My grandmother’s brownies make everything better
This Shabbat, we are approaching our second Passover in the pandemic. I feel hollowed out. Empty. I miss my family. I want a large rowdy seder. The unfathomable – holiday without family – has become the routine.
I break out an old recipe book, the one my mother gave me at my bridal shower. I look through it, like a photo album of old friends. What can I cook this Shabbat before Passover? What will lift my spirits and prepare me for the holiday – and maybe use up some chametz? Finally, I find a recipe that is like an old friend – my Nana’s brownies.
My first seders were at my Nana and Zayde’s house. Their apartment in New Bedford overflowed with family and friends and bowls of matzo ball soup. There were Maxwell haggadahs and a lace tablecloth that eventually topped my sister’s chupah, and then my own.
As time marched on, the seders moved to my parents’ home in Brookline. They were beautiful affairs with upwards of 40 guests, one long beautiful table filled with Baron Herzog wine, fresh flowers, and generations of family and friends gathered together to share our people’s history, our foundational story of peoplehood. We were also there to eat, feasts my mother cooked for days, the table heavy with brisket, mNana’s stuffed veal, chopped liver from my Zayde’s antique meat grinder, tzimmes, and endless desserts.
Eventually, these seders moved to Cape Cod where my parents retired. There were new things, homegrown pickles and frog pinatas and a pajama seder the second night once the grandkids began to outnumber the adults. Still, there was the long table, the generations of family and friends gathering together, the same story and the same menu. Time could only change so much.
I’ve been thinking a lot about time. In the pandemic, the days can feel endless and without reprieve. Beyond our individual disinfectant-soaked bubbles, time is marching on. We have missed a whole Jewish year of time together. The pandemic has underscored for me that the most powerful and limited resource in my life is time with the people I love.
As I cook my grandmother’s brownies, it’s like she is still with me. I feel less alone in my kitchen. I can still see her there, standing in her kitchen, rushing out to greet us with a tray of still-warm brownies. Always cut perfectly with a ruler and served from pretty pastel muffin cups. I remember why I named my daughter after her and all she taught me about making a warm, loving home. The sight of warm brownies on a white tablecloth by the Shabbat candles is worth passing down.
I wonder what she would tell me about surviving hard times. of when the grocery store they owned was washed away in a hurricane. Three times they lost everything. What did you do? How did you cope? I would ask her. She would wave her hand and say, we rebuilt, Carly. We got up the next day and we rebuilt it.
I think about all we’ve lost this year. We’ll rebuild it all, I whisper to myself, as the smell of chocolate fills my house.