Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Passover & Charoset

The Story(teller): Passover & Paxton
My funny friend Paxton dishes about Passover

Paxton is one cool cat.  Her cat is even cool. Seriously, he is nicknamed Thumbs because he has them. And, Thumbs is cool, until you try to touch his thumbs.

Here are some other reasons Paxton is cooler than you are:

-       Hometown: Austin (Second coolest Southern city, after New Orleans — but I may be biased)
-       Attended LSU where she introduced my sister to her husband. And, where Paxton studied abroad in Spain. (She has since toured basically all of Europe)
-       Traveled the Middle East on Birthright.
-       Lived in Honduras for a year and a half before moving to her current residence in Brooklyn, where she teaches and got a Master's Degree at Hunter.
-       Best Laugh Ever.
-       Her parents — her Dad is an Austin musician who owns a well-known music store. My sister and husband find Allen so cool, they had him officiate their wedding.

Paxton at my sister's rehearsal dinner, holding up a sign with her message to the couple.  The photograph was taken by Dear New Orleans.

Paxton’s mother is Southern Baptist from Arkansas.  Her father is an Ashkenazi Jewish Texan by way of Mexico …

Paxton said her paternal grandmother left Poland at the age of three in 1928, when Poland was becoming unsafe for Jews. Her father jokes that people were taking the first boat to anywhere. And, that's how the family got to Mexico.  Other relatives immigrated to Brazil, Argentina and Australia. Though Paxton’s grandmother met her husband (also Jewish from Poland who fled to America) when she was in her early 20s and moved with him to southern Texas, Paxton still has family dispersed throughout the globe. 

She said it was interesting to attend Jewish weddings and celebrations in Mexico and see them through a “Latino lens.”

Paxton grew up celebrating Jewish and Christian holidays and joked that sometimes customs would get confused.  Her favorite Passover ritual is the hunt for the afikoman, where a piece of this bread is hidden in cloth for the children to find.  In her family, the winner receives $5. She said as a kid she wanted to hunt for the afikoman on every Jewish holiday.

One of her favorite Passover memories is when she was about five and her "cool" Aunt Gail offered her the traditional herbs and salt in oil. Apparently, you dip celery in it and only eat just a tiny piece. Paxton, wanting to be polite to her Aunt Gail, that she so admired, ate the entire thing.   When her mother asked where the herbs were she remembers answering something like “I ate the whole thing. It was disgusting. Aren’t you proud?” 

As an adult living in New York, Paxton explained what it’s like to live in a culture that celebrates Passover on a larger scale, and to see children experience (sometimes clumsily) the holiday as she once did. 

Her school in Brooklyn is primarily Latino, but near an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.  She explained that stores carry the strict “Checked Kosher for Passover” supplies, containing unleavened bread.  She said many of the neighborhood residents empty the pantry of all food containing leavened bread. 

She said there was an interesting moment in her classroom when a Hispanic, fourth-grade girl explained that her mother, a maid, brought home a pantry of food from a house she cleaned because the family could not eat products containing leavened bread.  This little girl —though she stumbled over the right, traditional words — thought Passover rocked. Paxton said it was so sweet and funny to see a non-Jewish child share a Passover custom with the class. Once again, seeing Judaism through a different lens.

The Seder Plate: Leah’s Charoset
My stylish friend Leah shares her favorite Seder recipe

“I remember being little and counting the pages up to the part of the Seder where we got to taste the first Charoset,” Leah said about her dish.  “The best way to serve it is with matzah, an unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jews during the week-long Passover holiday!  My favorite is to make little open-faced matzah sandwiches.”

Leah and her adorable fiance Adam, with their even more adorable dog-child Oscar. 

· 1 cup walnuts
· 1 cup raisins
· 1/2 cup orange juice
· 1/4 cup Manischewitz (kosher red wine)
· 1/4 cup honey
· 1 teaspoon lemon zest (grated finely)
· 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· Kosher salt
· 2 crisp apples (roughly chopped or diced small)

Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop.

Meanwhile, combine the raisins and orange juice in a small saucepan; simmer over medium-low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool, then stir in the wine, honey, lemon zest, cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon salt.

In a large bowl, combine the apples and walnuts with the raisin mixture and toss to combine. Cover and let sit for at least 4 hours.

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