Monday, March 25, 2013

A Holiday of Schmaltz and Love

Josh made chopped liver yesterday. I will admit that this very fact made me a little crazy, on the day before Passover when I had to clean and change over the kitchen: a dastardly chore perhaps only understood by other Passover-observers for its full-on over-the-top-ness. By the time Josh was able to start cooking in our Passover-ready kitchen, I had spent several hours scrubbing, boiling, and covering. I was tired, and could have used a full-body massage, or at least a nap. But instead, I gave over the kitchen to him, where he reined in complete thrall to his schmaltz and livers for the next half-day, while I took two of the kids out to pick up those last-minute chopped liver indispensables: a Passover food processor and fine mesh strainer.

(As Passover observers, we need to have a separate collection of kitchen utensils and equipment, all only to be used for this one week each year. Our collection is bare-bones, indeed. Every year, we say we'll buy more tools for proper cooking on Passover, and every year we fail to make the necessary investment. "It's only a few more days," we tell ourselves. "We can get by without a knife that can cut through a carrot, and a saucepan makes a perfectly fine teapot.")

Josh and I have different approaches to time spent in the kitchen. I tend to be efficient, using simple but tasty recipes that produce predictable, appreciated results. As my big brother likes to say, Josh is ambitious. No shortcuts for him. He spent hours rendering schmaltz from chicken skin, which he bought from our awesome local/ pastured/ sustainable/ kosher butcher, Grow and Behold. His inspiration for taking this project on, as well as the recipe he used, came from The Book of Schmaltz: A Love Song To a Forgotten Fat, which was a birthday present from his sister, Nina. The two of them share the ambitious-cooking gene.

There was one hairy moment in the kitchen, after I returned with the equipment. Josh realized, after all that rendering, that he wouldn't have enough schmaltz for the recipe. Glitches like this frequently happen when you're making a recipe for the first time--something doesn't turn out just the way you expected, because, in fact, you don't really know what to expect. This may be why, come to think of it, I avoid new and complicated recipes. So much effort, without guaranteed results? Yikes.

I suggested he could make chicken stock, and use the fat skimmed from the top of the pot. Thence began simultaneous project number two: several burners going, plus rising stress levels as the frozen chicken bones were stubbornly stuck to their styrofoam packaging.

I had to go out again to pick up last-minute groceries: eggs, onions, milk, eggs (there are never enough eggs on Passover). Our three girls, plus one friend, were full of energy and none of them wanted to come out shopping with me. They were screaming and doing wheelbarrows and making Louisa laugh. I told Josh I was leaving and he looked at me like I was nuts. "Can't you take them with you?" he asked. To which I responded by smiling and telling him it would be ok. And I left.

When I came home our whole apartment smelled like Golde's kitchen from Fiddler on the Roof. The stove and counters, which, remember, I had just hours before meticulously scrubbed, were covered in a film of grease. The sink was stacked high with grimy bowls and utensils. But the kids were all happy, and Josh greeted me with a bite of what may be the best chopped liver I have ever tasted: creamy, umami-ful, with delicious crunchy bites of onions and gribenes. Love.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday, complete with old-world ambitious food, be it schmaltzy or vegetarian, made by someone you love.


  1. better than mine? we shall see about that!

  2. Brilliant. And, metaphorically and literally, not unlike the project I worked on with Josh at Credit Suisse c. 2011.


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