As winter continues its merry march through our calendar and both Chanukah and Tu B’Shevat are but distant memories, our thoughts turn to the next holiday on the horizon. I would guess that most of you are contemplating Purim, Mishloach Manos and creative costuming ideas. But you might want to set your sights a little further ahead and start giving serious thought to Pesach – because with a little foresight and planning, you can make your Pesach preparations much less daunting.
I am not one of those people who start cleaning for Pesach the minute the menorah gets put away and, in fact, I typically indulge in denial until the last possible moment. However, after making Pesach in my so-called Pesach kitchen for the first time, I realized just how useful a Pesach kitchen could be.
If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine a Pesach kitchen with sleek granite countertops, a gleaming full size oven, a dishwasher, an oversized sink and a microwave in a small but well laid out room. But when I open them, what I see is my actual Pesach kitchen – nothing more than a small oven and a sink, tucked into a small stretch of wall in my laundry room. Surprisingly enough, while the space was crowded and cramped, having the ability to cook and bake for just a few extra days while my family was still eating chometz made making Pesach much less stressful, making me realize that with a minimal investment and a lot of creativity, installing a Pesach kitchen is a very worthwhile home improvement.
There are three basic elements to a Pesach kitchen: a sink, an oven and some sort of workspace. While a stainless steel sink set into a base cabinet is a nice choice and can be kashered if necessary, a freestanding plastic laundry sink can be found at home improvement stores for under $100. Keep your eyes open for an inexpensive oven or consider checking the classified ads for a used range; as long as it is self-cleaning it is relatively easy to kasher. Nestled next to each other on a small stretch of wall, my sink and stove total a very svelte sixty one inches wide by thirty inches deep, although you have to allow some clearance in front in order to be able to open the oven door. It goes without saying that you will need water and electrical hookup, as well as a gas line if you use a gas stove.
What to do about workspace? Assess the space you have and then get creative. In my case, I decided to stack two lightweight, six foot plastic folding tables, one atop the other, in order to give me one surface to work on and another higher surface for stashing supplies that would be nearby, but not in the way. After stacking the two tables, I realized that it was too low, so I elevated the legs of the lower table with two cans of kosher l’Pesach vegetables, duct taped together for extra stability. I found the lighting to be a little dim, but a clip on light solved that problem with ease.
Given that I was working in the Pesach kitchen while the rest of the house was still full of chometz, I took a kamikaze approach to food preparation. I cooked with foil pans and plastic silverware whenever possible, even when cooking on the stovetop. In order to make cleanup easier, I taped a clear plastic tablecloth to my worktable and covered it daily with fresh sheets of newspaper. As the newspaper got dirty, or if I needed to switch my work area from milchig to fleishig, I changed the newspaper, giving me a clean (and pareve) surface to work on. I also used stacks of newspaper as trivets to cool freshly cooked items. Obviously you will need to make sure that any newspaper you use is completely chometz free.
My upper table came in handy time and time again during my cooking marathon. I covered part of the table with towels and used it as a drying area for freshly washed items. A stack of seven ounce plastic cups came in handy both for cracking and checking eggs, and as measuring cups. Another cup kept a stash of inexpensive plastic silverware close at hand and a roll of paper towels was invaluable for cleaning up the inevitable spills. Given that cooking marathons tend to be messy, consider protecting your walls from spills and splatters that are bound to occur around your sink and stovetop. I bought several packages of plastic refrigerator liners in my local discount store and placed them all around my cooking and washing areas, sliding them in against the wall wherever I could and wedging them up against the wall with crumpled balls of foil or even empty egg cartons everywhere else. If you aren’t worried about damaging your walls feel free to just tape them.