For most of the past winter, my Facebook page has been awash (no pun intended – well maybe a little bit) with pictures of snow. My friends and relatives in the Old Country graphically tell me that it’s been the coldest winter in history. Of course, here in the Capitol of the Negev, spring is just around the corner. The almond trees are blooming, the calaniyot (anemones) are carpeting the western Negev in red, and the thermometer has reached well over 20 degrees (hahahahahaha Old Country!).
Spring is one of my four favorite seasons. The weather is perfect; the sun is shining (of course the sun shines here about 363 days a year, so sunshine does not exactly personify springtime), the air is clean (er than usual), and flowers bloom in the most unlikely spots (the back of my fridge).
In southern Israel, spring lasts almost two days. Some years, however, we’re lucky to have spring pay us a half hour visit before summer comes barging in. All in all, spring is simply a delightful time of year that is almost guaranteed to lighten anyone’s mood after a cold rainy winter (which I’m sure exists somewhere – oh right! in the Old Country hahahahahahaha – but certainly not here).
The only thing about spring that fails to lighten my mood is Pesach. Pesach (aka Passover, aka Spring Holiday, aka Festival of Unleavened Bread, aka Festival of Freedom, aka Festival of Redemption, etc.) commemorates the freedom from slavery of the ancient Israelites and their Exodus from Egypt. As a quick remedial: To mark the holiday, Jews are commanded to eat Matzah (unleavened bread) to recall their hasty midnight departure. According to Jewish Law, Jews are not allowed to even own any bread, or bread-like foods (chametz) during the week-long holiday. To make sure there isn’t any bread in one’s house, it is customary to clean the house to rid it of chametz. Some people take advantage of this spring cleaning to paint the walls, retile their floors, buy new appliances, add an extra room, dye their hair, and go abroad.
Cleaning for Pesach doesn’t really bother me. Too much. No, really, it doesn’t. I always scream in late March. It’s good for the lungs.
It’s the getting rid of the chametz that gives me trouble. There is a loophole whereby one can ‘sell’ one’s chametz to a non-Jewish person (who, of course, has no prohibition of owning chametz during Pesach). And that is what we do every year as I could never get rid of everything on time and certainly not the whiskey that seems to expand with age that we have in the cupboard. This year, though, I decided that I AM going to get rid of as much as I possibly can. I started early; the day after Sukkot.
I counted the weeks until Pesach (28 – it’s a leap year), counted the bags of pasta (damn that four bags for 10 NIS sale), packets of crackers (remind me why I have 16?), boxes of cereal (this took me MUCH longer than it ought to), bulgur, oatmeal, semolina, barley, and flour. (Don’t get me started on the kitniyot.)
I was ready.
I figured out how many times a week we had to eat mac ‘n cheese and googled different recipes. Ditto for bulgur salad and cracker crumbs (delicious on ice cream).
What I found, to my horror, was that getting rid of chametz was much like eating a bowl of cereal and milk.
You know how sometimes, in the middle of your bowl of cereal, you realize that you have more milk than cereal, so you add cereal, and then a few spoonfuls later, you realize that you have too much cereal and not enough milk, so you add just a few drops – really! – of milk, but lo! too much and now you have to add more cereal, but what happened to all the milk? more milk. There have been occasions that I’m still eating my bowl of cereal when it’s already time for my mid-morning snack.
Consuming chametz was just like that.
I decided that making bread was an excellent way of getting rid of some of the bags of flour. We had recently obtained a nifty bread-maker, so I simply had to toss the ingredients into the machine, push a few buttons and voila! about 4 hours later, we had a bullet-shaped loaf the width of a paperback and the weight of a medium-size dog. But it got rid of the flour. Except that I had to buy yeast. And then there was yeast left over, so I had to buy more flour to use up the yeast, and then I had too much flour and so I bought more yeast. Etc. etc.
The pasta was worse. I had to make sauce with the pasta, didn’t I? You can take it from here.
By Chanuka, with only 19 weeks to go, I was well on the way to a Chametz-free house. But the kids wanted to make traditional donuts for the holiday. “Donuts!!! What’s the matter with you guys!” Don’t you know it’s almost Pesach!”
We are now seven weeks before Pesach (egad). My house is down to a bag of barley, two packets of couscous (that’s a dangerous one – too many vegetables, not enough couscous), a jar of popcorn, and a half dozen sprigs of dried mint in the back of the fridge (left over from the bulgur salad – don’t even think it).
But there are plenty of vegetables to make a chametz-free soup.
Good thing the supermarket has a sale of four bags of soup nuts for 10 NIS.