The 12 Questions… Or Penina Hoffnung deserves a Pesach column of her own
A. My cousin Brian (Friedman, of Cherry Hill, davka) sixteenish, acting real macho about liking spicy horseradish, and then downing a whole jarful at once and turning beet red. What's funny about this now, is that we thought it was so hot back then. Now we eat spicier stuff on tortillas all year long.
Also, the year his mom brought live ducklings for the Afikoman prize.
Q. Will your seder meal this year be traditional, heart-healthy, vegetarian, something else? And what will be served?
A. All of the above, actually, tradition being what's traditional for your family.
The typical menus, over the two days include cream of spring veggies soup, spinach mina, salmon stuffed with sour cream and potatoes in a green sauce, cashew/mushroom stuffed eggplants, lots of salads and dips, quinoa pilaf and a kosher for Passover version of dum aloo, an Indian dish of potatoes in a spicy tomato-yogurt sauce, and a Persion charoset that's made out of dried fruits and pistachios and then rolled into little balls. Q. Your personal vision of the empty chair?
A. Chairs? You sit on chairs at a seder? Who knew? We're on pillows scattered around the living room. Except for the meal, then we move to the table.
Q. Favorite Passover haggadah? Readings? Songs?
A. I have a different favorite every year. It's our minhag to get or make a new haggadah or other Pesach-related item every year. Last year in Israel we got a great comic book version of the haggadah by this great Israeli Orthodox comic artist Shai Charka. It sounds totally irreverent but we learned a lot of Mishna from it.
Q. If you could invite anyone (living or from history), who would it be?
A. Miriam the Prophetess, Mahatma Gandhi, HaRav Kook, Bruriah, Amos Oz, and Avraham Burg. But then if we invited them, we'd probably have to tone down our typical shenanigans. I'd be awkward doing our Beatles tunes if Rav Kook was in the room. Maybe it's better just to stick with our crazy living friends and relatives.
Q. How do you engage your kids at the seder table?
A. I don't find kids a problem to engage, I find the problem's mainly with jaded adults. Why do they come if they're just going to do that "when do we eat?" thing? We serve a lot of appetizers after the karpas section to cut down on the whiny adults.
Q. Is Manischewitz (sweet Concord grape wine) a must or taboo?
A. Feh! Yechsa-fechsa. The new Israeli wines all the way! The renaissance in the wine producing industry in Israel is just amazing, and a lot more than ever is available in the States this year. But hear this: This past year, we were in Cairo and there was problem with the hotel room (no AC in Cairo in August is a pretty big problem- especially when they're spraying DDT outside), so as part of their apology the management gave us a bottle of Egyptian wine. Who knew there even was such a thing? All of us said it at the same time, "We'll have this at the seder!"
Q. How has your seder changed over the years?
A. Everything we do now is basically in response to the "just going through the motions" sedarim of my childhood, the Maxwell House type. Our family is so much more into the whole thing than my family of origin ever was.
Typically we begin our preparation over a month in advance. Pesach is really the highlight of the calendar year for us. It's a really big production, with themes and acts, and every year we do something a little different. Once we rented a cabin in a state park for it. This year there's marionettes on the bill, I mean in the haggadah- one of my kids' idea.
We go so overboard that my husband, (for the record, I fell in love with him when he offered to help prepare for Pesach at my house after our second date) who didn't grow up Jewishly observant, in the last weeks before the Blessed Event is frequently heard muttering,"Please, can't we just do the Maxwell House thing? That would be novel enough for me!"
Q. Creative ideas for brown-bag lunches during Pesach week?
A. Wait, I just got a great one off the internet for this. Stuffed baked potatoes, and lettuce wraps!
Q. Pan-cake style or scrambled matzah-brei?
A. Having said how much I love Pesach, you'll probably find this weird, but I'm not a big matzah fan. I try to eat as little as possible. Which is funny, my dad, who can't stand the ritual part of Pesach at all, can't wait for it to get here so he can buy his year's supply of the stuff.
Q. Matzah ball secret?
A. This is my husband's area, something which he's passed on only to the children and will not reveal to me. "Old family recipe," he says, "for Sicilians only."
Q. Doctored gefilte fish or from scratch?
A. Alaskan halibut and salmon, wild caught only. Need you ask? . Penina Hoffnung heads the Jewish Federation
Department of Education & Continuity.