My Nana’s kitchen had wallpaper on the ceiling. You would look up and see this crisp delft blue pattern, not unlike a plate or mug she might have owned. There were two tables, one for the family behind the open shelf, and the other for her and my grandfather. It is this table that I miss most. It always had a fresh white lace tablecloth and two chairs, also in delft blue. My grandfather sat facing the radio, Nana sat right in front of the refrigerator, guarding the way its contents would be invariably misused by the uninitiated. The refrigerator contained a single magnet: “I am always looking at my middle aged children for signs of improvement.” I had so many meals in that kitchen, noodle kugel with corn flakes, cabbage soup with flanken, eggs with mashed potatoes and sour cream. I don’t really remember the taste of the food as much as the anxiety around serving it.
Passover, the weeklong holiday that celebrates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt was simpler back in the day. There was just one recipe for charoset, the mixture that symbolized the mortar the Israelites used to make bricks for the pyramids. That recipe had apples and walnuts — not dates, pistachios and ginger. There was just one decorative goblet on the table for the prophet Elijah. No Miriam’s Cup. Moses’ sister was left out. We’d buy a big bottle of Manischiewitz Concord Grape wine and didn’t worry if it paired well with roast chicken. No one knew that delicious kosher-for-Passover Israeli Chardonnay even existed.
The ever-evolving, always exquisite Eleven Madison Park is the best restaurant in the entire world, according to World’s 50 Best Restaurants, a controversial list put out annually by British company William Reed Business Media.
Although it stands as a symbolic reminder of the mortar used by the Jewish slaves who built the pyramids in Egypt, the fragrant spread called charoset deserves more than a once-a-year ritual appearance at the Passover Seder table.