Making holiday memories
Canadian Jewish News April 2008
by Judy Bart Kancigor
Happy New Year! No, I haven't forgotten how to read a calendar (and can still find my way home and hardly ever drool on my sweater.) For Jews preparing for Passover (beginning Saturday evening, April 19) the spring holiday is another way to mark the beginning of the Jewish year.
While Rosh Hashanah, literally translated “head of the year,” is the spiritual new year, Nissan, the month of Passover, is sometimes considered the first month, because it denotes the beginning of our liberation from slavery and the exodus of our ancestors from Egypt.
And just in time for Passover, the culinary crescendo of the year for Jewish cooks, comes the long-awaited “Passover by Design” (Artscroll) from Susie Fishbein, with over 130 Passover-adjusted recipes, plus 30 brand-new ones, and the leap-off-the-page, glorious photos and clever décor ideas we have come to expect from this wildly popular author of the Kosher by Design series.
“Passover by Design” contains many of the recipes we love in Fishbein’s previous books, conveniently reformulated for the holiday, plus some enticing additions, including Teriyaki Chicken Satés, Beef Roulade on Creamy Parsnips, Sliced Beef with Shiitakes and Cherry Brandy Sauce, Steamed Sea Bass in Savoy Cabbage, Cranberry Chicken, Quinoa Timbales with Grapefruit Vinaigrette and Chocolate Chip Cheesecake.
Celebrating Passover with her large, lively family brings back vivid memories, said Fishbein by phone from her home in New Jersey. “It was just a frenzy, people of all ages celebrating together. The women tended to live into their nineties. That was always so beautiful, so many generations sitting at the table. There were so many people, so much to do. It was just a really happy, busy time.”
Fishbein was raised in an orthodox family, so the Jewish holidays were “a very big deal,” she said. “My father's sister and my mother are best friends. We always spent Pesach at her house in Queens or at my house in Oceanside (Long Island). Her family would pull up, open up the trunk, and there would be this stack of aluminum foil tins, a sea of aluminum foil.”
Everyone would join in the preparations. “My grandma would be standing there flipping out chremslach, because ten minutes shouldn't go by without her feeding us something,” she recalled. “The child in the least favor at the moment would be sent outside to scrape the maror. Someone at the table would be chopping apples or cracking walnuts for the haroset. “
Fishbein honors these memories and traditions, what she calls the “organized chaos” of her family’s celebrations. “That is the beautiful thing about making holidays at home – they become precious memories etched on us and our children.”
Yet preparing a seder, not to mention meals for the rest of the Passover week, may be time-consuming and overwhelming. Fishbein has eliminated much of the work by doing all the food substitutions for us, “giving you more time to focus on what you love about preparing for Passover,” she said, “making delicious foods that bring family and friends together.”
The dazzling photos by world-class photographer John Uher inspire rather than intimidate. These are very showy menus, but everything in the book is doable. “The recipes and serving ideas require a minimum of fuss to achieve the maximum esthetic impact," she said.
"I don't aim for the level of chef. I'm not a chef myself. No one I know cooks like a chef. I'm aiming for the person who cooks on an everyday basis, every holiday basis, people who want things to look elegant and different, but don't want to spend seven hours in the kitchen."
Routinely dubbed the Jewish Martha Stewart, Fishbein squirms at the comparison. “I’m flattered, but it’s not really accurate,” she said. “Martha Stewart is all about a lifestyle. If you want beautiful flowers, you plant them and this is how you do it. We’re busy. We have kids. We have jobs. We’re in and out of the kitchen trying to make fabulous meals. I take shortcuts she would never take. I’m about cutting to the chase to accomplish our goals.”
How does Fishbein herself explain the hoopla surrounding her books? Unpretentious despite her success, she observed, “I was at the right place at the right time. The kosher restaurants have been going up in quality, showing people what food can look and taste like. Good kosher ingredients were becoming more available, and the orthodox community was poised for something new.
“I think I hit a nerve in the community. People clearly have had a creative passion in them that was waiting to be unleashed. I’ve unleashed their inner cook.”