Guestblogging on “Making a Seder”

I’m making a debut appearance as a guestblogger over on the wonderful Bakerina’s blog with this entry:

I’m not, nor have been, Jewish, but I find the Pesach holiday very meaningful. Pesach is the commemoration of the Exodus story and the creation of the Jewish people, but it can also be a universal story of enslavement and freedom. It has had particular resonance for me as a gay man.

For many years, when I was living in Philadelphia, I was privileged to be a part of the seders made by my friend Barbara and her housemates. After moving to Boston, I eventually decided I needed to create my own tradition if I was going to be able to depend upon having a seder. So last year I made a seder all on my own for the first time. This year I did it again, with a bit more aplomb.

Last night’s menu:

  • Seder standards included two kinds of haroset, one Ashkenazic, one Sephardic, and horseradish cream in addition to prepared horseradish.
  • Gefilte fish
  • Matzoh ball soup
  • Lamb, mushroom, and spinach mina
  • Vegetarian tzimmes
  • Broccoli
  • Macaroons, chocolate, and fruit slices

I don’t follow recipes so much as use them as guideposts. I also don’t measure much, so what follows is really just notes on food.


The Ashkenazic haroset is the familiar (to most Americans who are familiar with it at all) chopped apples, chopped walnuts, honey, cinnamon, and sweet red wine mixture.

The Sephardic haroset I made this year included almonds, dates, dried tart Montmorency cherries, dried apricots, candied ginger, cinnamon, and a dash of sweet red wine all put into the food processor and made into a paste. I served it rolled into little balls.

Gefilte Fish:

No, I didn’t have a carp swimming in my bathtub for a week. I didn’t even buy the standard jars of gefilte fish. I happened across a store that carried little gefilte fish appetizers: small balls about the size of an olive. Perfect for dilettantes!

(I suggest they’re best smothered in horseradish.)

Matzoh Balls:

I just use the Manischewitz mix, but I substitute schmaltz for the vegetable oil called for on the box. I love pulling skin and fat off the chicken pieces, putting them in a little skillet over medium heat, and then watching the savory, clear golden fluid collect. Yum!

I used packaged chicken stock for other preparation, but I wanted to make stock for the soup. Going to the nearest crunchy-granola kind of store, a Whole Oats, I decided it would be smarter to buy a whole fryer than to pick from the limited selection of parts. Not having the world’s sharpest knives, I asked the helpful guy behind the counter to cut it up. After he walked off I thought perhaps I should tell his associate to make sure he didn’t trim anything off and throw it away. When the guy came back he made a comment about having worked at Boston market.

When I got home his comment made more sense. Never was I so glad I was just putting it all into a stockpot! One of the wings was still attached to about a third of a breast; there were no real thigh pieces; there was one bit of boneless, skinless breast meat. Well, live and learn!


A mina is a Sephardic layered casserole made with matzoh for Passover. (Think of lasagne or spanakopita.)

I sauted an onion, a bunch of garlic, and some minced parsely in a dollop of olive oil, then added two pounds of ground lamb. When the lamb still had a few pink spots, I put it all in a big mixing bowl. Then I added a touch more olive oil to the frying pan and dumped in a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen “exotic mushroom mix.” I’d never seen this marvel before. They released a lot of liquid, but it eventually cooked off, leaving tender mushrooms and a bit of wonderful-looking gravy. This, too, went into the mixing bowl, with a bag of frozen spinach that had been thawed and squeezed vigorously. After the lamb/mushroom/spinach mixture had cooled, I mixed in five beaten eggs.

The matzoh gets soaked in chicken broth for a few minutes (I used packaged broth), then layered with the filling in a greased and oiled pan. I brushed olive oil onto the top layer of matzoh, and popped it into a 375 oven to heat through.


My tzimmes was a big sweet potato, a medium white yam, four large carrots, and a couple of handsful of dried apricots, cut into about 3/4 inch dice. Then I added some minced candied ginger, a dash or two of cinnamon, a bit of cayenne pepper, the juice of one orange, a bit of wine, and a bit of water, and into the 375 oven. (It actually went in before I started assembling the mina.)


The macaroons came from cans (coconut, almond, and “chocolate-flavored”) but were delicious; the chocolate was brought as a gift (similarly delicious but not as surprisingly); and the fruit slices weren’t actually fruit–they were those little jellied candies.

The Haggadah:

Not part of the menu, but the texts and instructions read before and after the meal. I adapted a version I found last week at the Velveteen Rabbi. It’s great, especially the Ballad of the Four Sons, sung to the tune of Clementine–perfect for a bunch of goyim.