A couple of years ago, Stephanie and I got invited to a “Seder and Kugel Cookoff” for Passover. Like good little gentiles (Lesbian Law #6: “Celebrate diversity in all its forms.”), we did extensive research on the internet and our cookbook archive for recipes. We settled on two, one matzoh and one potato.
Chicken fat sizzled in the large cast iron skillet while Steph peeled and grated the potatoes and onions. (My favorite helpful hint from a reader on Epicurious was to use bacon drippings in lieu of chicken fat. Okay. Just a hint. Soooo not kosher.) I soaked the matzoh to blend it into the apples, raisins and apricots for my sweet casserole dripping with butter, sugar and cinnamon. We slipped both of them into the oven and crossed our fingers. They both came out golden, crisp and brown.
I liberated a red Spanish table wine from my winerack and I brought that along for dinner.
I totally gained points with our hostess, Sureva, by allowing that this choice was inspired by the Sephardim (Jews from Spain or Portugal, especially those exiled from those countries in the late 15th century – Thanks to The Ghost of Hannah Mendes by Naomi Ragen).
“I didn’t know you had Jewish heritage.”
“I don’t. I just finished a novel.” Sheepish smile and thrusting forth of wine bottle.
She took the wine, extracted the author and title from me (see above) and disappeared to greet other guests.
Whew. Passed my test!
A large table in the center of the living room quickly filled with sweet and savory kugels, noodle, matzoh and potato, brought by a bunch of whitebread gentiles just like me: pink-skinned and feeling a little bit guilty about missing the next day’s Easter service because of a Passover Hangover.
The kugels beckoned as we learned the rules of the contest. Two votes each, and cast your votes by sticking a toothpick into your favorite after tasting all of them (Tasting, mind you! We have a full dinner ahead!). We circulated and scooped small bites of each kugel onto our tiny paper plates. By the end, a couple of kugels looked like porcupines while others stood lonely, not even one vote from the person who made them! Luckily, ours did not suffer that fate. I voted for myself, and Steph’s potato kugel was given perhaps the greatest compliment imaginable by Sureva: “Your kugel tastes just like my mother’s.” The potato kugel received several toothpicks.
We stepped back from the table and sipped some tasty kosher wine. (Yes, I did say “tasty kosher wine.” Some good kosher wines are being bottled these days, and they are now available year-round at lovely local wine shops.) The surprise of the evening was Nate, then only eighteen, being crowned the King of Kugel. “Unfair,” some of us cried; our voices muffled by mouths full of kugel.
Next, we ambled over to a large L-shaped arrangement of tables and enjoyed a traditional Seder dinner accompanied by all the kugels. Our hostess made copies of the service for us to read aloud in turns, progressing around the table one paragraph at a time.
“Why is this night different from every other night?”
For starters, I found out what a kugel was. And made one!
We departed carrying one half-empty container of apple-matzoh kugel which went into the refrigerator for a month (We were kugeled out!) before finally being sent to the great round black kugel heaven (otherwise known as the garbage can) on my front patio. I must admit, I deposited it there without much thought. The bushes were just beginning to leaf out in early May and I had triumphantly finished my spring cleaning that afternoon.
In the middle of the night, Tux, our border collie, barked at the patio door. Sleep befuddled me and I lay there blinking myself awake while Steph stumbled to the door.
“Tux. I’m up. Thank you. Good dog.” Steph pulled back the curtain covering the glass door and her tone changed. “Oh my God.”
At this point, my sweet honey-bunny has noted that I should tell you we live in the middle of town. Downtown. Securely in the midst of town. Our sweet little house is arranged with other sweet little houses, all with house numbers, on a paved street with a name in our little mountain town.
Because we live in town (in case I haven’t made that clear enough), the last thing I expected Stephanie to say was:
I sat straight up and made myself a little “bed-wobbly” as I realized that the continuing sounds of crashing and bumping were actually a bear going through our trash. “Bear?” I regained my balance and ran over to the door to peer uneasily out the curtain.
The bear was halfway into the trashcan about eight feet away from us. She tossed out bits of trash, dragged out a particularly interesting morsel, sat back on her haunches and snarfed it down, daintily leaving the plastic wrap or bag or container on the ground. Steph and I looked at each other. As fascinating as this was, a bear sat on our front stoop strewing garbage everywhere. We had to do something. “Let’s turn the light on. That should scare it away.” Two floodlight bulbs cover the patio area with light. We never turn them on because we like to sleep in the dark, but desperate times call for desperate measures, as the ubiquitous “they” say.
A flip of the switch and light illuminated a black bear, probably about four to five feet at the shoulder (not standing on her hind legs) when she untucked herself from the garbage can.
That’s big. I mean, really big. A big black bear.
She pulled another tasty bit from the trashcan and blinked as the light hit her face. She turned her big bear head toward us and dipped her chin a little as if to say, “Thanks. It was a little dark out here.” Then, she went back to chomping on…. Kugel! She was eating the remnants of the matzoh kugel!
Steph looked at me.
I looked at her.
The bear peered briefly at the two crazy naked ladies giggling in the plate glass door and returned to her rumination.
In the morning, after picking the garbage out of our yard, we drove to the hardware store and bought a large rolling bearproof trash. Outfitted with a metal strap around the lid and cables with trigger snap hooks which attach to the metal tabs poking through metal lined slots on the top, this trashcan completely thwarts the bear (at least our black bear). Bears tend to come back to where they’ve found food before, so for a while we found this trashcan turned over on its side in the yard or standing on its head on the patio.
However, since we installed this tough trashcan, we’ve never found any actual garbage in our lawn.
And finally, after a full summer, she’s given up on us.
She’s clearly come to understand Lesbian Law #1: Never Underestimate the Power of the Lesbian Housewyfe.
I may only be a housewyfe, but I can outsmart a bear.
And cater her “bear mitzvah.”
We now skip from the nineties to the mid-2000s. During this time, we lived in our little house on a dead end street in the downtown area of Steamboat Springs with our border collie, Tux, and still had our old siamese, Cleo. The bear who visited us during that first year of living in our very first house returned year after year. Sometimes she even brought along cubs. However, that trash can made it through generations of bears attempting to get our trash. A noble investment, and one I recommend if you live where bears can get into your trash.
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