Passover Postage: Sending matzah to China
Two things I don’t understand about the US Postal Service: Why it’s the workers, not customers, who go “postal.” Secondly, how it could be in trouble when it has me.
Since my son, Jonathan, moved to Beijing in 1999, I’ve shipped countless care packages. Could I let the anytime banana bread, the Rosh Hashanah honey cake or Passover brownies get stale with regular airmail taking ten days to two weeks?
No way. I’m a Jewish mother and popo (Chinese for mother-in-law on the husband’s side). The goodies fly International Express Mail, the first-class cabin of the postal system. The Passover shipment includes chocolate-covered matzah, a Jonathan craving. This year a Chinese-American friend brought over an artisanal dark variety, certainly a foodie Bay Area exclusive.
Last week I made the seasonal post office drop. The clerk, Chinese himself, inquired as to how my son liked the last package (timed for his late-January birthday, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day). He apologized for the time-consuming procedure that requires manually entering sender and recipient information, including the complex Beijing address. This antiquated process contributes to the postal system’s dire prognosis. My chief concern about it: avoiding eye contact with people in line behind me.
“This one’s eighty-six dollars,” he said, looking worried I wouldn’t approve.
“If they lived here, we’d take them out to dinner. It’s okay. This is a major holiday.” Though it’s vintage me to become defensive, why do I rationalize? I’m contributing to his job security.
This sum rings a bell. It’s what I’d spent for the box that went to Beijing in 2002, before my husband, Eli, and I flew over to “make Seder” with Jonathan and Amy, his then girlfriend, now his wife of eight-plus years. The Jewish Forward published my account of that celebration. We’ve celebrated Passover there twice more since. That shipment contained twelve copies of Haggadah pages Eli selected for the service, a box of matzah meal to make matzah balls (which I didn’t risk packing due to its resemblance to anthrax in that early post-9/11 era), as well as candy, cinnamon (for charoses--Jonathan had had trouble finding it) and baked goods. Surely, it was heavier. As with everything else, I got more bang for my postal buck ten years ago.
Although the Forward piece says I baked, I remember my mother baking her signature Passover and brownies and mandel bread and sending them to China herself. That was about two years after she’d announced she’d been told there was something wrong with her brain and it wouldn’t get better. She never admitted to Alzheimer’s—who can blame her? Now it could be my memory that’s faltering or inventing. Maybe the packages from Grandma, who died in 2008, had stopped by then. In her time there were a lot of them, to Jonathan and his cousins, and to my brother and me before them. (Though I don’t remember her ever sending me bakery at college, as my weight then plagued her more than it did me. But that’s another story.)
Her brownies are in the box that left last Friday. As easy as this recipe is, I still read it as I bake. When I flip to the Passover section in one of my two unwieldy loose-leaf binders of recipes culled from family, friends and newspapers over 43 years, I find that chocolate-tinged page. Recipes from my mother aren’t labeled as such—I just know. Paging through, I spot several yellow-pad pages with handwritten Sephardic Passover recipes. The writing is that of my friend, Judy, a great cook who also has gorgeous handwriting. Neither of us lives in Milwaukee anymore—we’re on opposite coasts—and neither of us is Sephardic, but we’re adventurous, though I haven’t bothered making those savory matzah pies in several years. (Too fattening for two of us.) The recipes remind me that I haven’t heard from Judy in months, so I pick up the phone and leave a message. That night she returns the call and tells me they’re coming here for a wedding, so we make plans to get together.
I don’t cook or bake as significantly as I did when kids were home or major holidays were celebrated with major family around. Living in a San Francisco condo half the size of former houses, I have neither the space nor the kitchen I had then. This week I’d kill for those double ovens and two refrigerators. But quality time in the kitchen means old recipes and memories of eating them with people far away or long gone. Nostalgia trips.
Like trips to the post office could become. Hello, Fedex, what are your rates for sending chocolate-covered matzah to China?