Stuff to Do

Why Is This Passover Different from All Other Passovers? Celebrating in Quarantine

Passover is the holiday when Jews throughout the world get together to celebrate the exodus from Egypt. It’s a time when we reflect on what it means to be free and we retell the Passover story, the magid, as a way to provoke new questions, to educate the youngest family members, and to keep the history alive.

This year, Jews are challenged with a different kind of Passover. Families are separated from one another and many of the traditions associated with the holiday, like welcoming strangers, are not possible and are certainly not advisable.  The Passover dinner, the Seder, which initiates the holiday will have to be configured in a different way.

Passover is from April 8-16.  How should we celebrate this year?

Importantly, we need to celebrate Passover. Passover refers to the final plague passing over the Jewish families in the days of Egypt. This year, we pray to have Passover relieve us from the plague of coronavirus and from the plague of social distancing. Our virtual Seders won’t be the same and they won’t be perfect. But the Passover story is an important one about resilience and success, and this year the freedoms we cherish matter more than ever.  We can rely on our memories of Passovers past to guide us as we modify and adapt to our current reality.

The first Seder will be held on the evening of April 8 with many families celebrating a second one as well on April 9.

Making It Happen

This year, you’ll need to be a bit tech-savvy to bring the family together. The easiest way is via Zoom, the online meeting software that allows multiple people to be online at the same time. Download it onto your computer or phone from or with the Zoom app and you’ll be ready to go.  Then, someone can invite each participant with a link to join the meeting, or, in this case, the Seder. Click to join with video and sound and you’ll soon see everyone on your screen.

Courtesy of Park Avenue Synagogue

In addition to having someone coordinate the invitations, you’ll need to appoint someone to take charge of the order of the Seder, similar to how it would be done if you were sitting around a family table in one room.  That person, the leader, will then call on participants to read sections from the Haggadah, which sets forth the order of the Seder and its contents, or ask attendees to comment on questions that will personalize the Seder for your family.

What Does a Seder Mean Right Now

In these unprecedented times, the Seder lends itself to many applications to the present.  For example, when you discuss the ten plagues that Moses invoked on the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to allow the Jews religious freedom, you might want to relate the plagues to what is happening right now with a different set of plagues: the plague of disease, the plague of scarcity of food and supplies, the plague of unemployment and so on.

The Four Cups of Wine take on new importance this year, too.  Wine was considered a royal drink in the past, and hence drinking wine meant that you were free. While there is no concrete reason why we drink four cup at a Seder (or even three or two), we still need to remind ourselves that we are free, even though it may not seem that way right now. No one will argue that wine this year will also help us relax and recline (as you’re supposed to on Passover) during this difficult time.

There are numerous other opportunities to increase the relevance of the Passover story to our present situation.

A Seder by the Books

The contents of the Seder (which means order), can be found by downloading any number of Haggadot (try for some suggestions or how to make your own). The Haggadah will help you track through the Seder’s dozen or so steps:

1. Candle Lighting

2. Blessing of the Wine (Kadesh)– drink the first cup of wine

3. Washing the Hands (Urhatz) – a perfect opportunity to mention why this is so important right now

4. Karpas – dipping greens into salt water as a symbol of Spring and new beginnings but marked by tears

5. Yahatz – with three pieces of matzoh, take the middle piece and break it in half, setting aside the larger piece as the afikoman (the final piece eaten as dessert). While this was said to symbolize the breaking of the Ten Commandments or the parting of the Red Sea when the Israelites fled Egypt, perhaps this “breaking” can refer to the “broken” existence that is now being shared throughout the world.  It’s a perfect time to stop and reflect on what it means to you today.

6. Magid – the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.  It includes the explanation of the symbolic items on the Seder plate (as best as you can create one), recitation of the Four Questions by the youngest present, traditional Passover songs and readings of a variety of explanatory passages. Drink the second cup of wine.

7. Washing the Hands – another 20-second reminder of what is happening at present.

8. Blessing the Matzoh  (Hamotzi) – giving thanks that we have food to eat and can share it with our families and friends

9. Maror – eating something bitter like horseradish as a remembrance of the mortar that the Israelites used to build the bricks for the Egyptians’ buildings

10. Charoset – eating a sweet mix of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, together with some Maror on Matzoh, a Hillel sandwich, sweetness with a remembrance of bitterness. Perhaps you’d like to mention what you feel you’re missing at the moment?  And what you’re grateful for?

11. Dinner – drink the third cup of wine

12. The tradition of Elijah’s Cup and Miriam’s Cup (pouring the Fifth cup of wine for Elijah and a cup of water for Miriam) – welcoming the prophet Elijah to the Seder and recognizing Miriam’s well that provided water for the Israelites while in the desert. The symbolism of Elijah as a virtual guest is more apparent than ever this year.

13. Conclude the Seder and drink the fourth cup of wine.

Making It Your Own

While some of these steps may be difficult to execute this year, you can adjust what you might remember from past Seders to the reality of what we have to use at this moment.  It’s important to accept that you might not have a perfect Seder, and that’s fine. If you don’t have all the ingredients or you don’t have a Seder plate, you will still have a Seder as long as you come together and recite the Passover story.

The Seder can be as long as you want it to be, and you can choose to forego the order and leave the dinner part to the end if that works best for you, following the pre-meal steps of the Seder on Zoom and then signing off to dine. You could also decide to reconvene afterward  to have some schmooze time and to reflect on what the closing statement, “Next Year in Jerusalem” might truly mean as we self-quarantine now and think ahead.

Women’s Travel Fest Returns to New York March 6-8

Coinciding with the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, Women’s Travel Fest returns to New York City with a terrific line-up of programming and networking opportunities. The seventh annual conference for women passionate about travel is set for March 6-8.

The Fest kicks off with a networking pre-party downtown at The DL, 95 Delancey Street, on Friday March 6 at 7pm.

The full line-up of seminars takes place over two days, on Saturday March 7 and Sunday March 8. Speakers from a wide array of travel-related disciplines will share their knowledge with attendees over the course of the Fest which takes place at the Angel Orensanz event space at 172 Norfolk Street, New York City.

Saturday programming begins at 10am with an introduction by Kelly Lewis, founder of the Women’s Travel Fest and Go! Girl Guides.

Other Saturday highlights include:  Products and apps to make travel easier, Travel mishaps and safety tips for solo travelers, and a session on overtourism.

The Saturday program concludes with a session on living the life you were made for, an inspirational program discussing travel as it relates to each attendee.

Networking continues into the early evening with an after-party on Saturday evening.

On Sunday, professional development scheduling includes photography sessions, discussions about travel options for any age, budget travel and the 2020 destinations most appropriate for female travelers.

More than 30 speakers at the Travel Fest include editors Nikki Vargas, Unearth Women and Meredith Carey and Lale Arikoglu, Conde Nast Traveler; bloggers Ciara Johnson, Hey Ciara! and Alexandra Jimenez, Travel Fashion Girl; writer Jenna Scatena and TV personality Mickela Mallozzi, host of PBS’s Barefeet with Mickela Mallozzi.

Purchase tickets at For more information,

You Still Have a Week to Surprise Your Valentine with a Great Dinner in New York City

Countdown to Valentine’s Day 2020.

Amore Italian-Style

Set in a beautiful brownstone on a tree-lined block, flower- and candle-bedecked Felidia has been a romantic favorite for diners for 38 years. For Valentine’s Day, Felidia is serving a four-course San Valentino Tasting Menu dinner at $158 per person with an optional Kaluga Caviar course. Complementing the specially designed heart-shaped ravioli (Cuore Matto) are over-the-top dishes like Wagyu beef bresaola and a Tutto Tonno platter comprised of Big Eye tuna tartare, carpaccio, avocado, burrata and Kaluga caviar. Guests will also receive a tasting of Felidia’s most coveted desserts and Italian delights.

Felidia Wagyu Beef

To be transported to Rome without buying a plane ticket, Lupa has a special $79 four-course Valentine’s Day menu that will inspire amore and oohs and ahhs. The meal begins with a choice of aphrodisiacal appetizers like broiled oysters, or carne crudo with truffle Fonduta and quail egg. More indulgent truffles can be added to the tonnarelli cacio pepe for the primo course followed by two shareable dishes, whole roasted red snapper or quail “love birds.” Red-for-romance strawberry tartufo is the perfect dessert.

Lupa Osyters

Spend Valentine’s Day in NYC’s historic Flower District at Feroce Ristorante in the Moxy Chelsea, named “Best New Italian Restaurant to Open Worldwide” by Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso. Guests will enjoy  aphrodisiac-inspired specials like carpaccio di Capesante, scallops thinly sliced and served with taggiasca olives, cauliflower, and organic dill in a blood orange dressing; and saltimbocca di rana Pescatrice, roasted monkfish wrapped in prosciutto di Parma, aged for 24 months, served with zucchini and olive tapenade. The meal climaxes with a sinfully rich mousse al cioccolato e limponi, a heart-shaped chocolate mousse served with organic fresh raspberries.

Feroce Ristorante credit Will Engelmann

Fun with Names

Fish Cheeks has curated a bright seafood-centric menu with unapologetic heat to keep the sparks flowing. Spice things up with a choice of two set menus for two with favorites like the coconut crab curry, crab fried rice, and Manila clams with sweet basil. The “No Sleep” High West bourbon cocktail mixed with Mr. Blacks cold brew liqueur, cinnamon syrup and almond milk is the perfect finish (or start) to the evening.

Fish Cheeks No Sleep Cocktail credit Andrew Bui

Boqueria wants you to have fun this Valentine’s Day with special Barcelona-inspired, romance-inducing tapas options. You can express your intentions by choosing “No Commitment,” an array of à la carte signature tapas, or the prix fixe “Classic Love Story,” Chef Marc Vidal’s selection of seasonal dishes and Spanish classics. “Three Little Words” will bring you an assortment of decadent favorites like hand-carved jamon Ibérico and croquetas de pollo y morcilla while “The Grand Gesture” notches things up with ostras con espuma de patat, a grilled oysters on the half shell with potato cream; and a tarta de chocolate con nueces y café, molten chocolate cake.


Palais by Perfect Pie will offer a menu of special sweet and savory dishes for Valentine’s Day with fun names like the “Whole Lotta Love,” Beau Soleil oysters with American sturgeon caviar and cucumber mignonette; and the” I’d Steak My Life On It,” roasted halibut steak with spinach and romantic roasted red pepper sauce followed by Don Giovanni’s tagliatelle with chanterelles, wild mushrooms and Italian white truffles. The tongue-in-cheek meal finishes on a sweet note with the signature dessert by former White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, a chocolate heart brimming with bon bons and cognac, served broken or whole, as requested.

Palais by Perfect Pie

Sweets for the Sweet

In celebration of Valentine’s Day Black Tap is rolling out the decadent Red Velvet Cake Shake, a red velvet cake batter shake with a vanilla frosted rim with red and white sprinkles topped with a slice of red velvet cake, whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle. Now that’s love.

Valentines Day Shake credit Black Tap

Intimate new East Village Bakeshop Red Gate Bakery has created swoon-worthy strawberry buttercream Oreos (an all-butter Oreo cookie made with black cocoa, sandwiched around sweet and tangy strawberry buttercream), the perfect finish to an evening of romance.

Red Gate Bakery credit Rachel Vanni

It’s All about the Drink

Cocktail bar and lounge, Ophelia, will be offering a Rose and Chocolates Soirée this Valentine’s Day. Tickets are required. A VIP pass includes a private table for two, a long stem rose, Champagne on arrival, a bottle of Moët & Chandon Champagne and chocolate truffles. If you want to go a little further, Ophelia has a “Proposal Package” which puts you in a private cove, covered in rose petals, and further ensures you’ll get the desired answer with a bottle of Dom Pérignon or Ace of Spades Champagne, two dozen long stem roses and a box of chocolate truffles, all orchestrated according to your personal wishes.


For sports-minded lovers, J. Bespoke offers a speakeasy vibe that addresses all interests. On Valentine’s Day, the cocktail lounge rejiggers its usual sports programming to show romantic sports movies all day. As you munch on fun bites like truffle fries and spicy honey pizza, you’ll sip the special cocktail of the evening, the Little Red Corvette, made with raspberry-infused vodka, fresh ginger, Aperol, fresh lime, mint leaves, jalapeno tincture, garnished with rose buds, while you watch romantic sports films like Bull Durham, Jerry Maguire, Love & Basketball, Fever Pitch and Rocky. Your date will be impressed – you enter through an unmarked brass door at the back of a coffee bar.

J. Bespoke Cocktail courtesy of J. Bespoke

Cantina Rooftop

makes sure your cocktails are served with a selection of aphrodisiacal dishes. For Valentine’s Day, Cantina will serve a special three-course meal with a pitcher of their signature margaritas or sangria for two. You’ll sip your tequila as you tuck into aphrodisiacal dishes like baked Blue Point oysters (ostiones al horno) with poblano rajas gratin and desserts like guava cheese cake with fresh fruit compote. You can keep the party spirit alive at Cantina’s after-dinner party with drink specials and music by DJ Javi.

Carnaval Maine Puts the Wonder Back in Winter

New York to Maine is a quick trip by air. Nonstop flights to Portland from JFK or LGA make this a deliciously fabulous weekend getaway.

Celebrations of the winter season have been popular for more than a century. Chasing the Northern Lights in Scandinavia and visiting Santa Claus headquarters in Finland are joined in North America in Quebec City, the world’s snow capital, where the first major winter carnival made its debut in 1894. And now in the US.


In the 1920s, thousands of visitors flocked to Portland, Maine to enjoy a winter spectacle of ice castles, sculptures, sled dogs, ski jumping and other outdoor festivities. A century later, from January 30-February 1 Carnaval Maine brought the party back Down Maine for a two-day, 100-year commemoration on the city’s Eastern Promenade, all covered with snow, a fitting start to the state’s 2020 winter season.


Following in the tradition of Quebec’s Winter Carnival, the Maine Bicentennial Snow Ball celebrated the century’s inaugural winter festival which marked the beginning of the one-month winter celebration. This year is also the 200th year of Maine’s statehood, making the celebration a true milestone.

Train Transport at Carnaval Maine Courtesy

If you missed the 2020 Carnaval Maine, you can count on next year to continue this newly rebooted tradition. The reception by the crowds certainly ensured that. Throughout the event, other commemorative events including arrival from the city’s Old Port by a vintage steam locomotive (provided by the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad) were popular tickets. Taking passengers on a coastal ride, a decked-out conductor in his caboose looked like he had come straight from the Polar Express as part of this historic rail car procession. The train traveled along the coast to a snowy hillside area and a towering 600-foot inflatable “igloo” on Cutter Street.

The Hill Courtesy of

In partnership with Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine, Carnaval Maine created a hill active with USASA (United States Amateur Snowboard Association) National Qualifying Rail Jam competitors. Crowds cheered spins, jumps, and flips down rail outcroppings and over ramps. Talented skiers and snowboarders of varying ages accumulated points, showing off talents that could potentially lead to national championships and future Olympic appearances.

Food Igloo Courtesy

The igloo was a centerpiece of the festival, with an Aurora Borealis-style alternating light show projected on it, adding to the polar effect. But it was inside that the more tangible “northern lights” occurred. Food and drink were key at this city dubbed one of the country’s newest culinary capitals by Bon Appetit. “Bites & Brews” foodie-oriented events brought Portland’s award-winning chefs and craft brewers together with spirits and dishes from James Beard fave Allagash Brewing Company along with Luke’s Lobster, Rising Tide, Shipyard Brewing Company, Holy Donut, UNION, Maine Beer Company, Urban Farm Fermentory, Noble BBQ and Central Provisions, so many of my Maine favorites happily together in one warm spot.

Noble Barbeque courtesy

Central Provisions, my go-to whenever I visit Portland, had one of the most delicious ale-and-food pairings, with Rising Tide Brewing’s Mountainside IPA paired with smoked gouda bratwurst, Brussels sprouts, sauerkraut and Mountainside mustard on rye crostini. I also loved Urban Farm Fermentory and Noble BBQ’s combo, semi-sweet mead and burnt-end chili with corn bread. And how about this for a fabulous Shipyard Brewing Company & Holy Donut dessert pairing, Smashed Blueberry (a hybrid between a Porter and a Scotch ale) with a dark chocolate sea salt donut.

Evenings saw other Rail Jam events and light-covered trees surrounded by people clustered around outdoor fire pits enjoying warming nightcaps of hot chocolate, coffee and other beverages. Befitting Portland’s burgeoning art community, art installations, illumination shows and professional ice sculptors were beautiful additions to the schedule.


While Portland’s event does not have the comparable size and history of Quebec’s famous cold-weather festivities, Maine’s first year was an ambitious and exciting reinvention of the early 1900’s version.

Give Your Sweetie a Valentine’s Day Gift for the Two of You with a Kripalu Retreat

Here’s a Valentine’s Day gift that’s an easy drive or train ride from New York City

Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the beautiful Berkshires has a couples-centric gift for Valentine’s Day. Their special R&R Relationships Retreat from February 9-14 offers a schedule of daily workshops designed to strengthen your ties to the people you care about most.  Throughout the week, you’ll learn effective ways to mindfully communicate and engage with loved ones; experience yoga and movement classes focused on how to better listen to your body; explore tools and practices for self-love, self-care, and self-compassion; and connect with nature on guided snowshoeing excursions.

Photo by: Meryl Pearlstein

If the weather cooperates, you can join in on a walking meditation through the forest on the center’s grounds where you’ll learn how to be at peace with yourself and hopefully translate that experience to your significant other. I found it to be an incredibly insightful hike.  Regardless, you’ll take away a healthier outlook on your relationship while enjoying healthful dining and learning healthful habits.

Forest Bathing - Photo By: Meryl Pearlstein

If the timing isn’t right, you can also book a retreat for the two of you to any of Kripalu’s more than 700 programs a year. They’ll also customize a program to meet your needs with yoga, massage, dance, hiking, canoeing (in warmer weather), and sightseeing in the area. Here are a couple of others in February perfect for couples, Partner Yoga for Couples – (February 14-17) or Loving Like You Mean It: Emotional Mindfulness to Transform Relationships – (February 14-17).

Yoga Studio - Photo By: Meryl Pearlstein

Kripalu is one of my favorites, and it’s been around for 40 years catering to yogis like me who enjoy exploring yoga, mindfulness, outdoor activities and having an extensive menu of indulgent spa and wellness treatments at any time of the year.

Cooking Lessons - Photo By: Meryl Pearlstein

The all-vegetarian and vegan food choices are pretty wonderful, too, and there are cooking classes to teach you how to make the recipes on your own. The morning’s silent breakfast is a fascinating opportunity for self-contemplation or couples’ contemplation.

57 Interlaken Rd, Stockbridge, MA 01262, (866) 200-5203

Legendary Dishes Enjoyed by Former Presidents are Presented in a Special Menu for Presidents’ Day

For one night only, February 22, Blackbarn restaurant pays homage to Presidents’ Day with a special menu befitting presidents past.

Chef Owner John Doherty - Photo By Meryl Pearlstein

The creation of chef-owner John Doherty, the presidential meal is the stuff of food legends. Chef Doherty reprises some of the dishes that he created for dignitaries while executive chef at the Waldorf=Astoria in what he’s labelled the World Leader Menu. The dinner is an exceptional experience, served at Blackbarn’s exclusive Chef’s Table in full view of the restaurant’s open kitchen.

Photo By: Meryl Pearlstein

The five-course meal is curated from dishes that had been served to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush,  Bill Clinton and other world leaders, updated for today’s diners with Blackburn’s farm-to-table spin.

Enhanced with wines selected exclusively for the dinner, the meal begins with a consommé and ravioli of wild mushrooms and truffles, a rich (and very pretty) presentation that is perfect for a chilly February evening. The sommelier suggests a pairing with Rojac Malvazja, a local variant of malvasia, from the Istrian peninsula in Slovenia. I can visualize the original 1988 inspiration for this mushroom-based dish, the former Chairman of the Soviet Union of Socialist Republics’ Mikhail Gorbachev and picture him smiling with appreciation along with his hosts President Ronald Regan and President Elect George H. Bush.

Seared Maine Diver Sea Scallops Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

Two strikingly different main courses follow, a seared Maine diver sea scallop set atop a pillow of potato mousseline and graced with a smidge of Oscetra caviar. The somewhat briny taste of the scallops blends beautifully with a California grenache blanc, recommended by the wine team. Both were a favorite of President Clinton.

Rack of Lamb in Rosemary - Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

The second entrée, a gift for any meat lover, is a lovely rack of lamb in rosemary jus, served with a medley of salsify, lemon and tomato and an eggplant terrine, paired, if you wish, with a spectacular red wine, a deep-hued Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany. The dignitaries who had previously enjoyed this dish were President George H Bush, James Baker, General Brent Scowcroft (the National Security Advisor under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. Bush) and Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom.

Presidential Dessert - Photo By Meryl Pearlstein

A cheese course precedes dessert, a small portion of triple-cream Brillat-Saverin with a dollop of fig jam and a garden salad as perfect now as it had been in 1985 when it delighted the six leaders of the free world during the 40th anniversary of the United Nations.

To finish, you’ll enjoy a dreamy chocolate caramel tarte adorned with gold leaf amid a raspberry coulis, also connected to the United Nations, as it had been served to President George W. Bush after his address to the United Nations Assembly in 1997. The pièce de résistance, a vintage port from the Douro Valley, is suggested to accompany.

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