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Makeshift Passover on Vacation

Friday, April 18, 2014
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No shankbone? No problem.

Since we had planned a spring break trip to the Virginia mountains with another family over Passover, my girlfriend and I decided to put together a "vacation seder." We split some responsibilities – I handled charoset and matzah and she handled Haggadot and wine, for instance. On the way to the mountain house, we stopped to get groceries for the week, including items for our seder menu.

This was the first seder I had ever prepared myself. I have traditionally celebrated the holiday with my parents, and putting together a makeshift seder in a foreign kitchen was not ideal — we couldn’t do brisket or matzah ball soup. But we made the most of it. Here is how it went down:

***

Evaluate vacation house kitchen. Try to figure out how to roast four bags of potatoes, two trays of vegetables and three chickens on one small cookie sheet in one oven. Call resort staff and ask for more kitchen equipment.

Eat three slices of challah bread because it will be days before I can have such chametz.

Break news to families that cooking chickens and special roasted smashed potatoes in one oven is impossible. Families don’t accept this news. Dads brainstorm to cook chicken on the outdoor grill.

Call resort staff and ask for package of tin foil.

Eat Entenmann's doughnut(s) because it will be days before I can have such chametz.

With medjool dates and mission figs brought from Philadelphia, make delicous charoset in the Vitamix that my friend so wisely brought.

Go fishing and shoot some clay pigeons. Realize that I would be in excellent shape if I was in charge of killing the evening's dinner and/or surviving a zombie apocolypse.

Get excited when my 10-year-old son announces he will try and keep Passover with me. Know deep down this will not happen.

Prep chickens. Don't talk about how much butter I use.

Put eggs on to boil.

Evaluate refrigerator contents for appropriate seder plate items. Be thankful that girlfriend leads a healthier lifestyle and brought whole celery stalks with leaves, because I accidentally bought cilantro instead of parsley.

Dig in the garbage for the chicken neck after Googling "seder plate shankbone substitute."

Girlfriend preps the swiss chard, kale and beet she brought from Philly.

Cook beet at same 500 degree temperature as potatoes. Hope for the best.

Make sure the wine tastes good. This takes several tries. 

Admire sparse but wholly legitimate seder plate.

Ignore what I think I heard the dads say about the chicken looking burnt.

With potatoes, beet and asparagus in the oven, start seder. Resist urge to go outside to check the chickens.

Realize we forgot kippot. Discuss using napkins instead. Idea shot down due to silliness. 

Separate two 7-year-old boys for obvious reasons.

Set timer during seder for the sake of the chickens. 

Realize at the moment it is time to light the candles that we forgot candles. Use imagination.

Mediate arguments over who gets to read this part or that part, or who read already or who only read once, or who is the youngest.

Manage to complete abbreviated but wholly legitamate seder, including a rousing "Dayenu" with human beat box.

Look for dish to serve perfectly crispy potatoes. After fruitless search, use bread loaf tin. 

Eat surprisingly moist and flavorful chickens with relish. Give dads (and butter) appropriate props.

Pledge to forever cook beets in tin foil at 500 degrees, because it turned out better than any other time I've made them. 

Make fourth charoset and horseradish sandwich.

Children scatter to look for afikomen. This takes longer than it should. 

Finish wine. Recline. Nailed it.

The next day, make matzo brei. Eat half of it. Offer it to 10-year-old son, who decides he'd rather have cereal. Remind him of promise. He claims desire for Honey Bunches of Oats too powerful to keep promise.

Eat the rest of the matzo brei.

At late lunch, in vacation revelry with my chametz-eating friends, I forget it's Passover and eat three bites of delicious corn bread baked with bacon. Experience potent dose of Jewish guilt until drinking begins.

Climb back on no-chametz wagon. Girlfriend resolves to keep me honest.

***

Was it a pretty seder? No. We served the chicken on a plastic cutting board, covered the matzah with a paper towel and poured Elijah's wine into a pilsner glass. And, I accidentally broke my Passover diet with cornbread. But it was an excellent demonstration of teamwork, improvisation and ingenuity.

My girlfriend and I felt like real balabustas: We created something special and spiritual far from home, without nice serveware, reliable ovens or appropriate Judaica. Next year in my own kitchen it may be prettier, but I'm sure it won't be nearly as much of an adventure.

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