Maurice's Matzah Brie
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
By Jared Goodman
The countdown begins at 10. Nine….8….7. The bulky camcorder is filming, there are extra pans and bath towels splayed out to catch debris. My sister and I are kids, elementary-aged, watching with equal parts anticipation, terror, and hunger. Six….5….4. My grandmother and dad are chatting in the background, while my mom shoots the video and cheers her father on. Three….2….1. His arm jerks forward; his wrist bends; his hand steadies and grips the handle, simultaneously launching a large pancake into the air. Matzo, eggs, and hot water keep it all together as it flies into the air, gracefully completing a backward somersault, and lands perfectly back into the pan, sizzling in butter.
Photograph: Jared and Grandpa Maurice
Courtesy of Jeanne Goodman
My grandfather, Maurice Lewis Finkelstein, the son of Jewish immigrants who fled the pogroms in Vilnius, Lithuania had not always been a culinary performer. Maurice and his uncle Ben owned a clothing business that manufactured suits for young men, especially those of Bar Mitzvah age.
A gregarious and charismatic man, he wooed colleagues with entertaining stories and genuine kindness. His commitment to Judaism came through at work and at home, where he lived by the rituals of Shabbat, kashrut, and the many Jewish holidays scattered throughout the year.
Grandpa Maurice was a natural performer and storyteller. I am certain my love for storytelling and schmoozing with friends and strangers alike, came from this wonderful man. His imagination was most pronounced at bedtime. Every visit he told and retold Benji and the Dragon, a fantasy adventure tale where my sister and I battle a fierce dragon, on a journey to grandmother’s house with a basket of cookies. Think King Arthur meets Little Red Riding Hood. Now as a father myself, I retell this favorite childhood tale, channeling the spirit of Maurice.
We lived in Norfolk, VA, a relatively sleepy Southern city known for its navy base and its proximity to the beach. While not a hub of rich Jewish life, roughly 20,000 made the region their home.
Maurice and my grandmother Lenore, my mom’s parents, stayed in the New York metropolitan region throughout their adult life and into retirement. Our visits north or their visits south would frequently overlap with a Jewish holiday. Come springtime, my grandparents would pack up their Buick and schlep down South, to celebrate Passover with our family.
To my gentile friends, I describe Passover as the "Jewish Thanksgiving." It’s a holiday built around a feast that’s heavy in symbolism and story. The celebration of Passover begins with an elaborate meal called a “seder” (pronounced sei dr) In Hebrew, seder literally means order or procedure, as the meal plays out in a detailed choreography of rituals. We recline on pillows, dip herbs in salt water while blessing many goblets of wine.
Amidst an abundance of esoteric metaphors, a nuanced story takes shape. A story told through ritual, simultaneously retelling, reenacting, remembering, and reliving an ancient memory made relevant and meaningful through an experiential meal.
The centerpiece is the seder plate, a family heirloom brought out once or twice a year to hold 6 sacred objects. Hard boiled-eggs. Parsley. A roasted lamb shank bone. Charoset. Horseradish. Matzo. To lubricate the spirit through this excruciatingly slow experience, the table is covered with many bottles of wine and grape juice. Lucky for some, wine is blessed on four separate occasions, and getting drunk is a mitzvah.
As a child, the Passover seder was the ultimate manifestation of boredom. It felt as if adults aspired to take as long as possible to get through the ceremony, leaving us kids dependent on the ever-flowing grape juice. Our picky palates salivating for matzo, and lots of it.
As a child and now as an adult, the only joy to this overflowing matzo is matzo brei. A simple breakfast pancake served with powdered sugar or jam. My grandpa made matzo brei into performance art. Each step of the process was narrated with such enthusiasm and charm, a build-up to the pinnacle moment - flipping the matzo brei in mid-air.
An exercise in stretching simplicity into scrumptious, first he crushed matzo with bare hands into a steel colander. He poured boiled water on top, mixing the mush with a few beaten eggs and a pinch of salt. This homogenous slop cooked in butter, slowly browning along the edges, crisping into a delicate shield of yum.
In retirement, my grandfather took magic classes, perhaps to impress his grandchildren or elevate his performing abilities. While his sleight of hand was amateur at best, his matzo-brei act, was pure magic for me.
The video is courtesy of Jeanne Goodman.
Jared Goodman started an ice cream and storytelling project in 2013 called Morgan St Theater. The desire to connect with other adults and create unique and delicious ice cream desserts was far more successful than he had anticipated. Over the years he hosted many performances in backyards, wineries, cafes, urban farms, even the Portland Art Museum, as a culinary artist in residence.
You may contact Jared at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Savory, Persian Matzah Brie:
Inspired by Jared's recipe, I made a Persian-style Matzah Brie!
I had never heard of this Ashkenazi Passover staple until I came to the United States. I do enjoy it with a bit of sugar, cinnamon, honey or maple syrup, just as Maurice made it in the above video.
However, a Persian meal has to have fried onions. I made up a Passover version of kookoo, an omelet made with various herbs or tomatoes or vegetables--and, of course, fried onions. It is quite delicious--and sweet in its own way.
1 large onion
2 T turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
Crush the matzahs into bite-size pieces
Mix the eggs with salt and pepper, add the matzah and let it rest for 5 min. If it is still dry, add a bit of water.
Fry the onion with a tablespoon of olive oil and a dash or turmeric until soft and golden.
Add to the matzah mixture and mix well
In a med, nonstick pan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a dish of turmeric
Warm up the oil mixture over med heat.
Add the mixture to the pan and spread evenly.
Cook on one side. Transfer to a dish and turn it over gently back to the pan to cook the other side.