Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I throw kick ass seder

All Senegal is celebrating this week. Between the prophet (Muhammed) 's birthday on Monday, and the messiah (Jesus) 's resurrection on Sunday, it would be easy to overlook the third people of the book. But not if you're hanging out with me. I may not know any other Jewish people here, and I may not be cool enough to get invited to the Israeli embassy (or rather, I may have waited too long to call and they didn't have any space left), but that is not going to stop this Jewish girl from commemorating the Exodus. We were slaves, yo, and now we're free, and in my world, that means one thing: dinner party.

A brief explanation for those who are unfamiliar: Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays. Unlike the other very important holidays, however, the main observance is not in synogogue. Instead, families gather for a ritual meal and retelling of the biblical story of exodus (think Charlton Heston and The Ten Commandments).

This is only the second time in my life that I haven't been home for Passover, and I may not be the most observant Jew in the whole world, but I needed to have a seder.

Y'all. I have never hosted a dinner party in my life.

Okay, that's not really true. In college, my roommates and I used to have people over for dinner all the time. But in a quasi-apartment-dorm kitchen, there's not a lot of pressure. Plus, we used to cook together. Which actually had a tendency to cause more problems than it solved, but still. I've never cooked an important or a fancy meal. My sister is the master chef of our family, and has been cooking all our family meals (Thanksgiving, Passover, and everything in between) since she was in high school. Which left me free to specialize in what I really loved: dessert.

So the prospect of feeding the nearly 10 friends that I invited (to my friend's apartment, since I don't have a kitchen or dining room) was slightly terrifying.

I planned a fairly simple menu, conveniently leaving out or changing the traditional foods that i didn't like. Such as: in my family, Charoset—which symbolizes the mortar the Slave-Jews used in Egypt—is made with apples, walnuts, raisins, and wine. I think. I never eat more than the tiniest taste, since I think both walnuts and raisins are gross. Since all the other recipes I found called for things I didn't think I could find here (candied ginger? pistacios? err...) I figured I'd improvise. So my charoset had apples, dried apricots, orange, and a little wine. It looked nothing like mortar, but it was delicious.

Of course, not everything turned out like I thought it would. But the secret to a good plan is to be flexible. So they don't sell meat for pot roast in Senegal (the butcher looked at me like I was crazy). Roast chicken! And so what if everyone you've invited suddenly wants to invite more of their friends? Three chickens it is.

In the end, I fed 15 people, including four people I'd never met before, and one I still haven't met (he shook my hand and thanked me very sincerely when he left). There was enough food, but not a scrap extra, which is a shame, because I wanted to bring some home for Awa and Suzanne, who were working and couldn't come.

And y'all, it was GOOD. I don't even like roast chicken, but this was some tasty roast chicken. I also served salad, roasted potatoes, zucchini, all the ritual foods, and fruit for dessert. My friends brought the wine and the fruit, and Lena made an additional vegetable side dish. But I cooked for 5 hours. (Can you tell how proud I am? TH------IS proud.)

Once the food was on the table, I had to explain what it all meant (in English and in French), which people didn't find nearly as boring as I'd feared. I even asked (and answered) the Four Questions. (That's only funny if you're in my family, but it's late and I don't feel like explaining.)

Anyway. I felt the need to share.

Next year in Dakar.


Anonymous Dolores said...

God, I miss living with you. Seder sounds delicious. Happy Passover!

11:17 PM  
Anonymous katherine said...

that sounds completely wonderful. I got to host my first Thanksgiving this year and it was so awesome! Your experience sounds even more independent and challenging and therefore even more awesome. You should be proud of yourself! It's also so great that you kept up this tradition rather than just abandoning it for a year which is the easy thing to do.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Ziesen Pesach!

9:00 AM  
Blogger jeanne said...

So impressed!! i don't think I even KNOW 10 people I could invite to dinner, and I've lived here for eight years!

Here's a link for your readers: A Brief Guide to the Passover Seder Service

Well done!

12:05 PM  
Blogger Rae said...

Very cool! Congrats on a successful dinner party. I'm glad you're enjoying life in Africa so much!

8:51 AM  
Blogger a.maria said...

nicely done! i love cooking for parties!!! i almost never cook for myself... but get a group of 10-20 people, and i'm your woman!

its GOOOOOOOOD times! glad to hear it all went so well!

3:57 PM  
Blogger Dori said...

That was very moving. If only everyone could be so open-minded as your friends, the world would be in a much better place.

Yesterday at the local coffee shop some evangelist trying to convert me told him I was going to hell. I told him to go to hell.

2:09 PM  

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