Passover officially began on Monday but since Mr Fantapants and I spent the whole day at the taping of a TV game show on which Mr F may or may not have been a contestant, all we could manage afterwards was home-delivered pizza (obv. we are not very observant about the no-leavened-bread rule chez Fantapants). I did, however, make some matzo balls (aka kneidls) for dinner last night. And they were delicious!
To me, matzo balls are the ultimate comfort food. They are stodgy and a little bit bland, and they float (or if you're stingy with the soup like I am, sit) in a pool of chicken stock (in my case vegetarian 'chicken' stock). My dad makes them using his Aunty Lily's recipe, but I use this much easier vegetarian version. I substitute cinnamon for cayenne, which makes them taste almost as good as Dad's.
Although neither of my parents is religiously inclined*, my sister and I grew up celebrating Easter, Christmas, Passover and Roshashonah (Jewish new year). It was the best of both worlds, particularly since for my family each of these holidays revolved around food. The added bonus of the Jewish holidays was that they often fell on a school night, which usually meant a day off the next day to nurse our overly full tummies.
These days, Passover is probably the only holiday any of us observe with any ceremony. My dad, who has been the main cook in the family since I was about six, makes a huge meal of both traditional (chopped liver, chopped herring, brisket, etc.) and non-traditional ('egg thing' - invented for me as a vego alternative to chopped liver) foods. Mum sets the table with the best tablecloth and silverware, and the crystal wine glasses that are only used at Passover and Christmas because they can't go in the dishwasher.
The traditional Passover sedar (ceremony) is** rather long and involved. There are blessings, prayers and songs. It can be a long wait for dinner. Since few of our family friends are Jewish (and those that are are usually celebrating with their own families), my dad invented his own. It's a short service that each person at the table takes turns in reading (although Dad always has to do the blessings, because they're in Hebrew). It includes the bible story of the first Passover, blessings over the food and wine, the noisy reciting of the plagues***, the youngest chlild at the table asking the four questions, and, finally, some highlights from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which reminds us that there are still people in our world who are enslaved by their circumstances. The we eat. And eat. And eat.
I missed being with my parents and family friends for Passover this year, but making and eating my matzo balls brought me just a tiny bit closer to them.
*and Mum isn't Jewish, so Dad is the only official Jew in the family
** from my recollection of going to more observant friends' houses when I was a tiddler
*** where you dot a drop of 'blood' (red wine) on your plate for each of the plagues of Egypt