How To Make Matzo Brei

Lesléa Newman.
Honoring the many different voices of Jewish poets.

It has to be Sunday morning,
not just any Sunday morning
the Sunday morning of Passover

after you’ve gone without bread
bagels, rolls, muffins, crackers, cookies,
cupcakes, donuts for days and days and days

and you think if you see one more piece
of dry, brown, brittle, tasteless
as cardboard matzo you’ll scream

then it is time. It has to be cold
outside, not you-can-see-your-breath cold
just an early morning chill that makes you glad

to be tucked inside the house, in the kitchen
with your daddy, just the two of you
everyone else upstairs, even the dog

asleep. He has to be just out of the shower,
black wavy hair still damp, smelling
sweetly of aftershave, and wearing

freshly pressed black slacks
a long sleeved maroon shirt
shiny shoes, gold wedding  band

on his left hand, on his right that heavy
college ring with the big purple stone that squashes
your fingers when you hold hands with him

but you don’t really mind.
Everything has to be all set out and ready to go:
a box of matzo waiting to be opened,

half a dozen eggs waiting to be cracked,
a carton of milk, salt and pepper,
your special Fred Flintstone glass

he got free at the gas station
last time he filled the tank,
a fork, a plate, a pot, a frying pan.

You have to be sleepy,
eyes crusty in the corners,
sour taste in your mouth,

still in your pajamas, scruffy
slippers on your feet. He has to bow
from the waist when you come downstairs

so you feel like a princess, not
just his princess, but a real princess
when he pulls out a yellow vinyl chair

so you can sit at the table and watch
him cook the only meal he makes all year.
“Now,” he says, opening the box of matzo

and crumbling eight pieces into the metal pot,
then soaking them in water, not too hot,
not too cold, but just right. “Are you ready,”

he asks, “for the best breakfast you’ve ever
had in your whole life?” “Better than last year?”
you ask, though of course you know the answer.

“Last year was nothing,” your father scoffs,
as he always does, draining the matzo and holding it
back from the edge of the pot with the heel

of his hand. “Last year was just practice,”
he says, cracking four eggs against the side
of your Fred Flintstone glass and mixing them

up with a fork while he prances about
singing “Frere Jacques
in a fake French accent that makes you laugh.

You have to leap up as he adds milk
to the beaten eggs, pours the mixture
over the soggy matzo, sprinkles in salt and pepper

and looks around for the stick of butter
he forgot to take out of the refrigerator.
You hold it out to him on the palm

of your hand like a birthday present
and he says, “Merci, Madamoiselle,”
before he accepts your offering, slices it up,

drops the pats into the pan and turns
the knob on the stove so the flame is not too high
not too low, but just right. He pours the uncooked

matzo brei into the pan, studies it, adjusts
the flame again, holds the spatula high
as the room starts to smell

like a holiday. You have to set the table
without being asked, folding the napkins
just so, forks on the left, knives and spoons

on the right, everything perfect just this one
Sunday morning, no  big or little brother teasing you
about having frizzy hair and being fat

no mother telling you to go upstairs and change your clothes
you’re not leaving the house looking like that
just you and your dad and a pan full

of matzo brei sizzling on the stove
waiting for the big moment
when he slides his hands

inside black-and-white oven mitts
that look like cows,
covers the pan with a large China plate

throws you a look that says
wish me luck and flips the whole thing
upside down. You  have to hold your breath

as he removes the pan, steps back and crows
Voila!” pronouncing it like the instrument
your best friend plays in orchestra,

proud as a little boy who has just learned
to write his name
at the sight of the matzo brei

resting on the plate all in one piece.
“Now for the grand finale,” he announces,
as if you’ve never seen this before.

Still you have to watch, fingers crossed,
as he slides the whole thing off the plate
back into the pan and blinks at the miracle

of the matzo brei, still intact, still unbroken
just like your family
now that your mother and your brothers

and the dog have all drifted
downstairs summoned by the aroma
of melting butter and frying egg

which makes your mouth water
even though you think eggs are disgusting
but this breakfast is different

everybody dopey, sleepy, happy,
like the Seven Dwarves
though no one is grumpy

not even your mother
who isn’t fond of others
making such a mess in her kitchen

not even your father
who is carefully cutting
the matzo brei into five even triangles

with the edge of his shiny spatula
and placing them delicately onto plates
you pass around the table

like awards that have been hard won.
And when the first bite is taken
you have to admit how good it is

to be sitting here with your family
your mother to your left
your brothers across from you,

your dog under your feet,
your father to your right
winking at you, his helper,

his pal, his partner-in-crime. And you have
to wink back and clean your plate completely
unaware that years from now

on a lonely Sunday morning
this memory will appear
out of nowhere

and catch in your throat
like a lump of chewy matzo brei
that refuses to go down.


"How To Make Matzo Brei" © 2008 Lesléa Newman from Nobody's Mother (Orchard House Press, Pt. Orchard, WA)

Topics: Food, Passover, Poetry
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How to cite this page

Newman, Lesléa. "How To Make Matzo Brei." 9 April 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 23, 2024) <>.