Thursday, April 27, 2006

my big fat Jewish seder

Yeah, yeah, I know...I'm posting this way after the fact, but I've been so sick/busy since I got back from New Jersey that I just haven't had time. Here's a recap of the highlights (and, in some cases, the lowlights).

We went to the Natural History Museum in New York City, where G's nephew D was presenting an ecological lesson with his classmates. After the presentation, we met up with G's sister A and brother-in-law J, as well as D and Nephew #2, I. (I. gave me a hug when he saw me, which touched me immensely.) We walked around the museum, looking at giant sloth skeletons and T. Rex bones, and then we went to Central Park to soak up the sun. We had dinner at an Italian joint called Foccaccio's, and then we walked to Magnolia Bakery.

Now, as you may or may not recall, my Magnolia Bakery aspirations were thwarted last December when we found the storefront shuttered and a sign saying they were closed for the week. I've wanted to try their famous cupcakes ever since I read about them in USA Today, and now I was finally (probably) going to get my chance!

And lo! Joy! Were those lights in the windows, was there a line out the door, was there a cloud of delicious sugary goodness that gathered me up and floated me up the steps like a cartoon hobo to a windowsill pie?



Finally, YES!

I selected a pink cupcake and, of course, a red velvet one. We paid for our selections and stepped outside, since there was nowhere to sit inside the bakery. The lads sat down on the steps of the (closed) Bond No. 9 store, and I crouched down beside them.

With trembling fingers, I divested the pink cupcake of its wax paper negligee. I took a big bite and...


The frosting was way too sweet (and for ME to say that...), and the cake itself was dry and crumbly, more like a corn muffin than a cupcake.

When we got back to the house after the long slow trek through the Holland Tunnel and back to Joisey, though, I ate the red velvet one, and it was considerably better than its predecessor. The icing was still far too sweet, and there was enough of it to cover a small baby's head with an inch-thick layer of creamy goodness, but once I'd scraped off half of it, the cupcake was delicious.

Seder #1 was spent at G's parents' house. (Apparently, the Jewish powers that be can't decide which day is actually Passover, so they celebrate it twice.) We all sat down at the dining room table and received booklets so we could read along as Padre did the honors.

First, we received matzohs, which are basically really dry and flat saltines. They represent the bread which didn't have time to rise before the Jews fled Egypt, and really observant Jews don't eat any leavened bread for (I think) a week. Personally, I don't think their ancestors would mind if they had a nice Twinkie or a good Wonder Bread sandwich, but I'm a gentile and have no say.

Next, Padre held up the roasted shankbone, which commemorates the Pascal lamb, and a roasted egg, which beginnings? Ovo-tolerance? I forget exactly.

We each received a piece of cucumber (karpas) dipped in salt water that represents the tears of the Jewish slaves. G smirked as he watched me eat it, and then he patted my leg and whispered "Who's a good girl?" as I glared at him.

Then came the charoses, a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, and wine that was actually quite tasty. We had to mix moror (horseradish) into it, but I pussed out and just put a little dab on the top. It's another symbol of the bitterness of slavery; the charoses (which, by the way, sounds a hell of a lot like cirrhosis, only with a really guttural "h" at the beginning) represents the mortar the slaves had to use.

And there was also ritual handwashing and letting Elijah (the prophet, not Wood) in through the front door and splashing wine onto our plates as we recited the names of the plagues. We also sang a song called "Chad Gadyo", or "One Kid", about a kid that gets eaten by a cat who gets bitten by a dog who gets beaten by a staff, etc. etc. Very festive.

Oh, the food! Yes, the food was damn good. There was brisket and chicken and tons of vegetables and Manischewitz blackberry wine and cheesecake. I shall gladly sit through just about any religious ceremony that ends with cheesecake.

And there was klezmer music, but I'm trying to forget about that.

Seder lasted long into the night, and once G's parents' friends left, we all retired to our respective rooms.

"Oh, I meant to tell you," I said to G as I changed into my nightie. "Did I tell you about that anime I saw with a Jewish character?"

"What? Really?"

"Yeah! It was kind of cool. It was about a Jewish Japanese schoolgirl [here G's eyebrow quirked in that way it does when he knows I'm about to pull his leg really freakin' hard] who turns into a superhero and fights evil! She is the one called Seder Moon!"

G got under the covers, sighed heavily, and turned his back to me.

Seder #2: Electric Boogaloo meant more brisket and bitter herbs, this time at Uncle R and Aunt E’s in Philadelphia.

I came downstairs after blow drying my hair to find G in a glum mood. “Those kids are coming,” he said moodily.


G had told me horrible things about his cousin M’s kids---hereafter referred to as Beavis and Butt-Head---and I was scared shitless of them.

I must have looked pale, because G took my hand and said “You’ve got nothing to worry about, m’dear…well, not much to worry about, anyway. They usually leave women alone, and J [the one person they actually seem to fear] has promised to keep an eye on them and run interference if necessary.”

When we got to Uncle R and Aunt E's house, introductions were made, and then a group of us (not including Beavis and Butt-Head, fortunately) went to the Tyler Arboretum, which had some truly gorgeous trees, including an enormous magnolia in full bloom. We took a 3-mile Bataan-ical death march (pun courtesy of G) up a steep hill, and I began to reconsider my dream of climbing Mt. Fuji someday.

When we got back to the house, the seder was about to begin. I excused myself to wash my hands, and when I returned to the dining room, Aunt E seated G and me ACROSS FROM BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD.

And here I thought she liked us.

Fortunately, although they were loud and obnoxious, they weren't actually mean. This left me free to relax and enjoy the food and yet another rousing rendition of "Chad Gadyo".

By the time we’d said goodbye to everyone and climbed into Padre’s car for the ride home, I was beginning to feel rocky. I chalked it up to too much food and tried to concentrate on the conversation instead.

But on Friday morning, I woke up feeling like someone had packed my head with cotton and my throat with broken glass and needles.

“G…” I moaned piteously. “G, I’m sick.”

I suppose it was inevitable, for A had been sick earlier in the week, which she attributed to a nasty bug that D had brought home from school.


G valiantly roused himself from the bed and went downstairs to get me a glass of water and a couple of Dayquil. When he returned, he also put a souvenir Liberty Bell on the bedside table. “Ring this if you need anything,” he said.

“’Kay,” I mumbled, tossing the Dayquil down my gullet and pulling the covers over my head.

I finally dragged myself out of bed a little after 1, showered, and stumbled downstairs. “Oh, you poor thing,” Madre clucked. “Let me get you some chicken soup.”

“You’re already on the road to recovery!” G said as she put a steaming bowl of soup and a mug of cinnamon tea in front of me. “Actual chicken soup served by an actual Jewish mother.”

“It’s Progresso,” Madre said.

The mere act of eating wore me out, so I dragged myself back upstairs and flung myself into bed. I alternated reading with sleeping, and every few hours, I would drag myself out of bed to go downstairs for more water and feeble stabs at conversation.

I felt a little better on Saturday, but to be on the safe side, we stuck around the homefront.

And on, Sunday, it was time to go home.

I woke up utterly miserable (so much for feeling a little better!) and barely able to talk. We packed, had delicious homemade pancakes for breakfast, and said our sad goodbyes.

We got to the airport about three hours early, which was a good thing because we went through the wrong security line and had to turn around, find the correct terminal, and go through that friggin’ security line. After securing seats in the terminal, I went to the gift shop and bought a bottle of water and $25 worth of magazines.

The flight was filled with several babies, one of whom was crying at all times. Our pilot got his license through the John Denver Quick-E-Fly Correspondence School. The food was…well, nonexistent aside from a small snack pack filled with dried fruit and crackers. But we tried to occupy ourselves as best we could; sleep wasn’t an option thanks to the squallers, but I flipped through my magazines and we worked on a cryptic crossword together. (Sample clue: “Effects of a pale piranha swimming around a river.” Answer: Paraphernalia. Yeah, see why we have to do these things as a team?)

When we got to LAX, we made our way to the curb where the Van Nuys flyaway bus was supposed to pick us up. We only had to wait for five minutes, and as we settled into our seats, G said, “Wow, that was surprisingly easy.”

Famous last words.

A gorgeous redhead got on the bus and sat down in one of the first seats. I took an instant dislike to her not just because she was so beautiful, but because she had a pissy look on her face as though she’d just smelled something very bad.

“Damn, she’s hot,” I whispered to G.


“Are you being sarcastic?”

“She’s okay, but I wouldn’t say she’s hot.”

(Sometimes I don’t get his taste. A couple of weeks ago, I held up TV Guide and said, “Mariska Hargitay is so pretty she puts her mother [Jayne Mansfield] to shame,” and G said, “You really think she’s pretty?”)

Anyway, so we were sitting there waiting for the driver to finish putting the luggage in the compartments below the bus, and then we were rocked forward as something slammed into the back of the bus.

“Oh my god, we just got rear-ended!” I gasped.

The driver got on the bus, crying hysterically. She grabbed her cell phone and jumped back off the bus, walking right into traffic.

“What the…where is she going?” someone asked.

“I guess to flag down an airport cop,” someone else said.

Eventually, she returned and sat down in her seat, shaking and crying. The redhead got up, knelt down beside her, and said in a low soothing voice, “Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not okay, I was in the luggage compartment when he hit me and my back is hurting real bad!”

“I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do for you?”

I started to feel bad about my initial impression of the redhead.

“No, they’re gonna send another bus for you guys, I can’t drive. I’m hurt so bad!”

A young man got on the bus and said, “I’m so sorry about that, man, I don’t know what happened. That was totally my fault. Here’s my driver’s license and my insurance card. I have [company I work for].”

I groaned, and G squeezed my hand. “Ten to one I wind up working this claim,” I whispered.

Finally, another bus came to pick us up, and after we had been transferred, the new driver said, “Okay, folks, I just have to go to the other stops and then we’ll get you home.”

“Our luggage!” someone said. “It’s still on the other bus!”

The new driver groaned. “Man, gonna be a long night. Okay, hold on and I’ll get the luggage.”

“Why don’t we help you?” the redhead said. “It will go a lot faster that way!”

So she and five other people (G and I not among them; I was sick and he was starting to get sick by this point) hopped off and soon enough, all the luggage was transferred and the passengers settled back in their seats. “Thanks for helping, guys,” the redhead said, and I think I fell in love with her a little at that moment.

And finally, thankfully, we were on our way home.