Wednesday, February 28, 2024 -
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At Passover, get the kids involved

By Naomi Ross, The Giving Table

Folding chairs lined the hallway wall like dutiful soldiers in expectation of guests. Unfamiliar, dusty boxes of pots and china were stacked high, their contents waiting to make their annual appearance on the dining room table. As a child, the anticipation during those momentous days leading up to Passover was palpable.

Espresso Meringues (scroll down for recipe)

I couldn’t help but sense the urgency — something big was imminent and I wanted to be a part of it.

Fortunately for me, my mother was adept at putting me to work, getting me involved in the preparations, and effectively igniting a spark in her daughter to experience the excitement of the holiday.

As a parent, I’ve realized that the mitzvah of educating your children about the story of the Exodus from Egypt begins earlier — not at the seder, but before, in the kitchen.

Children learn experientially —and so do adults. They need to engage all of their senses to really internalize a concept or lesson. That’s why we hold up the shank bone, the matzah and the bitter herbs — our seders come complete with props and visual aids!

How do we pass on our traditions and customs in a way that is meaningfully relevant to the next generation? It happens first by inviting them to take part in the preparations and cooking, fostering a feeling of being invested in the holiday experience.

That is what makes Passover real for them. The door to meaningful conversations is opened while peeling apples or rolling matzah balls.

There are many jobs that are perfect for this purpose and are age-appropriate.

Here are few suggestions:

• Making charoset

As a child, I thought making charoset was an all-day process. Peeling, coring and chopping the apples took forever. Chopping nuts in our little manual glass jar chopper was such hard work for a little one that by the time I finished, I felt as though I were enslaved in Egypt, too!

Truth be told, it was the perfect job — it kept me busy for a long time and I felt very accomplished afterward. Come seder night, I was incredibly proud to pass around the charoset I made myself.

Safety Tip: For younger children for whom sharp knives are inappropriate, an old-fashioned hand-held chopper and a large chopping bowl are the way to go.

• Peeling hardboiled eggs

All kids think this is fun. I have no idea why, but they do . . . so teach them how and let them.

• Setting the table

There are many more things to prepare on the seder table than for a regular meal: assembling Haggadahs, pillows for reclining, salt water and preparing the seder plate all take time. If your children are creative, they can create pretty, folded napkins or handmade place cards. Both are fantastic craft projects for artistic kids.

• Cooking and baking

For older kids who are able to follow a recipe (or interested in learning), this is a great opportunity to teach your kids basic lessons in cooking and baking.

I still remember being called over to help taste and season a simmering dish; and it was in my mother’s Passover kitchen that I learned how to beat egg whites into “stiff peaks” for baking Passover sponge cakes.

The real secret to getting them involved is by showing your own interest and excitement. When your kids see you enjoying yourself and getting into the spirit, they will follow suit and reflect that joy into your home.

Espresso Meringue Cookies

The perfect meringue is crispy on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside. A mess of meringue crumbs followed by smiles around the table.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Cool Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • coffee beans, optional
  • cocoa, for dusting

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 250ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Whip meringue: In a large, clean, dry mixing bowl, beat the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar with an electric mixer (fitted with the balloon whisk attachment) on medium speed until the whites are foamy. Increase speed to high, beating until soft peaks form. Slowly add in the sugar, adding about 2 tbsp. at a time, beating for 15-30 seconds after each addition. Add the espresso and vanilla and continue to beat until the meringue forms very stiff, pillowy, glossy peaks (mixture should be able to hold a peak up when the beaters are raised).
  3. Scoop: Working quickly, drop the mixture by large spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1-2 inches apart. Top each meringue with optional coffee bean and dust with cocoa.
  4. Bake for 1 hour or until the surfaces of the meringues feel dry and you can pick one off the parchment without any sticking.
  5. Cool: Turn off oven, prop the door open slightly with the handle of a wooden spoon, and allow meringues to cool gently in the oven for 1 hour. Transfer to a serving platter.

Recipe Notes

For best results, use fresh, room-temperature egg whites. The proteins in old egg whites may not dry out properly in the oven. To protect the integrity of the meringue, make sure your bowl and beaters are clean and dry.

Chef’s touch: Use a star tip to pipe decoratively into mounds.

Variation: Vanilla Meringue Cookies: Omit espresso powder and replace with 1 tsp. vanilla extract.


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