For the past three years I have been amazingly fortunate to be invited to the house of my good friends, Nancy and Bob, for their Passover Seder. Not being Jewish myself (although there is that story about the Hanukkah plate to disprove this statement), I am always grateful to share in something that I am unfamiliar with. The fact that Nancy has uncompromising standards when it comes to the food ensures that these are meals that I know will be executed to their best versions. I figured that if I was going to try some of these foods that I am unfamiliar with (such as gefilte fish), I knew that Nancy's version would represent the best possible version. And not to give away any spoilers too soon, but Nancy's gefilte fish ROCKS.
Just as the Passover Seder is celebrated two nights here in America, I am going to split this post over two entries. This first post will deal mostly with the table setup, the foods that were on the table before we started the readings from the Haggadah, and just general ambiance. I will explain certain aspects of the table as we get to those photos. Tomorrow's posting will contain lots of food shots as we are actually eating all that wonderful food.
Fortunately, shortly after I arrived at Nancy and Bob's house, the natural lighting from the sun was perfect to start snapping photos. Ready? Here we go!
A shot of the table from each end facing the other:
The book that is resting on every place setting is the Haggadah. It is an instruction guide on how to properly perform the Seder. A Seder is an inclusive ceremony and everybody gets to participate at some point by asking questions, singing along, or reading from the text.
Here is a shot of the gefilte fish (in the middle of the table), the hard-steamed eggs (on the right), and the charoset/charosis (on the left).
Another shot from a different angle of the same items with the addition of the general matzoh for the meal (as opposed to the maztoh under the purple cloth in the first set of shots which is used as part of the ceremony).
A shot of the Haggadah that Nancy uses for her Seder. Note that there is commentary by none other than Elie Wiesel, author of both Night and Dawn, two tremendously important books about the Holocaust. The interesting thing about the Haggadah is that it is read backwards, from right to left, just as the Hebrew language is read.
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the table to be used as general condiments:
Next up the the ritual Seder plate that contains many elements of the ceremony. I don't know if this plate has a specific name, but it has been used at all three Seders I have now attended. From the midnight position moving clockwise we have horseradish root (bitter herb, Maror), roasted lamb shank, charoset/charosis (mortar), parsley, Onion (another bitter herb, Maror), and an egg (symbolizing the cycle of life, I believe).
Next up is a shot of the matzoh that is on the table for general consumption. There is also matzoh at the end of the table where Nancy was sitting that was used specifically for the ceremony portion of the Seder. The general matzoh is used when the feast begins. It is acceptable to eat the general matzoh whenever you wish during the meal portion. I love the way the natural light is shining through the window on this shot.
A close-up of the gefilte fish, carrots, and flat-leaf parsley (for garnish, of course). Nancy makes her gefilte fish from scratch using her mother's recipe. It is a combination of ground whitefish, ground pike, and ground carp (along with ground onions) and is cooked in a homemade fish fumet (that's fish stock for all you non-culinary types :P). In my next post you'll see how it's eaten.
The charosis/charoset is a ground mixture of nuts, honey, apples, wine, and spices that symbolically represents the mortar used to build the Temple. If you've never seen it before, it kind of looks like a liver pate spread, but I can assure you, it's definitely not. It's so delicious. I could make a meal out of charosis spread onto some matzoh.
Last, but certainly not least, is the ceremonial wine. Nancy likes to use Kosher for Passover blackberry wine instead of the concord grape as the ingredient list is much simpler (e.g. blackberries, sugar) and the taste is much better. The blackberry wine is used during the initial ceremony and it has a decent enough taste (although it is very sweet). Once we finish with the main part of the ceremony and start doing some serious eating, other bottles of not-so-Kosher-for-Passover wines made it to the table. This year we had a Malbec and a Rioja.
So there you have it! The table has been set, the guests have all arrived, and we are ready to begin with the wonderful part of this night. I hope that everyone out there who is celebrating Passover has a wonderful Seder and that those of my friends who are abroad right now can hopefully live a little vicariously through my posting. I'm thinking of you!