Many Passover hostesses feel enslaved by the amount of effort that goes into making an elegant seder table. On the holiday of freedom, the only thing to which you should be enslaved is your creativity. By using your imagination and listening to the tried-and-true advice of the experts, you can create a stylish and sophisticated Passover seder that will have your guests wishing for another invitation next year.
An unordinary setting can have a dramatic effect. Elie Neuman, program coordinator of Pesach with the Chevrah in Rancho Mirage, often has special requests to prepare private seder tables overlooking the hotel’s gardens.
“A beautiful backdrop transforms the seder’s look,” he said.
This year, weather permitting, think outside of your dining room and set up a seder table in your backyard. Hang Chinese lanterns and Christmas lights for a dazzling effect. Play with the lighting by positioning standing lamps from your living room at the ends of a long table, contrasting the look of the outdoors with a homey feel.
With the kosher-for-Passover dietary restrictions, choosing a menu can be intimidating. Levana Kirschenbaum, cookbook author and cooking instructor known by her first name, suggests preparing dishes such as roasted asparagus, grilled fish, and seasonal soups you are certain will work.
Susie Fishbein, author of the “Kosher By Design” series (see story page 38), said that food should not prevent the hostess from enjoying the seder. “Instead of making seven different courses, prepare simple dishes that show you put in time and effort,” she said. “Don’t feel like you have to make meat, chicken and fish.”
Since the Passover table is generally crammed with wine bottles and glasses, the seder plate and boxes of matzah, centerpieces can be tricky.
“With everything on the table, you don’t want the flowers to be overpowering,” said Joel Katz of Prestige Catering, who caters Passover meals in hotels throughout Florida and upstate New York. Instead, he scatters small arrangements of flowers that add color to an already busy table.
Fishbein suggested using topiaries because they provide height without obstructing the view. Since topiaries do not die, only the fruits and flowers decorating them need to be replenished. “You can start by having white roses in the topiary for the seders and switch to lemons or strawberries for the end of the holiday,” Fishbein said.
Levana explains how every hostess can easily prepare a beautiful table within her budget. “Instead of making extravagant floral arrangements, I like to bring out specific colors and textures,” she said.
Levana recommended using a vibrant colored tablecloth with a patterned texture and choosing flowers within variations of two colors that contrast with the tablecloth. As long as the flowers are in the color scheme, inexpensive ones will do the trick.
During a recent demonstration at her Manhattan-based cooking school, Levana presented a stunning arrangement of four-dozen orange-red tulips assembled in a low vase. “No one will care if you use one type of flower, as long as you do a good job,” she said, noting that this arrangement only cost her $30.
The personal touch is the main component that turns an average seder into an affair guests will remember long after the holiday is over. Throughout the year, Fishbein shops for special touches. One year she found stretchy plastic frogs to use as napkin holders while another year she found glass swizzle sticks with decorative frogs, which she placed in each goblet.
Neuman suggested placing individual seder plates at each setting. This way, guests have the essentials while additional plates of marror or charoset can be passed.
Neuman also recommended anticipating what guests will need ahead of time in order to make them feel comfortable. Besides providing a large selection of wine and matzah, find out if your guests have dietary restrictions. If a guest is allergic to wheat, special order spelt or oat matzah.
Creative place cards that double as mementoes will further personalize the table. By cutting cardboard strips; gluing fabric, ribbon and beads; and labeling them with each guest’s name, you can create individual bookmarks. Place the bookmarks in a haggadah at every place setting in order for guests to know where they are sitting.
Bringing It All Together
Levana and Fishbein both stress the necessity of the hostess feeling relaxed on the night of the seder. That way the hostess can join in the seder, and with everyone else, celebrate our people’s freedom.
Felisa Billet, a freelance writer from Forest Hills, N.Y., is at work on a cookbook, a fusion of Mexican and Jewish cuisine.