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One Seder, Individual

A tangle of tastes, diets and allergies (as if Passover weren't challenge enough)

(...), J.t. Steiny

April 08, 1998|LISA FERNANDEZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's a wonder my mother can put together a Seder at all. It's difficult enough to prepare a kosher meal for 15 to 20. Add relatives with different health concerns and mishegas and you've really got headaches.

We'll take Uncle Len first. He is in his 70s, watches his cholesterol and now really is my uncle because he recently married my Aunt Elaine. Len adores the smell of my mother's tomatoey, garlic-studded brisket, but he refrains from all red meat.

So Mom makes chicken as a second main dish.

But she makes two kinds. One version might be marinated in lemon juice and spices, sauteed in oil and baked with a lightly sprinkled matzo meal top.

And then she makes the Len version. It's plain, maybe roasted. No oil and a little salt. Incidentally, Aunt Elaine has taken to chicken as well, also for health reasons, and she won't eat salt at all.

Len and Elaine aren't the only finicky ones. My cousin Jodi, whom I love very much, is the biggest clean-o-phile I've ever met. She has watched many news shows about dirty chicken stalls and the dangers of salmonella poisoning, and for years she has refused to eat poultry.

That also means no more of my mother's delicious chocolate mousse from a recipe she found in an old Buffalo newspaper several years back. It calls for six raw eggs, and Jodi has convinced everyone in the family to stop eating the gooey dessert.

But lately Jodi has been on a no-red-meat kick too, and I'm wondering if she's going to eat at all this year.

Speaking of Jodi, I must mention her new husband, Jon, who grew up in the South and is going to Jewish conversion classes. The taste of a salted matzo ball swimming in chicken soup is foreign to him, but he has broken new ground recently and has been downing small bites of matzo balls.

But potato kugel? Forget about it! Jon won't try even a nibble of the flat, crisp dish, not even my mother's own simple but tasty recipe baked in a Pyrex dish. It's plain mashed potatoes for him.

And what if you had a relative who couldn't eat anything made with matzo--the mainstay of the entire Passover holiday?

We do.

Cousin Lori.

She's allergic to wheat. So that means no matzo balls, matzo meal stuffing or matzo rolls. During the rest of the year, she can eat rice instead of bread or pasta, but rice is deemed non-kosher for Passover based on certain European-based customs, which we observe. So Lori just sticks to meat and soup, sans matzo balls.

But it's not only food problems that plague our Passover meal.

Lori's daughters, Kate, 6, and Sara, 4, are allergic to flowers. So instead of tulips or roses as centerpieces, my mother had to be creative. She asked my father to make ceramic green frogs, representing one of the 10 plagues that devastated Egypt, to dot the table. Kate and Sara love the clay playthings and don't have to sneeze and wheeze during dinner.

As for me, I love everything about the meal and I devour everything put in front of me. I have a bowl of chicken soup flavored with parsnip, carrots and celery and ask for two helpings of matzo balls. I take a small slice of juicy brisket and a wing of matzo meal chicken. I enjoy a piece of potato kugel--brown on top and soft inside. I also take a spoonful of matzo stuffing--that is, if my brother hasn't eaten the whole bowl.

And as I sit around the table, I wonder who else will marry into the family, develop a new heath problem or view an anti-brisket news documentary, and I think, "Just what will my mother make for Passover next year?"

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