Sometime over the Pesach holiday—I think it will be at one of the evening meals—we plan to be dining on goose. Have we ever eaten goose? Probably in one of those wonderful and hospitable hotels sometime over the last few decades; I do not really recall. We had to contemplate whether we wanted to start with goose when it was offered to us by our son-in-law Eliezer, who is in the meat-and-poultry business in upstate New York.
We’ve long ago grown accustomed to dining on chicken or even duck (which is also on the menu). But goose? Frankly, I’ve enjoyed writing columns over the last few years about what caterers who provide food service at leading hotels around the world will be serving their guests over yom tov. And I might still do that again next week. For now, though, I am aiming to look inward, at how everyday families are preparing for this great and greatly anticipated chag that requires so much planning and preparation.
Batya Kahn is a culinary expert and extraordinary chef who has built an unusual but increasingly popular business of preparing yom tov gourmet meals for her customers. You may have noticed that she has been advertising here in the 5TJT for many years, but I have not paid that much attention to what she offers because for the most part we’ve been going to this or that venue for the holidays.
Full disclosure demands that I say here that my wife, Esta, is an extremely talented cook as well, and her commitment to serving up unique and creative dishes, especially on Shabbos and holidays, transcends and defines new levels of perfection all the time.
But she said the other day as we were discussing these issues that she was reluctant to deal with the matter of that large goose sitting whole in our basement freezer. Even though I have e-mailed and spoken to Batya, I never visited her place to see what she had put together and what specifically was going on there at this very busy time of year. That is, until we had to deal with the matter of this goose.
I told Batya about the goose and she quickly shot back an e-mail saying that she had never cooked a goose before. Then about an hour later she wrote again that she read up on the matter and that it was okay for us to cross county lines—that is, from Nassau County to Kings County (Brooklyn)—with the goose in hand.
Since we are having a lot of company over yom tov, we also took four ducks with us on the outing with the thought being, why pathcka (loosely translated as bother) when Batya can work her magic on those sumptuous birds?
I wrote about Batya’s Kitchen last year prior to Pesach—by far her busiest time of the year, although these days her kitchen is open around the calendar year and for special occasions. What sets the things that she prepares apart from others is that they look and taste home-cooked because they are home-cooked. Preparing Pesach meals for a full nine days when there are so many dietary restrictions and limited amounts of time to do whatever needs to be done warrants retaining the services of an additional outlet to help perfect the celebration of the chag.
This year, Batya is preparing full Pesach menus for over 125 families, some as far away as California, with the majority of the food being sent to homes and apartments in Florida. How do all those carefully prepared dishes get to their far-flung locations? Mostly with FedEx. The foodstuffs are frozen solid, so I don’t think you will be coming across a FedEx truck with a deli or steakhouse aroma emanating from it anytime soon.
So, for the first time, the other day we took a walk through Batya’s kitchen with preparations for the holiday in high gear. Though yom tov was still three weeks away, a pungent Pesach aroma was wafting through the air. The staff was busy with a great deal of things. In one room, two young people were busy on the phone taking orders. In another, one of the personnel was peeling carrots while another was making non-gebrochts crêpes that, to my amateur eyes, looked like the real thing.
On one of the counters were about a half dozen pans of freshly cooked lamb. It looked really good, even tantalizing, and had it not been around noon I would have asked to sample it. In the meantime, Batya is cool, calm, and collected. Her assistants are on the phone taking orders as if it were a fundraising marathon. I spy a young lady in the corner stirring a pot of something and shuffle over to take a look. Inside are a lot of onions and egg yolks. I’m told that it is an onion kugel in its preparatory state, and I’m not sure I ever tasted anything like that.
So over there onions are being peeled, as are some potatoes, which means that those potato kugels cannot be far from being produced. I can say this about the tour: everything is being done meticulously and methodically. When you take into consideration that Batya has been doing this for only eight years, it is an additionally amazing feat. And then you have to understand that the food is excellent—which is the main ingredient that attracts new customers as well as repeat customers year after year.
Last year on this subject, we mentioned that one of the challenges that Batya Kahn faces in accommodating some of her customers is getting the food into people’s homes so that others in the home do not know it is from the outside. Simply translated, that means leading people to believe that someone in the home had labored over an oven for days to produce sumptuous meals instead of just having Batya do it for them.
Batya’s ad says it all—be served like you are in a hotel for yom tov right in your own home. It might be too late for this coming yom tov, but you can check out her website for her extensive Pesach menu—and, by the way, everything she does is non-gebrochts.
Let’s just say that Pesach is not what it used to be, at least in the food department. Fifteen or twenty years ago, there was nowhere near the array of foods with “Kosher for Passover” seals on them to the extent that we have today. In a neighborhood supermarket the other night (remember, I’m home for yom tov) I was shown Pesach bagels, Pesach frank and hamburger rolls, and so on down the line. When did the challenge of Pesach become doing away with the look or distinctive taste of the chag? Can’t the nation of Israel exist for a week in this day and age without a frankfurter or hamburger on a bun? What do you think would happen if, for a full week, we did not consume any product that looked like bread? We would probably be better off and sensitive to the idea of not always having everything we want whenever we want it. That is part of the theme of Pesach, the exodus from Egypt accompanied by the freedom of what it is like to serve the Master of the Universe. Being an eved Hashem, a servant of G‑d, is not like being in servitude to Pharaoh, disguised as the bread man.
I can still recall those first days when my father began to come home with bags of cakes from Hirsch Brothers Bakery in Brooklyn, with each subsequent year featuring new, theretofore unknown Pesach culinary inventions. Once upon a time, it was just sponge cake, some marble cake, and the all-time favorite, lady fingers. But then something happened one year and my dad began to come home with checkerboard and seven-layer cake, brownies, rainbow cookies, and on and on.
The other day in the supermarket, again I walked by a wall of shelves with cakes and cookies packed to the ceiling. My eyes were drawn to an especially large see-through plastic container of checkerboard cake with that rich oozing chocolate spilling over the top. I have to admit that I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the times when my father used to bring home those simple white boxes of cake tied with impossible knots and we would dig through the bags to see what they contained for yom tov.
We are quite a distance from those days when we could only drink seltzer with a capful of cherry syrup, if we were desperate for some of that year-round flavor over yom tov. We are also a long way from clear soup and plain boiled chicken. Actually, if you look around, after all is said and done we might be in fairly good shape, dining on cooked goose for Pesach instead of having our goose cooked in the more slangy but traditional meaning of the phrase. v
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