On Mon­day, Mol­ly Birn­baum wrote about her first writ­ing teacher. She will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Vis­it­ing Scribe.

On the first night of Passover, my boyfriend and I attend­ed a seder on the grounds of a men­tal institution.

That sounds strange, I know. But that’s where my aunt and uncle live: in a new con­do devel­op­ment on the cam­pus of an old hos­pi­tal, one of the many devel­op­ments con­struct­ed over the last few years in this sur­pris­ing­ly pop­u­lar real estate hot spot. And as we drove our car up the road lead­ing to their home, I thought of the com­pli­cat­ed men­tal land­scape sur­round­ing this land, of the myr­i­ad diag­noses and dra­mas that had run their course on the sur­round­ing acres. And you know what? It felt fitting.

Not that my fam­i­ly is crazy.

They’re just quirky. And dra­mat­ic. And loud.

Like any Jew­ish fam­i­ly — like any fam­i­ly at all, real­ly — my fam­i­ly has eccen­tric­i­ties. We have whim­si­cal retellings of our past. These traits seem to come out around the hol­i­days, of course.

And I love this about them. I love them very much. But that didn’t make it any eas­i­er the first time I brought my new boyfriend, Matt, to his first seder in their com­pa­ny, now three years ago last month. That seder was in upstate New York, before what has become a mass exo­dus to Boston, where we all seem to live now.

Matt, who was raised Protes­tant, had nev­er been to a seder before. He had nev­er tried Man­is­che­witz. Or gefilte fish. He’d nev­er heard the Four Ques­tions, or attempt­ed to sing poor trans­la­tions of Hebrew prayers. He gave it a great shot, though: One of the many rea­sons I love him; one of the many rea­sons I fol­lowed him from New York to Boston when he was accept­ed to a grad­u­ate pro­gram at Har­vard, even know­ing that my entire extend­ed fam­i­ly would be right around the cor­ner from our new home. Matt loves gefilte fish. And thus, my grand­moth­er loves him. Who woul­da thought?

This year, when Matt and I walked into my aunt and uncle’s con­do, I had a flut­ter­ing feel­ing in the pit of my stom­ach. I was ner­vous. I wasn’t sure why. Per­haps it was because two of our friends, a mar­ried cou­ple named Char­lie and Marie, were join­ing us, and they were a new addi­tion to the crew. Per­haps because this was the first Passover spent togeth­er as a fam­i­ly in Mass­a­chu­setts. The first away from the state many of us had called home.

But the kitchen smelled like brisket, which my step­moth­er, Cyn­di, had been cook­ing for hours. There was mat­zoh ball soup sim­mer­ing on the stop top, and sal­ads vibrant with green spinach and pur­ple cau­li­flower already lin­ing our plates. The horse­rad­ish was neon pink, and the charoset an earthy brown. Just like before.

My grand­moth­er had made the gefilte fish from scratch, like she’s done for decades, even though she’s now in a wheel­chair and can no longer reach the kitchen shelves. My cousin, Jenn, had cooked a mat­zoh kugel, sweet with cur­rants and rich with eggs. It was stud­ded with apples and apri­cots, laced with cin­na­mon and sug­ar. It smelled like break­fast, but also dessert. It remind­ed me of the noo­dle kugel my moth­er used to make when I was a kid, before my par­ents divorced.

As we sat for the seder, and lat­er ate din­ner, I thought of these tastes and smells, ones that I’ve known my entire life. The fat­ty scent of meat, cooked low and long, will for­ev­er remind me of my fam­i­ly. Just like the taste of gefilte fish and sticky sweet Man­is­che­witz wine. The kitchen of Passover smells like my child­hood, the food tastes of my past. And that’s com­fort­ing. No mat­ter what demons — crazy or oth­er­wise — are hang­ing out with Eli­jah right behind the front door.

Mol­ly Birn­baum is the author of Sea­son to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way