Chef Rossi, image by Melis­sa Donovan

As the days inch clos­er to April 8, the first night of Passover, and the real­iza­tion sets in, that I will spend Passover alone, I find myself weav­ing togeth­er the sto­ry of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic with the sto­ry of Passover.

My girl­friend is in Flori­da. I feel cer­tain it’s safer for her in Flori­da than it is in New York City. Many of the peo­ple I love are far away. The ones who are not, do not feel safe visiting.

I have nev­er loved the long-wind­ed, end­less Passover Seders that reli­gious Jews like my broth­er hold. By the time we get to the fes­tive meal,” my stom­ach is burn­ing from hunger, and my butt has fall­en asleep.

Besides the dis­com­fort, Ultra-Ortho­dox Seders nev­er spoke to me. As a gay woman and a fem­i­nist, I want­ed to feel rep­re­sent­ed. I did not. Years ago, I began to swap sto­ries from my Hag­gadah with ones that cel­e­brat­ed pow­er­ful women (think Joan Jett as Moses) and accept­ed all kinds of love. Love is love is love is Passover.

A few days ago, I bought a box of mat­zoh and a can of those uber-sweet coconut mac­a­roons that for some rea­son you only think of eat­ing on Passover. I fig­ured I’d pick up a bot­tle of Man­is­che­witz, make some Charoseth and call it a day. For me, cook­ing is no fun if I can’t share it.

Maybe I’d make a batch of tsimmes. I had two quarts of prunes that weren’t sweet any­more. They would be great cooked in a tsimmes. I like to make mine with car­rots, sweet pota­toes, prunes, dried apri­cots, orange juice and maple syrup. Tsimmes with prunes is some­thing I only make on Passover. All that mat­zoh? Well, let’s just say you won’t mind the lack of toi­let paper. There’s a rea­son prunes show up in so many Passover dishes.

Ditch­ing Passover to binge-watch Net­flix made me feel as though I’d giv­en in. My pal Hilly intro­duced me to Zoom a week ago, and I decid­ed to have a Zoom Seder. And why not? Some kind of Passover is bet­ter than no kind of Passover. It’s all about sym­bol­ism for the exo­dus, anyway.

Once I decid­ed on a Zoom Seder, I start­ed think­ing about the sto­ry of Passover, the sto­ry of Moses speak­ing on behalf of God, deliv­er­ing the Jews from slav­ery and the cru­el Pharaoh of Egypt.

Couldn’t we all use some deliv­er­ance right about now?

The Seder is all about sym­bol­ism. Take the ten plagues.

Pharaoh didn’t want to give up his slaves. Ten times, Moses ush­ered in a plague, until final­ly, Pharaoh relented.

Grow­ing up, we always dipped our fin­gers in wine after call­ing out each plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild ani­mals, pesti­lence, boils, hail, locusts, dark­ness, and final­ly the killing of the first­born. You’re sup­posed to wipe your wine-soaked fin­ger on your plate or nap­kin, but I always put my fin­ger in my mouth. Even at 8 years old, I knew my com­mand­ments; thou shalt not waste wine.

And in the spir­it of not wast­ing what life presents, I present the ten plagues of a Coro­na Passover.

1. Sad­ness — At first it was some­thing that seemed to only be hap­pen­ing in Chi­na. We felt sad­ness for the Chi­nese people.

2. Fear — It start­ed spread­ing to Europe. Would it come here?

3. Denial — It won’t be that bad. This will get sort­ed out in a few weeks. Right?

4. Eco­nom­ic melt­down — We lost months of busi­ness with no end in sight. Many lost their jobs.

5. Social iso­la­tion — I don’t know about you, but I miss hugging.

6. Dark­ness — Busi­ness­es shut­tered, streets emp­ty, night­time became dark and scary.

7. Anger — For me, for many, fury about how this admin­is­tra­tion dropped the ball when the pan­dem­ic began. A hoax, really?!

8. Depres­sion — How long can you stay inside before the blues set in? Thank God for dark chocolate.

9. Sick­ness — Sad­ly, for many, many people.

10. Death — For some beau­ti­ful, inno­cent peo­ple, far too soon.

On Passover, we recite the four questions.

1. On all oth­er nights, we can eat bread and mat­zoh. Why on this night, only matzoh?

2. On all oth­er nights, we eat any kind of herb. Why on this night, only bit­ter herbs?

3. On all oth­er nights, we do not dip our herbs, even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?

4. On all oth­er nights, we eat sit­ting or lean­ing. Why on this night do we recline?

The four ques­tions of Coro­na Passover are:

1. On all oth­er Passovers, we hug and kiss. Why on this Passover, can we only wave?

2. On all oth­er nights, we invite our rel­a­tives over for the Seder. Why on this night, do we talk to them on FaceTime?

3. On all oth­er nights, we go to Zabar’s. (Pro­ject­ing, sor­ry.) Why on this night, are we afraid to walk into a business?

4. On all oth­er nights, masks are for Hal­loween. Why on this night … well, you get the point.

Passover,” Pesach in Hebrew, was named for when the Jews were lit­er­al­ly passed over as God killed the first­born of Egypt.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I am hop­ing to be passed over this year.

But who will deliv­er us from Pharaoh? Joe Biden? Andrew Cuo­mo? Bill Gates? All good men, but it’s big­ger than one per­son, and why the hell does it always have to be a man?! DAYENU! If you just gave us one fakak­ta woman leader!! Please, Lord! DAYENU! It would be enough!

No. WE have to be Moses (or Mosette). All of us. All col­ors, races, reli­gions, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tions, polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tions, all of us. We are all suf­fer­ing, OK, the poor and the mid­dle class more than the rich, but we are all scared. No one is safe. Even Tom Han­ks caught Coro­na, for cry­ing out loud!

On this Passover 2020, the year we will nev­er for­get, I leave you with my Passover les­son: When you are run­ning so fast, you can’t wait to let your bread rise, your life feels like it’s in tat­ters, you are out of sorts, out of cash, and scared, have faith. Have faith in your­self. Have faith that some kind of high­er pow­er, even if that high­er pow­er is Oprah, will part the Red Sea. We will get to the oth­er side.

And what­ev­er you do, I beg of you, do not hide the afiko­man in the dry­er! I did that one year, and we picked mat­zoh meal out of our laun­dry for a year.

And what­ev­er you do, I beg of you, do not hide the afiko­man in the dry­er! I did that one year, and we picked mat­zoh meal out of our laun­dry for a year.


Don’t get bit­ter over bit­ter herbs. Seder plate tips.

You might be hav­ing a lit­tle trou­ble con­struct­ing your Seder plate with long lines at the gro­cery stores and many items missing.
For instance, I had a hel­lu­vah time, find­ing horse­rad­ish which we use for the bit­ter herbs.

If you can’t find horse­rad­ish — try wasabi instead. It’s sup­posed to be in the horse­rad­ish fam­i­ly, but most of the wasabi you find in the U.S. is real­ly just horse­rad­ish any­way. Or try a nice strong fla­vored mus­tard like Dijon. I love me some spicy mus­tard. Gin­ger or pick­led gin­ger can work too.

Sexy Tsimmes

I love Tsimmes most­ly because I always hear my moth­er Harriet’s voice in my head when I make it. Don’t make a big tsimmes!” That’s Yid­dish for don’t make a big fuss.

You can spell it Tsimmes or Tzimmes, what­ev­er makes you happy.

I’ve made Tsimmes a lot of dif­fer­ent ways; with sweet pota­toes, with­out sweet potatoes,
with raisins, with dry apri­cots with pure maple syrup with onions.

Hey! Don’t make a big tsimmes about it. They’re all good.

Here is Chef Rossi’s Sexy Tsimmes recipe.

Peel and slice 10 aver­age sized car­rots. Cut them how­ev­er you like. You can do a large dice or a half inch think oval. Indulge your inner car­rot child.

Peel and cut into a large dice, 5 aver­age size sweet potatoes.

Now, you’ll want two heap­ing hand­fuls of prunes cut in half.

You don’t have to add any oth­er dried fruit, but, hey, why not? Life is short. And if you’re eat­ing mat­zoh, you need all the dry fruit you can get!

In a bowl toss in your prunes and any oth­er dried fruit you love; raisins, sliced apri­cots, pears or Craisins, cur­rants, dates. Float your boat baby.

I like to plump my dry fruit. You can do this by putting in a bowl and cov­er­ing in boil­ing water for 20 minutes.

I pre­fer to cov­er my dry fruit in brandy, whiskey or rum that I heat­ed to a simmer.

Boil or steam your car­rots and sweet pota­toes until soft.

Drain fruit, (if you used booze, save the liq­uid) and mix with car­rots and sweet potatoes.

If you plumped your fruit in booze, take that nice boozy fruit liq­uid and whisk in a cof­fee cup of orange juice or apple juice and a few heap­ing plops of hon­ey , a nice pinch of cin­na­mon and nut­meg, a good pinch of brown sug­ar and a pinch of salt.

If you didn’t use booze than just use the orange or apple juice.

Mix every­thing up.

Pour the whole she­bang into a bak­ing dish.

You can sprin­kle a lit­tle more brown sug­ar on top if you like.

Bake at 350 for 45 min­utes or so.

You can make this a day or two ahead no worries.

Veg­ans use pure maple syrup instead of hon­ey, just as good.

I love Tsimmes most­ly because I always hear my moth­er Harriet’s voice in my head when I make it. Don’t make a big tsimmes!” That’s Yid­dish for don’t make a big fuss.

Rossi’s favorite Charoseth

For me, it just has to be McIn­tosh apples for my Charoseth. No oth­er apple will do. But in this time of Coro­na, do what you can. Any apple, or pear is nice too.

I don’t peel the apples. Praise the lord. Who likes peeling?

The only wine that works for me is Man­is­che­witz Passover con­cord grape wine.

If you can’t find it or don’t drink, use Kedem Passover grape juice.

The only nut I love for this is wal­nuts. But you can also use almonds or cashews.

My recipe is super simple.

I chop up the McIn­tosh apples. And mix with some of that Passover wine so they don’t turn col­or. I chop up some de-shelled wal­nut halves. I want about half as much nut as I had apple.

I drop my apple, wal­nuts and a few good pinch­es of cin­na­mon into the food proces­sor, then start to pump the proces­sor for a sec­ond at a time. I don’t want Charoseth mush. I add a cou­ple of shots of Man­is­che­witz and that’s it.

Lordy I love this stuff.

No idea why I don’t eat it all year long! Actu­al­ly, I think I will. Would be gor­geous with roast chick­en or duck. Or as a latke top­ping. Hell yeah!

Rossi has been pub­lished in out­lets includ­ing The Dai­ly News, The New York Post, Time Out New York, and Mcsweeney’s, to name a few. She has been the food writer of the Eat Me” col­umn for Bust mag­a­zine since 1998, hosts her own hit radio show on WOMR and WFMR in Cape Cod called Bite This, now in its nine­teenth sea­son, has been fea­tured on The Food Net­work and NPR and has been a pop­u­lar blog­ger for The Huff­in­g­ton Post. Her first mem­oir, The Rag­ing Skil­let: The True Life Sto­ry of Chef Rossi was pub­lished by The Fem­i­nist Press to rave reviews. In addi­tion to mem­oir, Rossi has writ­ten two full-length plays and sev­er­al short plays. Rossi resides in Manhattan.

Chef Rossi is avail­able to be booked for speak­ing engage­ments through Read On. Click here for more information.