, I see that I am late. Well and so - the next post (Earth Day) will be late, too, but so goes school vacation week. Still, here is a during-Passover post that should have been usefully pre-Passover, since it does have recipes. Ah, me.

(moving on now)

As we did last year and the year before, we shared our seder with the SIL and her family. She's got two kidlets to match mine, and each year they are just lovelier and lovelier. Oh, and don't get me started on the guy who comes with them - if there ever was someone with a sweet, gooey middle, he's the fella. Even if the Eldest did eye his belt a bit nervously for most of the visit.

Thankfully, all three of the SIL's bits of baggage are increasingly patient with the funny foods served Chez Imperfect. (Okay, maybe just two. The bigger third seems to actually be having fun when he chews.) The SIL's offspring are determined, focussed eaters, but they kindly sit at my table and consider foods they'd otherwise never even sniff at. Occasionally, they'll even eat some. So, when they come I cook simpler foods; plain steamed veggies, lots of fruit, simpler starches. I try to be respectful of walking the line between the best chance of getting the SIL's kids to eat and foods that I like (what my crew likes is only slightly relevant - I cook, they eat. They're invited to change the paradigm). Until, of course, I get bored. See below for the recipes we tried - and loved - on Sunday morning, when I couldn't take plain potatoes any more. Heh.

As the kids get older, all four have become not just more pleasant at the table, but more challenging and fascinating for the long, table-oriented arrangements of the seder. The seder can take hours, it starts late, it involves lots of sitting still (not a terribly kid-friendly state of affairs), and it's in Hebrew. Except when it's in Aramaic. Toss in two families who practice differently, and you have a challenge.

But you don't. We agreed at the start that the success of our communal seder rises and falls on the children, and it will grow more complex and full and fascinating as they are ready for it. Already, this year's seder was richer and more Hebrew-laden (the Man slipped a touch of Aramaic past the censors, even) than last year's, with the elder children modeling for the younger pair how to sit, how to engage, and how to ask questions. And listen patiently during the incomprehensible bits. Sort of. When we started, this seder was unrecognizeable from the Haggadah-centric ones of my childhood. Now, the Haggadah features prominently, but our goal is less to read the book and more to teach. I like it. No, I love it. because with this shift in focus comes energy, kid-pleasure and adult rethinking of a book-bound ritual, laden with details and planning. Our seder is fun. It bounces.

When the bigger two sang Ma-Nishtana, the Toddles sang the fragments that he knew, and hollered cha-cha-cha! between verses. When I read bits in Hebrew, the kids waited patiently for me to translate. And when we sang Dayenu, the kids all sang along for the choruses, and the Eldest offered a wee bit of percussion. The plagues, as always, were popular - and more so thanks to the Eldest's old box o' plagues, kept in a bin of ritual objects. The plagues are joined there by the prompt-cards that the Eldest made two years ago for the Ma Nishtana, the pillow he stuffed this year to lean on, his homemade Haggadah (scattering glitter and banned from the table), the slab of painted wood that is our seder plate - painted by guess who - in short, a growing treasure trove of the Eldest's religious history.

Just opening the bin is a reminder to the kids that this is their holiday, too, that they construct and help shape our seder, alongside the adults and our haggadahs. And so, after the first night's dress rehearsal (Oh, dang - forgot to pull out the charoset. Hummph. Oh, hey, hon? Didn't we get romaine for folks who don't want the horseradish root? Um. Just a sec. Okay, so who is helping the Man wash his hands? Because I'm not playing to the lord of the house bit here. Hey, you kids! C'mere.), everyone knew their parts and timing. It was the perfect moment for the kids to relax, and hit us with questions.

does God have arms?

what do they look like?

what if Elijah doesn't come?

were the ten plagues like last chances for the Egyptians? Like the warnings you give me when I chew with my mouth open?

why did God put a plague on the first born, and not the second born?

The SIL's husband, splendid human being that he is, got hit with the first - and possibly the second of the questions. Head in the refrigerator (where on earth is that romaine?), I perked up, but he got there first. Well, one way to think about it is that we're all God's arms, and we can do good in this world. In the kitchen, I smiled. I had used more or less that answer, happily unoriginal, the year before - for question #3's earlier incarnation. It's a good answer, focussing the practical child on their realities and choices.

We walked away from the sedarim thinking about chazakas: there is a tradition that, having done something three times the same way, it should continue to be done so. I considered the joys and pleasures of our seder, I delighted in how our seder was growing, and I treasured the mingling of our families in this endeavor. Despite the religious differences or because of the religious differences and how they just didn't seem to matter. The respect and love that I saw, and the bonds that grow and tighten during this shared experiment - all of these deserve the chazaka that we have shaped, and the continuation of the pattern.

So, next year when the voice in the parking lot pipes up, mid-prePesach scramble, maybe the memory of our sedarim will shut it up. Or not.

Spiced Indian potatoes and Tomato Sorta-Kasundi Sauce
(a.k.a, When the Mama Gets Bored Potatoes and Sauce)

The Taters
5 potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch cubes. Steam for 5 minutes/zap in microwave, or if you can't be bothered pre-steaming, cut smaller. I cut smaller.
3 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 Tb ground cumin
1/2 tsp curry powder
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp pink peppercorns (no, really - they're citrusy and lovely, but you could use black in a pinch - just use fewer)
4 thin slices of fresh ginger root

Heat oil and add spices and ginger. When the seeds start to pop, you can add everything else. Saute on medium, stirring often to keep the potatoes from sticking. And, if you do not have my snazzy super-duper nonstick wok from IKEA (or the equivalent, which I'm generously prepared to admit may exist elsewhere), then you might need more oil to keep the potatoes from sticking. Consider the specifics of your cooking reality, and respond accordingly.

The Sauce
3 Tb olive oil
1 tsp pink peppercorns (or, if you have them, 1 tsp mustard seeds)
2 tsp ground tumeric (but Mom doesn't like tumeric, the SIL's eldest informed me. Valiantly, I declined to glare - or laugh. Mom did, in the end, like tumeric. In this sauce, at any rate.)
1 Tb ground cumin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
4 Tb brown sugar
1 great big can (28 oz) of diced tomatoes

Toss the spices and oil into the saucepan, and let heat until the spices pop a bit, or until they are fragrant. Then chuck everything else in, stir gently but firmly for a minute. Simmer for about 20 minutes, lose patience and serve.

Note the first: I served this with a finely chopped salad of cucumber, fennel and olives. I suspect it would be splendid with raita (or, failing that, a thin and somewhat sour yogurt like leben). The SIL suggested poaching chicken breast chunks in the tomato sauce, and I'd add tofu or fish. Like many Indian meals served at our home, we like to have a bunch of small dishes and mix flavors, as the Eldest is wont to say. Other offerings that would pair well are Indian-style spinach, a mint chutney, a jasmine rice and any number of nut-containing/Imperfect unfriendlies. Go forth and mix them flavors, folks. Because sometimes Mom does, in fact, like tumeric. Who knew?
Note the second: keep in mind that the Imperfects eat kitniyot. Some folks do not eat, for example, cumin or fennel seeds on Passover. See here for more. (Editor's note: thanks to an alert reader for pointing out that "the humra is to not eat them since you're worried some actual hametz might be mixed in, or at the least to check them to try to make sure. Whether or not you're Ashkenazi is not relevant in this context." Had I carefully re-read my own link, I would have noticed that. D'oh.)


jgfellow said...

Don't tell Chemdah about the glitter...

mama o' the matrices said...