This past weekend was a good long string of “food events,” which coincided with (and was inspired in part by) a visit from Christine and Charles, who are dear, dear friends. As they were driving from Pittsburgh, I made sure to have food on hand for them when they arrived. I always appreciate having a good meal after a long road trip, so I try to extend the courtesy to my loved ones. As the winter is still very much here in Chicago, I decided to make something on the heartier side. I also wanted to make something familiar to me so that I would not run the risk of a bad meal. I decided on Braised Lamb Shanks with Pappardelle Pasta, which is something that I usually only make for company. Aaron and I normally don’t eat pasta, so it is always a treat to have an excuse to whip up a big bowl of it. Christine and Chuck both seemed pleased. Paired with a small green salad dressed with lemon and olive oil, you have a really satisfying meal.
Though not a single one of us is Jewish, I decided that we needed to hold a seder in the Taupe Tower (our affectionate name for the building in which we live) for Passover this year. You see, we and many others have been blessed in having our friend Trina host a seder in her home for several years; each celebration was one that made the entire party feel welcome, loved, and most importantly, well-fed. I could not resist keeping the tradition alive in Chicago. Though we miss Trina greatly since we moved from Jamaica Plain, we were happy to feel that Illinois and Massachusetts were not so far away from one another, at least for an evening.
The foods we enjoyed that evening were mostly traditional, with a few exceptions. We featured Matzo(h) Ball Soup, Beef Brisket with Garlic and Thyme, Meggie’s Sweet Noodle Kugel, Ruby Port Fruit Compote, simple steamed asparagus, and the non-dairy Orange Flan that is featured in the Passover menu in Gourmet this year. Christine also insisted that we have store-bought Gefilte Fish, which was quite delightful, in spite of appearances and general disdain from Charles and Aaron.
Of course, a seder is a meal riddled with symbols and traditions, which seem to vary from home to home. For me, this is a meal that enters the calendar of celebrations because it is built around a table, a story, and a family. My family rarely sat at the dinner table for a full meal on regular days, but holidays were different. No matter what, we managed to sit down and eat together for big occasions, which is something that I want to keep alive. If I have to appropriate a culture in order to add another reason to have a big, comforting meal with my family (and not my just my FOO*), then so be it. It just so happens that I very much enjoy everything that goes with it – singing, symbolism, wine – and I have had such a good coach in hosting that I can’t help but want to make her proud. Thank you again, HRH. =)
*FOO is a term I steal from Meggie, my “family of origin.”I love my parents, but my family extends beyond them; always has.
With the hubbub of preparing for our seder, we kind of forgot that Easter fell on the following Sunday. Because Christine and Charles were heading off to a romantic hotel to spend their last evening in Chicago, we decided that a brunch would be in order. We ran our thoughts by one another and decided that we must have the traditional ham, but thereafter, we were a bit stuck for ideas. A strata is always my go-to big item for breakfast or brunch, since it can (and should) be made the night before. However, we decided against any cooking/prep work on Saturday so that we could take advantage of the sun and the Chicago sights; it was a delightful decision and a glorious day! Sunday brunch was to be on the fly, then. We had lots of leftover matzo, a good number of eggs, and two substantial leftover steaks that we took home from dinner on Saturday. I decided to get a little creative and make a twisted version of Matzo Brei, which is one of my favorite uses for leftover matzo. The recipe I have used in the past calls for red peppers and onions, so I thought I should take it a little further and make Pepper Steak Matzoh Brei, which turned out pretty well. In addition to these items, Aaron made Martha’s Pecan-Apricot Torte (from the Baking Handbook), and I made some Black Pepper Roast Potatoes. There was also a good half of Meggie’s enormous pan of kugel left, so we offered that, as well. Smack down some good hot coffee, Bloody Marys, and Mimosas, and we were in business. I don’t think anyone left hungry.