Latest update: June 28th, 2012
I hate to tell you this, but Pesach without pressure is a myth. No matter what anyone tells you (and it’s usually men who tell you that Pesach preparations can be tension free), it just doesn’t exist. To be fair, I don’t know that there is any major holiday or occasion that doesn’t involve some kind of pressure. Eliminating the stress entirely is not a realistic goal. But minimizing it is.
Whether you are home for Pesach or packing up and moving out, it is a major event and, like anything else, requires planning. For those of you who are going to a hotel, I have no advice. Have a great vacation and think of me while you are sitting by the pool on Erev Pesach doing your nails because I promise you, I won’t have polish worthy nails by then. For those of you spending your Yom Tov with relatives, hatzlacha rabbah. I hope everyone gets along well and that the sleeping accommodations are okay. For those of us who are staying home for Pesach, listen up. It’s time to get to work.
Fear not. I am not one of those super efficient people who is ready to kasher her kitchen on Shushan Purim. But I am one of those compulsive people who likes to plan ahead in order to minimize the work, and equally important, the cost of making Pesach, so that both are less intimidating. And believe it or not, the time to get started is now.
I don’t have to tell you just how overwhelming your credit card statement can become Pesach-time. Between making sure that everyone has proper clothing and stockpiling food items, the numbers add up fast, which is why I like to start stocking up on Pesach items now. My first stop for Pesach shopping? My own pantry. You may be surprised to find out how many items you already own that are in sealed containers and have Kosher L’Pesach certification all year round. Check the labels and look for the “P” next to the hechsher. A quick trip through my pantry (know your minhagim) unearthed quite a few products including: assorted coffees and teas, sugar, cocoa, kosher salt, honey, duck sauce, balsamic vinegar and assorted canned goods packed by heimishe companies including sliced mushrooms, hearts of palm, pineapple, sour cherries, Israeli pickles, olives and mandarin oranges. Be sure to check out your freezer as well. Empire raw chicken products are Kosher L’Pesach 365 days a year. So just wipe off your newly acquired Pesach stash, set it aside and you are already one step closer to making Pesach. Make a list of everything you are putting away so that when the time to shop in earnest arrives you will know which items you already own.
Take the time to check out the OU’s Pesach guide (discuss now what your family uses) when it comes out, available both from the OU, in many local kosher stores and online at www.ou.org. Aside from the directory listing items that are supervised for Pesach by the Orthodox Union, the grey pages hold a treasure trove of information telling you which items can be used on Pesach without special supervision. Stock up on those items now as well to help minimize expenses as you get closer to Pesach. No matter when you do your shopping, now or closer to Pesach, take the time to double check every item you put in your cart and make sure it is Pesachdik. You never know when someone will have put an item down in the Pesach area by mistake and trust me when I tell you it is really very disturbing to notice on Pesach that you are holding food that doesn’t say Kosher L’Pesach on it.
Aside from all the cleaning and buying involved for the holiday that is ironically named “z’man chayrusaynu”, the time of our freedom, a major part of your holiday preparations involves food. Before you start googling Pesach cookbooks and recipes, take the time to go through your regular recipes – you may be surprised how many things you make during the year are one hundred percent chometz free. Time is at a premium, so why start experimenting with unfamiliar recipes when so many of your family’s favorites, including soups, main dishes and salads are already Pesach friendly?
And while the Susie Fishbein’s of the world may disagree with me, I would like to suggest that Pesach is one of those occasions when you want to keep things simple. Unless you have a Pesach kitchen, an army of sous chefs and a full cleaning crew, you have a minimum amount of time to do a maximum amount of cooking. Save the Braised Shallot Glazed Chicken Breasts with Pistachio-Cranberry Stuffing and the Cashew Meringue Chocolate Torte for some other time when your schedule affords you the opportunity to fuss with more elaborate meals. Stick with the basics: roasts, baked chicken, broiled fish, stir fries, roasted veggies and lots of salads. There is a time and place to show off your gourmet cooking skills and Pesach just isn’t it.
Keep your menus for the sedarim as simple as possible. Is anyone really hungry for a five-course meal at eleven o’clock at night after eating all that matza and marror? After years of having to put away an enormous amount of leftovers after the sedarim I have started scaling back dramatically and have found that everyone at the table is a lot happier since no one is really in the mood to eat and the Afikoman is still looming ahead for dessert.
When it comes to baking, look for recipes that are simple and easy. I try to avoid any cake recipes that call for separating eggs and I double the recipe for every cake (and kugel) that I make so that I can knock off twice as much cooking with minimal effort.
Other helpful Pesach tips? Either get yourself a notebook or boot up your home computer so that you can keep track of not only your Pesach menus, but what you bought and in what quantity. Not only will planning for Pesach next year be a little easier when you have that information at your fingertips, but you will save money by not overbuying at a time of year where everything seems to cost more than usual and your credit card balance is already running high.
Be sure to enlist help from the troops: hand one family member a broom, another a potato peeler and give a third one a dishtowel. There is absolutely no reason for you to be doing everything on your own. If they can help you eat the food, they can help you make it. Most importantly, try to keep a sense of humor and a positive attitude so that you can enjoy your Yom Tov as much as possible. While Pesach may be labor intensive, it is also a golden opportunity to savor not only some totally awesome potato kugel, but some truly special moments.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full scale productions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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