A Holiday Dinner

Monday Morning Musings:

I often wonder what I would do to survive, to escape

it’s the story of Passover, after all.

the story of a group of enslaved people who escape

(with the help of a few miracles)

and of people all over the world in the past and present.

My grandparents left a repressive land,

pogroms and restrictions,

coming here where they could prosper

they met and married.

Both sets of grandparents—love matches.

They worked hard through the Great Depression

and WWII

making certain that their children were educated.

Some people don’t want to think about

slavery in this country.

They want to visit historic sites

without a reminder that slave labor kept the homes and farms running.

But we can acknowledge the achievements

and the faults of historic figures.

I listen to Annette Gordon-Reed and

Peter S. Onuf discuss Jefferson’s complicated

moral geography—

people and situations are seldom simple

black or white–

and still the world has slavery,

people forced to work with little sleep or food,

beaten if they disobey,

women kept as sex slaves,

a young woman, now a college student here,

who escaped from the

Boko Haram:

“And I say to one of my friends that I’m going to jump out of the truck. I would rather die and my parents will see my body and bury it than to go with the Boko Haram.”

I wonder if I would have had the courage to jump from a truck and run.

I read Those Who Save Us, a novel by Jenna Blum,

and I wonder—

what I would do in war time to survive?

It’s easy to judge others.

And so on Passover,

I think about slavery and escape,

of generations of people celebrating this story with words and foods,

celebrating in basements,

in wealthy homes,

in concentration camps,

We sit around the table(s)—reading from our homemade “Haggadah,”

going through some of the Seder steps, mixed with family lore,

“the spirit of roast beef.”

We read our parts in our Passover play,

and laugh,

this year, the play includes “Pharaoh Trump,

and rap songs.

We eat the food that I spent days cooking–

chicken soup, vegetable broth, knaidlach made the way my mom taught me

with separated eggs,

no recipe of course,

done by feel,

done with love,

but they are light. No sinkers here!

Matzo balls that float,

and don’t land with a heavy thud in your stomach.

Gefilte fish with horseradish

to clear away those spring allergy symptoms

Oh—that’s not what it symbolizes?

We eat my sister’s charoset,

the mixture of fruit and nuts that symbolizes the mortar or mud used to make the bricks in

the Exodus story.

The meat eaters consume brisket and turkey breast with delight.

Those who don’t eat meat, enjoy the roasted sweet potatoes and salad of spring greens.

Many glasses of wine. No Manischewitz!

For dessert, flourless chocolate cake,


And my daughter’s cheesecake, made with a crust of chocolate almond macaroons.


And coffee meringues with chocolate chips

And lemon-almond macaroons

My daughter, believing she is addressing a lack in my education,

brings Fireball whiskey for me to do my first shot ever-

It’s a group activity—with dancing.


I really do dance in my kitchen.


I realize suddenly that this is the first holiday in years

where all of my siblings

are here together,

and both of my daughters with their spouses.

My mom is still here, too.

I feel love.

I feel content.

OK. I feel a bit tired

by the time it ends.

But happiness, too.

And love.


Recipes for the Flourless Chocolate Cake (to which I add 1 Tbsp. espresso powder and 1 tsp. vanilla, and bake for one hour at 325 degrees) and the recipe for the coffee meringues were in this post from last year. https://merrildsmith.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/a-passover-legacy/

Just Deserts?

The phrase “just deserts,” is used to describe when someone gets what he or she deserves. It is pronounced just desserts. That is, deserts is spelled like a dry, arid region, but pronounced like the tasty treat. Some people would be happy to eat only desserts, so to them, the phrase should probably be “just desserts,” the way it is commonly misspelled. After family meals—and stressful situations—many in my family believe we deserve a dessert, along with a bottle, glass of wine. So perhaps again, the phrase should be “just desserts.” Also, the first word my younger daughter learned to spell, when she was about three years old was dessert. She would ask if she could have a “d-e-s-s-e-r-t” with a big smile on her adorable, often food-streaked face. True story.

Here’s a link if want more information on the phrase “just deserts.” Meanwhile, I’m going to continue with the main point of this post, which is desserts, specifically the desserts we had at my house after our huge Passover meal. Apparently, I thought we were having fifty people at our table, instead of eleven (plus our older daughter and her fiancée SKYPED in for our traditional, hilarious Passover play.)


Passover Chicken Soup

Do you think I made enough chicken soup? And, I made vegetarian broth, too.

On Passover, when we pass over all flour products, it is often difficult to find great desserts. Well, it used to be difficult. When I was a child we only had awful sponge cakes and canned macaroons. This year especially I saw many suitable for Passover desserts–that sounded delicious–but for our big family dinner, we stuck with the two desserts that have been winners for the past couple of years. Because seriously, why wouldn’t we? We also had the traditional stewed dried fruit that my mom made. It is delicious. There is no recipe because the recipe is pretty much, get some dried fruit, or in the case of my almost 92-year-old mother, have someone buy the fruit and bring it to you–then cook it with some water, sugar, and lemon until it’s done. I’ve made it with honey or brown sugar. Actually, I don’t know what she used this time. So never mind. Can you see where my cooking technique comes from?

So I made a flourless chocolate cake and my younger daughter of d-e-s-s-e-r-t fame made a cheesecake with a macaroon crust. Neither dessert is an original recipe, but I’ve adapted them slightly.


Flourless Chocolate Cake

I have to tell you that my niece said this was the best chocolate cake she has ever had, and she’s had a few. . .because we like chocolate cake. Also, this cake is really great with red wine. Really great. Like I want some now great.

Here’s the original recipe below.

****I added some vanilla extract—about a teaspoon, and poured in some brewed coffee because the pot was sitting there while I was whisking. Yes, that’s the way I cook. Um. . .probably a tablespoon or two. I baked the cake at 325 for an hour, and it was done. So you might want to try that. You really do NOT want to overbake this. I haven’t refrigerated it, and it’s still great, but if your house is warm, you will probably want to put it in the refrigerator.****

Chocolate Idiot Cake via DavidLebovitz.com adapted from Ready for Dessert (Ten Speed Press)

Makes one 9-inch cake

  • 10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 7 ounces butter, salted or unsalted, cut into pieces
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust it with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess. If you suspect your springform pan isn’t 100 percent water-tight, wrap the outside with aluminum foil, making sure it goes all the way up to the outer rim.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or microwave), stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and cover the top of the pan snugly with a sheet of foil. Put the springform pan into a larger baking pan, such as a roasting pan, and add enough hot water to the baking pan to come about halfway up to the outside of the cake pan.

5. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it feels just set, like quivering chocolate pudding. If you gently touch the center, your finger should come away clean.

5. Lift the cake pan from the water bath and remove the foil. Let cake cool completely on a cooling rack.

Serve thin wedges of this very rich cake at room temperature, with creme anglaise, ice cream, or whipped cream.

Storage: This Chocolate Idiot Cake can be wrapped and chilled in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.


This is my mother-in-law’s recipe, adapted for Passover. It is a basic cheesecake, but it is my husband’s favorite, and sometimes you just shouldn’t tamper with perfection.

***However. . .I lowered the temperature to 325 and baked the cheesecake in a water bath. After the topping cooks for about 5 minutes, I turned off the heat and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for another 30 minutes. Then I let it cool in the water bath. Slide a knife around the edge, cover, and refrigerate. We also added some fresh lemon juice to the topping.***

Sandy’s Cheesecake

Crust: 1 ¾ graham cracker crumbs

         4 Tbsp. melted butter

Place on bottom of greased spring form pan. (I wrap the bottom of mine in foil.)

Passover Crust: Replace graham cracker crumbs with macaroon crumbs. We used a combination of coconut and almond, and only two tablespoons of butter. (I think.) We used the canned Passover macaroons. If you want to make your own, go for it. We made this after making three batches of knaidlach.

2 8 oz. packages of cream cheese and ½ of another (so 20 ounces total)

4 Eggs

¾ cup Sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. lemon juice

Pour over crust and bake in oven at 350 (or 325, if you’re following my changes) for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and pour on topping :

1 Pint Sour Cream

½ cup sugar

2 Tsp. vanilla

1-2 tsp. lemon juice, optional

Bake at 450 for 5-7 minutes. (Or leave at 325, if following my changes.)

Baking at the reduced temperature and in a water bath seems to eliminate the cracking. However, it is delicious when made either way!

Hope you enjoy these. Thanks for reading.