Friday, April 17, 2009

How Cheap Plastic Saved Pesach

Let Trofie Wife first start by saying that I don't invite strange events into our lives just so we'll have something to write about; they just happen. With this in mind, I now bring you the tale of Passover in Arenzano, 5769...

The day began easily enough with Martello and I attempting to say the Birkat Hachama (Blessing of the Sun) as that superstar hid behind the clouds and Martello ran out the door to make the bus. I made another attempt (this time with feeling) on the balcony after he left, though I did struggle with the whole logic of the act (I was reading a book on string theory at the time; it's hard to transcend astronomy and cosmology with rabbinic "calculations," but I'm sure the large outdoor gatherings of people reciting the prayer together and then noshing on bagels were very nice. I also wonder if there's a special prize for actually being 28 when something that only happens every 28 years occurs; if so, please send two to our apartment in Arenzano, grazie).

I headed to the grocery store (saying "ciao" along the way to the goats and one of the neighborhood peacocks who was making a run for it out of the park and heading towards centro) for the final few items that would complete our seder plate. I read online that vegetarians substitute a roasted beet for the shank bone (there are a number of reasons as to why, some relating to an obscure Talmudic tract, others to Holocaust lore), so we went with that. Martello was desperate for me to find some horseradish (there was no Gold's in Milano). I had no luck, but grabbed the closest thing, an entire carton of bitter radishes (which, according to the producing town's Web site, are quite nutritious!).

Bitter radishes

I have to say that composing your own seder plate certainly makes one feel like a real adult. Especially the part where you have to woman up and roast an egg (mine turned out especially deformed as I pretty much threw it into the boiling water, none too pleased that I was going to have to handle and then stare at a smelly, hard-boiled and then roasted egg for two days).

Make-shift seder plate: note haroset out of a jar to the left (way too sweet), roasted beet in foil, roasted egg with concealed oozed yoke (due to cracking), and bitter radishes

Weird French matzah resembling a doily. The orange and wine flavor was good, especially when toasted.

So, my roasting progressed with the afternoon, moving from beets, to an egg, to potatoes. I noted that it was a little strange that the oven flame was flickering, but I was able to turn it back up, so I thought little of it.

After successfully having purchased fresh fish from the market, I was excited to make my first ever packet meal, a delightful fish wrap with a potato base topped with chunks of cod, lemons, olives, garlic, and parsley. We didn't have any kitchen string, so I substituted unwaxed dental floss; I'm sure my ultra-hip dentist would be proud to see her freebies being used in this manner. Dessert was going to be a Lidia Bastianich flourless mini-cake recipe clipped from New York magazine; she used almond flour, but I planned to swap it for chestnut flour (which is a Piedmontese speciality).

Fish and floss.

Wrapped fish packet

With the fish packets made, the dessert ingredients all lined up, and Martello 30 minutes away from departure, I turned on the gas and tried to light the burner, but it was a no go. I tried several more times, from every possible angle, but it was futile; it appeared as though our gas tank was empty (there's no gauge, so you can't definitively tell). I nearly had a breakdown, after having devoted such a considerable amount of time to making a lovely meal (I had also just mixed the butter and sugar for dessert). I couldn't believe that all was lost! I thought about other options, but wasn't sure how to make it work. When Martello arrived home, he stopped me from destroying the kitchen/rocking silently in the corner, and we then reached the conclusion that we would attempt to cook our gourmet meal in the toaster oven (yes, the infamous 10 euro toaster oven purchased at the grocery store). I was nervous about embarking on this course of events due to all the parchment paper, but we did one set of two and then the rest of the packets, and the fish cooked through perfectly. We also baked the mini flourless cakes in that manner. Passover was saved! (Martello noted that it was more like a Chanukah rather than a Passover miracle.)

Fish packets in toaster oven

Perfectly cooked fish

Chestnut cupcake

We read from a reproduced (originally wood-cut) haggadah that Martello had purchased in the Jewish Museum in Venice. It was a bit awkward to follow, and we only had one, but we managed to cobble together a decent enough seder over the two nights (the gas would not arrive until Saturday morning as I believed that the stove had come back to life on Thursday after I was able to brew one espresso pot (it psyched me out) and by the time I got to the store on Friday morning, it was too late for afternoon delivery). The moral of the story is to always respect your toaster oven and give it more to do than merely toast bread. It's really very versatile and likes the challenge (perhaps the same thing can be said for God...).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

No comments: