Until very recently, I was sushiless. There wasn’t a single restaurant that served sushi in this town. Let me give you some advice: Do not, I repeat, do NOT live in a town without sushi. Believe me, it is a pretty sad state of affairs to know you have to drive a hundred miles to get a sliver of maguro.
Luckily for me, one of the two Chinese restaurants in town recently changed ownership and installed a sushi bar. I heard about this through word of mouth and finally had the opportunity to try it out for lunch today.
The timing was perfect, as I make it a point to go out to eat the day before Passover. We have some really good family-operated Mexican restaurants in town, and I might easily have chosen that for my Last Meal. After all, I’m about to embark on eight days without rice, beans or tortillas.
Faced with eight days of matzah eating, however, indulging in sushi seemed the obvious choice. The raw tuna and salmon was wonderful, even the rice was delicious, and I savored each taste of wasabi and ginger.
It had been almost a year since I last had my sushi treat, so I had forgotten just how hot wasabi can be. I mean, I know it’s super hot, but brain knowledge is not the same as mouth knowledge. That old green condiment took my breath away and sent me scrambling for my water glass as soon as it hit my tongue.
Feeling that wasabi burn seemed appropriate to the season. At the traditional Seder dinners on the first and second nights of Passover, we eat hot horseradish along with the sweet haroseth (a mixture of apples, cinnamon, walnuts and a little grape wine for moisture) to remind us of the bitterness of our people’s slavery in Egypt and the sweetness of freedom following our emancipation. Living out in a remote section of the desert (though hopefully not for 40 years), I am located too far from family to enjoy a traditional Passover Seder and too far from any synagogue to attend a community Seder on a work night. And although I haven’t bothered preparing haroseth, I do have my matzah, my macaroons and the memory of my hot, hot wasabi.
It’s hard to explain the importance of the Seder dinner in the Jewish tradition. At the table, we spend hours praying and singing from a book called the Haggadah (the “retelling”) that recounts the Book of Exodus story of our enslavement by the Pharaohs, the ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and the destruction of our enemies under the leadership of Moses. With candles burning in the center of the table and one savory dish after another brought out from the kitchen, the extended family gather round and discuss their lives, their hopes and their dreams, not unlike parents enslaved in Egypt who dreamed of freedom and a better life for their children.
Typically, little children attending the Seder become cranky at staying up too late, all of us drink four glasses of wine, some uncle gets into an argument with some cousin and someone says something that hurts someone’s feelings. That’s what you call family!
I’ve been thinking about extended family a lot lately, not only because of the onset of Passover, but also because of the shifting nature of my own family. I guess you could say I’m feeling a little guilty. You see, in a recent post, I referred to all of my nephews and nieces by name. Since then, however, I realized that there are others whom I did not name. They are the “exes.”
My sister-in-law has been married and divorced twice. She birthed three children during her first marriage, then married a man who already had eight children of his own. My wife and I came to know and love these children as our very own nephews and nieces. Many of them have since grown to adulthood. My sister-in-law and her ex-husband were married for only a year, although we got to know the kids a few years before the wedding. Now that they are divorced and the children are scattered, should we still count them among our nephews and nieces? It may hurt the feelings of my family if I do or those of the kids if I don’t. After all, they weren’t related to me until my sister-in-law married their father, and now that she is no longer married to him, the kids are no longer related to me, right? But, of course, my wife and I had taken those children into our hearts, and that isn’t something that one can just dismiss as if it never happened. On the other hand, we rarely hear from any of those kids anymore. I hear that a couple of them are married, some are working and others are in the Armed Services. A couple are still in high school. Most of this is third-hand information at this point.
This unresolved situation hit me right in the face last month when we travelled north to attend Grandma’s funeral. Two of the girls showed up, one with her husband and the other with her fiancé. It was good to see them, but man, it was awkward.
We’re not really auntie and uncle anymore, but we can’t simply blot out their names with a black Sharpie either. That’s not the way love works.
This post dedicated to Ica, Brittany, Dessirae, Clarissa, Frankie, Jesse, Michael and Raymond.