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A Patinkin Passover

Entertainer Mandy Patinkin has many delicious memories of celebrating the Jewish holiday with his large family.

Published April 5, 2006

Getting her growing son to eat was one of the biggest projects for Mandy Patinkin's mother.

But to hear the award-winning actor and singer tell it, he'd wait impatiently at the Passover table for her chocolate sponge cake topped with raspberry sauce, and he'd sneak sugar cookies and brownies from the dessert trays as they lay cooling for the family Hanukkah celebration. His mouth still waters when he remembers Ma's Kosher Hot Dogs and Baked Beans ("Don't forget the sugar") and her amazing Hot Cream Cheese Puffs ("You have to use Philadelphia cream cheese").

Maybe his mother thought he couldn't care less, but Patinkin seems to remember an awful lot about the food of his youth.

As the accomplished theater, film and television actor got older, his culinary tastes spread to McDonald's, which horrified his aunts and grandma, who repeatedly asked his mother, "How can you let him eat that junk?" But Doralee Patinkin Rubin, a cook so skilled she would write two Jewish cookbooks, was pragmatic. "He's so skinny. Finally he likes something. I'm not going to let him eat it?"

The interchange is telling. Because Mandy Patinkin's eating habits - or any of the other 14 Patinkin grandchildren, for that matter - were "everybody's business." And "everybody" was close by.

Not only did two of Doralee's sisters-in-law, Ida and Lillian, live in the same building, but the rest of the Patinkin mishpacha (family) as well as all the Sintons - Doralee's side of the family - live in and around Hyde Park, a stone's throw from the University of Chicago and a few blocks from Rabbi Ralph Simon's synagogue, Congregation Rodfei Zedek, where they all worshiped. "It was like a shtetl," says Mandy's wife, Kathryn Grody Patinkin, who has listened over the years to her husband's endless anecdotes about his childhood.

Whether it was the proximity, or that everyone looked out for each other, Patinkin could be called the prototypical poster boy for the warm, extended Jewish

family: grandchildren of Eastern European immigrants who came to this country in the early part of the 20th century to seek their fortunes and raise their progeny.

On the first night of Passover, the family flocked to Auntie Ida's for the Seder, the setting chosen because Ida kept kosher and Grandma Celia insisted. There was a minimum of 25 people sitting at tables spread around the apartment, eating Ashkenazi dishes off her red glass Passover plates. Laughing and singing abounded and, of course, the telling of the story of their ancestors' flight for freedom from Pharaoh's Egypt.

"Every year the children would ask, why do we tell the same story over and over? The answer was always the same: 'It's part of our history. There are people all over the world who are still in bondage. You must never forget that,' " says Kathryn Patinkin.

After the service was over, the to-die-for desserts were devoured, and the extra place setting and glass of wine for the prophet Elijah was acknowledged, there was teenage Mandy, barefoot, draped in a white sheet, carrying a staff and singing Eliyahu Hanavi. Just as others simulate Santa Claus, Patinkin was the self-appointed ghost of Passovers past.

Patinkin lost his dad when he was 19, and both he and his mother fondly remember the naches (joy) Lester Patinkin felt in leading the Passover service.

When Mandy was growing up, he thought his mother lived in the kitchen. As he got older, he understood that the kitchen was her kingdom, her passion. He credits her with passing on that passion to him.

"Her sweets are to die for, and they'll kill you. If you eat them often, you'll be dead before your time, but you'll have a great time getting there," he says. "If you don't like them, send them to me and I'll eat them. I'll even give you my FedEx number."

Although Patinkin claims "anything my mom makes tastes like it came out of a five-star restaurant," his mother insists her food isn't gourmet; the cookbooks are made up of old-fashioned, Jewish-style dishes that most Americans, Jewish or not, know and love. Of course, for Patinkin, his mother's cookbooks are more than just recipes. He loves hunting through the pages looking for his childhood. The greatest thing about these books, he says, is that this part of his childhood isn't lost.

Today the Patinkins, who have two sons, Isaac, 24, and Gideon, 20, host a Seder for family and friends at their home in New York. "We make it very 'kid-friendly' and casual; sometimes we sit on the floor," says Patinkin. "We invite an army of people, usually around 50, and encourage everyone to participate. Gideon and Isaac still don the white sheets. Now it's their turn to teach the younger kids. They even spill a cup of wine to make bare footprints on the floor so everyone will know the prophet Elijah is for real. Sometimes we do a snake dance through the house singing Eliyahu Hanavi."

"It's an exciting event in our house, just as it was in my parents'," Patinkin says.

Beverly Levitt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

Passover Baked Chicken Breasts a l'Orange

Sweet and Sour Sauce:
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup currants
8 to 10 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 cup Passover cake meal, or more, if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
1 10- to 12-ounce sweet and sour sauce
1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
1 10-ounce jar sugar-free orange marmalade
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard (dissolved in a little warm water)

To make sauce: Combine sugar, mustard, vinegar, water and currants. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse chicken breasts in cold water; pat dry. Place dampened chicken breasts in bag of cake meal; shake until lightly coated. Place chicken in well-greased baking dish; brush lightly with olive oil. Cover tightly with foil; bake for 20 minutes.

Combine sweet and sour sauce with orange juice concentrate, marmalade, wine, ketchup and mustard. Pour into saucepan; simmer to heat through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove chicken from oven; brush generously with sauce. Add a little water to the pan. Return to oven, uncovered, and bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until tender and no pink is showing. Baste occasionally. Chicken should be well-glazed. Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Adapted from "Grandma Doralee Patinkin's Jewish Family Cookbook" by Doralee Patinkin Rubin (St. Martin's Press, 1999)


2 to 3 tablespoons peanut oil or Nyafat (see note)
11/2 very large sweet onions, sliced
1/2 pound fresh white mushrooms, halved
1/2 cup walnuts
6 to 8 Tam Tam crackers, broken into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped, plus extra white for garnish
1 chilled lettuce (butter lettuce, romaine or endive, for lettuce cups)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley for garnish

In a deep skillet, heat peanut oil or Nyafat. Add onions; saute slowly until golden brown. Add mushrooms and walnuts; continue to cook until mushrooms are crisp. Place crackers, mushroom mixture, salt and pepper in food processor. Process until you reach desired consistency. Place mixture in bowl. Fold in boiled eggs, reserving some of the white for garnish. Stir until completely mixed. The chopped liver may be molded, served in a beautiful bowl surrounded by matzo, or placed in lettuce cups. Garnish with chopped egg whites; sprinkle with parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Nyafat is available in the kosher food section. Most onion or garlic crackers may be substituted for Tam Tam crackers.

Source: "Grandma Doralee Patinkin's Holiday Cookbook" by Doralee Patinkin Rubin (St. Martin's Press, 2001)


12 large McIntosh apples, cored and cut into chunks
3 cups raw pecans
1/2 cup Concord grape or Malaga wine
11/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
11/2 tablespoons honey (optional)

Place all ingredients in food processor. Using the steel blade, pulse on and off. The consistency should be mildly coarse. If it's too watery, use more nuts.

Source: Mandy Patinkin


3/4 cup Passover cake meal
3/4 cup potato starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 pound margarine
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
13/4 cups grated carrots
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated rind of 1 lemon
3 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift cake meal, potato starch, salt and spices together. Combine margarine, oil, sugar and egg yolks in a food processor. Blend well. Add carrots, lemon juice and rind; blend once again. Add dry ingredients. Remove batter to a large bowl. Fold egg whites into batter. Pour into a 41/2-cup greased ring mold or an 81/2- by 11-inch baking pan. Place in refrigerator overnight.

Remove from refrigerator. Allow to stand at room temperature for 1/2 hour before baking. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Serves 10 to 12.

Source: "Grandma Doralee Patinkin's Holiday Cookbook" by Doralee Patinkin Rubin (St. Martin's Press, 2001)

[Last modified April 4, 2006, 12:54:00]

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