I was raised by the china queen. My mother had more sets of china than I can remember. Many of those now reside inside the two china cabinets in my dining room. I inherited my grandmother’s small mahogany china cabinet, along with the weathered breakfront from my childhood home, which has my name scrawled into the side with a ball point pen (I was four). We now own the floral service for 18 which I only saw every couple of years when my grandmother would unlock her big china cabinet and show me my inheritance; the blue and gold set which my grandmother bought in the 1920’s from a woman whose mother had owned them during the civil war; some Haviland china which I don’t ever remember my mother using because it was just too delicate — the light shines through the cups when you hold them up; and my husband’s grandmother’s white with gold-rimmed Noritake stamped with “Made in occupied Japan,” which she never used and were still in the original box along with the receipt when we inherited them.
Passover Seder is the night when everything comes out of the china cabinet. The beauty of the ceremony of the Seder meal is matched by the beauty of the table. Our family and friends join us as we read from the Haggadah, with just the right balance of solemnity and fun. We eat the strangest combination of foods which we religiously prepare according to our mother’s recipes — recipes which for the most part have not been written down.
This year’s event was spectacular, but not because of the place-settings. It was spectacular in the process:
— My sister, Maralee, came down a day early so that we could cook together. We made the family’s traditional tzimmes topped with potato kugel. It’s an eye-popping mammoth dish which we make year after year but have come to realize that no one particularly cares for it. It’s a bad habit. We think that my dad likes it and that’s why we made it this year. But we’re considering the possibility that he also finds it bland and is just being polite.
— We made horseradish by blending together pieces of raw horseradish root with apple cider vinegar, sugar, canned beets and a pinch of salt. You know you’re alive when you survive this experience. It makes peeling onions feel like a walk in the park.
— My friend Jennie had exquisite center pieces made and dropped them by the house in the afternoon so we could put them on the table in advance. How thoughtful to think to tell the florist that she wanted to be able to see over the tops of them!
— Our friends down the street walked the pot of kosher chicken soup to our house, and the day before they dropped by the extra cooked chicken in case any of our house-guests wanted some kosher chicken salad.
— My cousin Sheri took over the duty of making the fruit platters which were alive with color of berries and melons, and her husband Mike, the gourmet, made chocolate cake so good that I’ve hidden the two extra pieces in the back of the refrigerator. I’m posting this late so that I can get to the cake before my kids read my blog entry.
— Kate was assigned a matzo farfel kugel, had never made one before, and brought a mushroom kugel so delicious that Max had seconds even though he hates mushrooms.
— Leo drove the Weber grill down from Woodstock and made a smoked turkey out back that made the entire neighborhood smell wonderful.
— My new niece Nicole flew here from San Fransisco with her husband, my old nephew Ari, just to come for Seder. Nicole made a recipe from her family, charoset that we’d never had before with dates, figs, apricots, almonds, honey and wine. I think next year we’ll be adding this to our regular line-up and scratching tzimmes from the menu.
Our house was spectacularly alive with 22 friends and family. That’s a lot for a table to live up to, and I think we did alright.