Monday, March 31, 2008

When Clean Turns Deadly

This is a cleaning season, whether we need to do so for Pesach or not. Suddenly we find ourselves scanning the items on the shelves in the supermarkets and hardware stores for the latest "miracle" cleanser, the one guaranteed to to do the job while saving us some effort.

Yes, those cleansers do what they say they will do. But there could be a cost. Honesty time here. Have you ever sat down and read, word for word, all the information on a cleanser that is printed on the bottle or box? Do you reread this information periodically? I thought not. You should.

Some cleansers are fairly benign when used on their own. It is when they are used in conjunction with another cleanser that major problems can arise. Do you know which of your cleansers cannot be used together with other ones? Ammonia-based products are particularly problematic. Products like Windex and Comet. In conjunction with some other cleaning products they can produce fumes and gasses that can make you really sick.

Products for cleaning ovens and stoves may be particularly caustic. Use extreme caution when using them. Ditto for certain toilet bowl cleansers.

Before you use your cleanser, read the label. Pay attention to the warning/caution information. Keep a window open at least partly when you are using cleansers. When in doubt, use gloves to protect your hands. Don't touch your face when using cleansers, especially the mouth and eye area. Your little one comes up to you and needs some TLC while you are cleaning, so you pat him/her on the head with your gloved hand. Youch.

Wash your hands thoroughly after using cleaning supplies. Make sure those cleansers are stored in a safe place--read the temperature requirements--and out of the reach of little children. Make sure the caps are on tight.

Far better to be safe than sorry.

Where There is Smoke....

I read some good advice many years ago which I'm passing along. It regards smoke detectors in the home. If you don't already have those ceiling mounted smoke detectors in your house or apartment, buy them. If you do have them, check that the batteries are still working.

The article that I read recommended changing the batteries when we change the clock for daylight savings time. We replace the batteries before two major holiday periods: Pesach and Rosh Hashanah.

Today's detectors not only signal when there is too much smoke in the air, signalling a fire somewhere, but also can detect carbon monoxide in the air. Carbon monoxide is the silent killer. You can't see it and by the time you figure out that something is leaking it, it's too late.

Jews in particular practice habits that put them at risk for fires in the home. We leave full candelabras of candles burning and head off for bed. Every yom tov uses candles in one way or another. We leave ovens on, sometimes 2-3 days at a time. We use blechs. We use crock pots for extended periods of time. We use hot water urns for extended periods of time.

Getting--and properly maintaining--a smoke detector is not only the smart thing to do: it's a life-saving necessity. Spending on these detectors is a smart place to put your money. The life you save may be your own, and that of your children, who succumb easier to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Please, put the detectors on your "must buy" list and do it today. And yes, that is detectors in the plural--the larger your home, the more you need.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

All Roads Lead to Rome

I decided to take a short break from the pre-Pesach madness and wanted just a few hours where no one would mention making Pesach. The easiest way, of course, was to banish all P words temporarily. No Pesach, no polishing, no purchasing. Then someone mentioned shopping. Okay, now the S words had to be banished. No shopping, shlepping or scrubbing allowed. But then someone asked what was for dinner. Well, dinner leads to cooking and cooking leads to planning, and there is that dreaded P word. So I had to banish the D words and the C words as well.

A words? Apple leads to charoses and then back to Pesach, so no more A words. Not even Q words are safe, since they lead to "quick, peel me 6 more potatoes" and potatoes lead to Pesach, and there is that P word coming up again.

I tried, really tried to find some words that would not refer back to Pesach. In the end I had to banish all the letters of the alphabet except for Z. And then I got a phone call. And the caller started off with "zug mir, how much potato starch should I buy?" and even Z was off the allowed list.

Somehow, this time of year all roads lead to Rome, everything refers back to Pesach. I finally solved my problem by banishing talking for an hour. It was blessedly quiet in the house. I sat down with a cup of coffee and looked out the sliding doors at the spring greenery that is starting to unfurl and preparing to blossom. And then a dratted pigeon flew into the yard. And pigeon starts with P and that leads to Pesach and there went the peace and quiet.

It's so not fair when even the language we speak conspires against us.

Where Pesach is, there Recipes Also Reside

I simply can't deal with talking about cleaning again right now, so if you are dreaming of already being up to the cooking, I offer the following.

ProfK’s Mushrooms Sauteed in Wine Sauce
Note: Not everyone uses mushrooms on Pesach, or some only use canned mushrooms. If you do use mushrooms, this is a change of pace way to use them. If you don't use mushrooms, zucchini can be substituted.

1 pound of fresh mushrooms (Note: portabella if you use them or can find them)
If only canned are available, then one pound equivalent, drained well.
1 large onion
2 Tablespoons oil or spray oil to cover bottom of frying pan
1-1/2 cups sweet red wine

1. Clean mushrooms thoroughly. Cut off bottom part of stems but leave stems attached. Slice about ¼” in thickness.
2. Dice onion in small pieces.
3. Add onion and oil to a frying pan. Sauté over medium low heat only until onions have begun softening.
4. Add in mushrooms, stir, and continue to sauté for 5 minutes more. Mushrooms will have begun to release liquid.
5. Add in wine and cook until mushrooms and onions are soft and liquid in pan has reduced by half.
6. Place in a container and put in refrigerator.

Note: This can be served hot or cold, as an appetizer or as a side dish.

Variation : Chop the onions and mushrooms the same size. Add both at the same time to the pan. Cook as above. Use this to fill blintzes leaves to make mushroom crepes, or add in chopped cooked chicken to equal the amount of mushroom/onion mixture and fill blintzes leaves for a main-dish chicken/mushroom crepe. (Note: a good way to use up the cooked chicken from chicken soup if your family doesn’t like to eat it plain.) Reserve a few spoons of the cooked mushroom mixture to pour over the tops of the crepes.

This mixture can also be used to add to omelets or make as a frittata by mixing the beaten eggs together with the mushroom mixture, placing in a baking pan, and baking at 350 in the oven just until egg mixture is set.

This Too Shall Pass

It doesn't matter how organized you get for yom tov. You can have all the lists you need. You can check things off and see progress being made. You can feel as if you are on top of everything. But there comes a moment, and sometimes it comes more than once, when you look at those lists and say "Phooey on it all! I am not washing/dusting/cleaning one more thing! I am not ever walking into another store! I am heading for Tahiti or other points unknown!" Take heart--you are not alone.

Making Pesach makes many a woman wonder about the "Ho'yinu" part of "Avodim ho'yinu." This time of year we become slaves to the calendar, which sometimes seems to run faster than we can keep up with. Those lists seem to multiply faster than rabbits do. No matter how much we have already done, there remains so much more to do. And yes, just that itsy bitsy amount of resentment creeps in, a bad case of the why-am-I-the-only-one-killing-myself blues.

I posted before about treating yourself like a human being. This is a good time to remember that you are. Take a break--it will all wait for you any way. It's plenty late right now--head for bed. A good night's sleep goes a long way towards renewing strength and determination.

I'm taking my own advice. There's a bed beckoning to me. I like the song it is singing. So the curtains aren't getting washed tonight--they waited this long, so let them wait a little longer. Layla tov!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Kosher Cooking Carnival Announcement

Mother in Israel has asked bloggers to post the following.

A Mother in Israel will be hosting the next Kosher Cooking Carnival on April 7, so get cooking! Topics will include Pesach recipes, kashruth on Pesach, preparing for Pesach, Purim accomplishments and recipes for getting rid of hametz. And anything else relating to kosher cooking. You can submit your own posts here, as well as any other posts you would like to recommend. Check out the most recent one, KCC #28 over at Frumhouse. Special thanks to Batya, who organizes the whole thing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Surely Someone was Jesting?

Somewhere in the posts written about a hundred years ago on being from out of town, I mentioned that when my family moved to New York and my parents went to Williamsburg to go shopping for Pesach (THE shopping venue back then) my father brought home a roll of toilet paper to show us. It had a hechsher for Pesach. He was stupefied.

In an old movie starring Cary Grant as the commander of a submarine (Operation Petticoat)there is a scene where he is dictating a letter to the central command about a missing order of toilet paper. He is clearly frustrated that they somehow haven't delivered this necessary item and he ends by asking "If the item is unknown to you and not available just what are you using as a substitute?"

Cleaning the bathroom brought my dad's experience and the movie together in my mind for a moment. I'm still stunned that someone put a hechsher on toilet paper, but the following question did pop into my mind: If the stores in Williamsburg would have run out of the "kosher" toilet paper then what were people going to use as a substitute? Were they going to go without for all of Pesach? Okay, clearly the cleanser fumes are affecting me strangely, but haven't we possibly just maybe gone just a tad overboard when toilet paper gets a hechsher?

On another posting there was a tongue in cheek thread of comments about whether crushed charcoal needs a hechsher for Pesach. What's next? A hechsher on dirt? Are we heading towards making all backyards ossur for use on Pesach? Is it going to become ossur to drive during chol hamoed past a factory that produces chometz or kitniyos because the smoke coming from the smokestack just might waft a particle of chometz towards us which we might have land on us? Is it ossur to fly in a plane that clearly has chometz on board and which has clearly not been cleaned with kashrus standards in mind? Ditto for subway trains and buses?

We may be laughing at all this now, but what if......?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Clarifying the Deprivation Posting

In my post "A Little Word About Deprivation" I wondered aloud at the huge variety of kosher for Passover products that is produced each year. I also wondered aloud as to whether we really needed to have that many products available for Pesach. Some commenters very much disagreed with me on this. Fair enough. But in reading through the posting and the comments I saw where perhaps some of the differences might be coming from.

First let me state that I am an unabashed sentimentalist. I get unashamedly teary-eyed when I see some of the things I own, when I think of some of the things that were done in my family, when I hear tunes from my childhood, when I look at family photographs, when I meet people I haven't seen in years who were part of those growing up years. And yet, I am an enthusiastic modernist. I'm "boki b'computers" and make no bones about how important this "new" invention is in what I do. If an appliance truly will save me lots of back breaking labor, I'm going to buy it. I do not hanker after washing my clothes by the side of the cold water running stream by beating them on a stone. I like the advances in science and medicine that we have now. I like knowing that the advances in the world mean that I'll be around longer to enjoy them. I love cooking and baking and I like to try out new recipes.

My sentimentalism comes to the forefront when it comes to yom tov. Changes to the way that we make yom tov come slowly, if at all. I, and my family, know what to expect from yom tov, and look forward to things being the same. I see a connectedness between what I do today and what I did many years ago, and that pleases me. I see a connectedness to what I do and what my mother does and did, and that pleases me. And it pleases me to know that my mother was doing what her mother and grandmother did before her. And I have hopes that my children will take from my home to their home the minhagim and the ideas that they have seen here.

For Pesach, we recite the Hagaddah using the niggunim that have been passed down through our family for generations. Has an occasional new niggun crept in? A few, but they have been around for so long they are no longer newcomers. The charoses I make is the same one my great grandmother made. I don't cook a straight chicken soup the rest of the year, but I do for Pesach, along with homemade lokshen. For Pesach my family's reaction is "Oh boy, Pesach soup! Yum!" It doesn't have the same cachet if it's not Pesach. For 31 years I have been making the same erev Pesach afternoon meal, and every one stands around eagerly waiting for it. For 31 years I have been making the same meal for Achron shel Pesach, and every one awaits it eagerly. The forspeisin (appetizers) for Pesach are traditional and absolutely no one wants to change them.

Have I changed some of my cooking over the years? Yes. Some of the changes were for health and nutrition reasons. I always used to make pareve borsht and milchig potato soup, but the method, brought from Europe, has certain health hazards and I'm not taking any chances now that I know that. These soups were made "inter-geshologgen." You beat up raw eggs, strained the hot soup into a bowl and beat the eggs into the soup. The soup couldn't be too hot or it would cook the eggs in pieces. But unless the soup is boiling throughout when you do this you run the real risk of salmonella. One of my mother's grand children in law spent Pesach in the hospital all because she tasted while cooking a dish with undercooked eggs and which had the salmonella. Have I added any new dishes? A few. But why tamper with a formula that works?

Because our Pesach sounds the same and tastes the same, and because there is a long history of it, and because my mother is at our table, everything comes together to discuss the "I remember when" moments. Some of these are happy retellings of stories we all know well, and still appreciate. Some are a jiggling of memories as new stories come out. We remember those who are no longer around, those whom we actually knew and those whom we were not zocheh to know in person. And you bet I get all mushy and yes proud when my mother tells me that my father would have loved the way we make Pesach.

Many years ago a fourth grade morah taught one of my daughters a Chad Gad Yah d'var Torah. She repeated it the next year, and the year after that and has repeated it every year since then. And despite her being a fully grown adult woman there is glee in her voice and a smile in her eyes when she announces that it is time for the d'var Torah yet again. And we all smile along with her.

Our Kos Shel Eliyahu is the same becher that was used under our chupah and was a gift to us from my Tante Libby, who is no longer living. And you bet that that kos sparks a lot of memories and a lot of wonderful stories. It got a slight dent a few years ago. Does that mean I should trade it in for a new model, because there are plenty of new ones to choose from? Not in this lifetime!

So yes, in my opinion, and it is my opinion, I don't need 12 varieties of chicken sauce to make Pesach special or "fancy"; I need 12 remembrances of times past. For me it is not 7 varieties of balsamic vinegar that make Pesach special; it is minhag and custom and longevity of those customs that make Pesach special. For me, as a child born in Europe of Holocaust survivors, that my Pesach echoes the Pesach of my grandparents is an excellent thumbing of the nose at those who tried to destroy us all and failed. I received a family yerusha, a family mesorah, and it's my job to pass it on as intact as possible. It's my desire to do so.

Does anyone really believe that 20 years from now anyone will remember or care whether there were 18 varieties of salad dressing available for Pesach? What I am recommending is less emphasis on the things we buy to cook with and more emphasis on the memories made when we sit down together for Pesach.

To Brok or Not to Brok, That is The Question

I've seen more mini-wars started at this time of year over the gebrokts/non-gebrokts issue then almost anything else. It's perhaps time to try and smooth the waters before the turmoil begins.

Whether you eat gebrokts or non-gebrokts is not a question of halacha--it's a question of minhag. Those on one side of the debate claim halachic superiority over those on the other side. It just ain't so. That being said, there are some rabbanim who consider that non-gebrokts is the more stringent of the two minhagim. Why has this become such a big deal? Because the two minhagim can divide families at a time of year when families usually come together.

Let me use my own home as an example. I come from a family that did not use gebrokts. When I got married my husband's family did use gebrokts, although my mother in law's family did not brok. As long as I was not making Pesach in my own home this was not really an issue. I was allowed to eat in my in-laws house and my husband could certainly eat in my parent's house. And then I started making Pesach in my own home.

First of all, I had no idea, none, on how to cook anything that was gebrokts. Every recipe I had from my mother was for non-gebrokts. Next, my mother was widowed fairly young and was going to be coming to my house for Pesach. She doesn't brok so what was I going to do? Fortunately for me my husband hates matza kneidlach and matza brei and not eating gebrokts was going to be no problem for him. We changed the minhag in our home to non-gebrokts and I was a happy cook and my mom and siblings could eat in my house.

One of my husband's brothers found himself in a similar situation. He married a twin, and the other twin married someone who does not brok, and for the twins not to be separated when it came to Pesach, my brother in law also changed his minhag to non-gebroks. On my side, my baby sister married someone whose minhag is to brok. All this means that we siblings cannot eat in all of our houses over Pesach.

It's no big deal for our two families but I know that it has caused WWIII in some other families. Back when I was very young a friend broke her shidduch when it finally dawned on her that she would never be able to spend Pesach in her parent's home again, as they eat gebrokts and her then choson did not. I know machatonim who aren't on very good terms because the children "unfairly" can spend Pesach with one set and not the other. I've seen siblings who accuse other of their siblings of being "holier than thou" because of the gebrokts issue.

This is one area where approaching daas Torah could be helpful, as long as you realize that different rabbanim are possibly going to hold different ways. One couple with this gebrokts/non-gebrokts problem was told that in the house was not the same as out of the house; they could have their own home be non-gebrokts but that did not mean that they could not eat gebrokts outside of their home. Our rav paskened differently. He said that we could change our minhag but then that had to hold for all places. In particular he mentioned that for our children, their minhag would be what we hold in our home.

Please, at this time of year when there is already stress in abundance, could we not add more? If you brok, that's fine. If you don't brok, that's also fine. Could we not take personally that someone may or may not eat in our homes because of our minhag? It's only one week out of the entire year. Chill out folks!

A Punny Thing Happened to Me On My Way to The Blog

I'm sure that my students think that when two or more English teachers get together they must spend their time in parsing verbs or in lofty discussions of contra themes in Shakespeare. We're actually pretty much like everyone else, except we do have a bit of appreciation for clever writing. I share the following, sent to me by a fellow teacher, to perhaps lighten your day.

To be read on an empty stomach! :)
(1) Evidence has been found that William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. However, all the Swiss league records were unfortunately destroyed in a fire, and we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.
(2) King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates , the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan. Croesus said, "I'll give you 100,000 dinars for it." "But I paid a million dinars for it," the King protested. "Don't you know who I am? I am the king!" Croesus replied, "When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are."
( 3) A man rushed into a busy doctor's office and shouted "Doctor! I think I'm shrinking!!" The doctor calmly responded, "Now, settle down. You'll just have to be a little patient."
(4) A marine biologist developed a race of genetically engineered dolphins that could live forever if they were fed a steady diet of seagulls. One day, his supply of the birds ran out so he had to go out and trap some more. On the way back, he spied two lions asleep on the road. Afraid to wake them, he gingerly stepped over them. Immediately, he was arrested and charged with transporting gulls across sedate lions for immortal porpoises.
(5) Back in the 1800s the Tates Watch Company of Massachusetts wanted to produce other products and, since they already made the cases for watches, they used them to produce compasses. The new compasses were so bad that people often ended up in Canada or Mexico rather than California . This, of course, is the origin of the expression, "He who has a Tates is lost!"
(6) A thief broke into the local police station and stole all the toilets and urinals, leaving no clues. A spokesperson was quoted as saying, "We have absolutely nothing to go on."
(7) An Indian chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the medicine man. After a brief examination, the medicine man took out a long, thin strip of elk rawhide and gave it to the chief, telling him to bite off, chew, and swallow one inch of the leather every day. After a month, the medicine man returned to see how the chief was feeling. The chief shrugged and said, "The thong is ended, but the malady lingers> on."
(8) A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insisted on complaining to the local civic official who apologized profusely saying, "I must have taken Leif off my census."
(9) There were three Indian squaws. One slept on a deer skin, one slept on an elk skin, and the third slept on a hippopotamus skin. A ll three became pregnant, and the first two each had a baby boy. The one who slept on the hippopotamus skin had twin boys. This goes to prove that the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides.
(10) A skeptical anthropologist was cataloging South American folk remedies with the assistance of a tribal brujo who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for any case of constipation. When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the brujo looked him in the eye and said, "Let me tell you, with fronds like these, who needs enemas?"
(By the way, the guy who wrote these 10 puns entered them in a contest. He figured with 10 entries, he couldn't lose. As they were reading the list of winners, he was really hoping one of his puns would win, but unfortunately, no pun in ten did.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Little Word About Deprivation

Way back in the dark ages shopping for Pesach was a lot simpler then it is now. Pesach was basically about matzahs, eggs, potatoes, fish, meat, fruits and vegetables and the few items needed to turn these into food to be eaten. Okay, it was not quite that spartan but close enough. And what do we have today? Everything and anything that our heart's desire. And we seem to desire a lot.

99 varieties of cheese, just in case Yankel should feel deprived for the one week that Pesach lasts. And Pesach O's cereal just in case little Frumi should go into a deep funk at being deprived of Cheerios. Then there is the cappuccino in 14 flavors, the BBQ sauces in 12 varieties and the cake mixes and frostings in every flavor ever imagined and some that should have stayed in their creator's mind. And my favorite: the non-gebrokts packaged passover pasta products, with a taste and consistency somewhere between rancid wallpaper paste and baked Elmer's glue.

A neighbor bakes matza meal-based rolls because otherwise what would you make a sandwich with. Recipe books galore are printed with thousands of recipes to spice up Pesach with, all requiring that their sometimes exotic ingredients be readily available.

Have we gone nuts? Are we seriously going to go into a decline if we don't have a mochachino coffee for a week? Are we so enamored of pickled palm hearts that a week without will cause grave medical problems? Are 177 varieties of candy really what you think of first when you think of Pesach? Anyone here who truly thinks that they cannot live without the shape of Cheerios in front of them for a week?

Why are all these items made kosher for Pesach? One obvious answer is the "If you build it they will come" form of consumerism. If the companies make it kosher for Pesach we will flock like sheep to buy what they are selling. Another answer is competitiveness. You know the type--"I made the most divine shitake mushroom saute served over baby greens in a light balsamic dressing. What did you make for dinner last night?"

The third answer is the one that concerns me. The third answer is "Why should I deprive myself of anything that I want when I want it?" Our world is very much into instant gratification, and waiting for anything no longer seems to be in our makeup. We talk as if a week is a lifetime. We demand that our chometzdike kitchens be duplicated with all the ingredients for Pesach.

You know, making Pesach and shopping for Pesach would be a lot easier if there was less to shop for. The fact that there is more can be laid at our own doorsteps.

The Strange Case of Hechshers and Hashgochas

No matter what else goes on during the rest of the year, when it comes to Pesach many people become more machmir on what food items they will use. Their everyday kitchens may be a combination of "heimish" products and products under national kashrut organizations. Comes Pesach, only the heimish products will do. Hey, no problem. I'm not any less crazy then the rest of the population. However......

"Pure" foods have almost ceased to exist. Read the ingredients panel on the products you buy. Can you identify what all the ingredients are? Do you really and truly have any idea of what BHA is? Or how about di-calcium phosphorous?

Even where you can recognize most of the ingredients on the list there is also this to consider. If a heimish company is producing a product that uses potato starch, eggs, cocoa, vanillin, nuts, salt, onion powder etc., where are they getting these raw products from? In some cases they have their own mashgichim and produce or oversee the basic ingredients that are used in their prepared products. In other cases they are purchasing the raw material from companies that are producing these raw materials under the supervision of the major kashrut agencies. Yup, "Shmendrick's Heimish Best" is using ingredients that may be under the OU or the Chaf K or the Star K et al.

So where has this gotten the consumer? In a number of cases we now see double hechsherim on products. Triple and quadruple hechsherim are also not unknown. You want to know why kosher products cost so much? You're looking at one of the reasons. You think that all those mashgichim for the products work gratis? You think that the companies producing the products aren't paying for all those hechsherim? And where they have to pay, the costs are passed on to the consumer.

I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating now. Some types of products are produced by manufacturers whose names you are not familiar with. They produce a product that is then private labeled for many other companies, companies whose names you do know. It's the identical product. And yet, people swear by the kashrut/taste of product X, even though it is identical to product Y. Some major manufacturers whose names you do know also do private labeled products. In this way they grab shares of every consumer market. So when you swear by the kashrut/taste of major brand product X as opposed to store brand product Y you are just fooling yourself--it's the same product.

Kashrut and kosher products have become big business here in the US. And as someone aptly put it "The business of business is business." See any mention of the poor consumer in that?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tzedaka and Pesach

I have a beef with some of the frum tzedaka organizations when it comes to Pesach. It's not exactly a secret as to what date Pesach starts on. And for those organizations which specifically deal with feeding people, it's also not a secret that these people will need food for Pesach. Why, then, do they wait to send out their solicitations for funds so that they first arrive in the week before Pesach?

Even if I were to send away a check the second I receive a request for funds, that check would not arrive until a few days later. Then there is depositing the check and waiting for it to clear. Monies sent the week before Pesach are not going to be used to feed people for Pesach no matter how you try to figure things.

Then there are the tzedaka organizations that send out multiple letters for weeks, arriving about 5 days apart. We give generously to tzedaka but even we draw the line at multiple donations within one month to the same organization. Why are these organizations wasting the postage money and printing money? There isn't even time for the first response to have reached them before another solicitation has already arrived.

And then there was the tzedaka organization which first cashed our check almost 11 months after it was sent to them. For a group that was crying about how desperately the funds were needed this does not inspire confidence that the money is being handled wisely.

Then there are the organizations that send out letters that begin "Thank you for your generous pledge of_______money." Huh? When did I pledge that amount if I am first getting their letter now? We have a house policy that we do not under any circumstances respond to phone solicitations--by mail only. We once got burned with a tzedaka that was collecting over the phone and which turned out to be a lot less then legitimate, hence the policy. When we get something in writing we can check it out. There are a few tzedakas that are permanently off our list because they only use some 20 to 30% of the monies raised for the actual tzedaka portion--everything else is overhead and salaries. Then there are the organizations which hire people to do their solicitation, and the funds collected are split between the organization and the people doing the soliciting.

And why do some yeshivot also decide to get on the pre=Pesach tzedaka bandwagon and send out appeals? Yes, we are obligated to support Torah institutions, but to us, and to many people that we know, Pesach is a time for the poor. It is a time for funding food and the absolute necessities for those who do not have them.

The telephone calls are also beginning to grate on my nerves. I answer the phone and yet another organization is calling for funds. And they almost all begin with "We are so grateful that you gave us _________money last year and hope that you will do so again this year." First, I have never given to some of these organizations. Second, the amount they mention is not usually the amount that I have sent, regardless of if the amount I did send was more or was less then the figure they tell me. Could somebody in these places get their records straight?

We keep a ledger of all the tzedaka that we give out, with names, dates and amounts. In this way we keep tabs on if we are giving enough, according to our reckoning. It also allows us to see what tzedakas we have given to before at particular times of the year.

I just wish that all the organizations would get themselves organized and at least attempt to look efficient. I surely don't like getting aggravated when trying to do a mitzvah.

A Mini-Rant L'kovod Pesach Making

Every year the major kashrut organizations put out booklets that list which of their products are kosher for Pesach. Some also list such information on their web sites: many do not. Why isn't this information available online? Those communities that assur the Internet and using computers are also generally not communities that are looking to the OU and the Chaf K etc. for the hashgacha on their Pesach products. Why not accomodate those of us who do use the Internet?

Just when is it that the people who run most of these organizations think that people are going to start making Pesach? Two weeks before yom tov? The week before? Must be the case as two major publications--that of Rabbi Blumenkrantz (being published by his son now I would imagine) and that of the Chaf K are first coming available in our area this week for the Chaf K and next week, hopefully, for the Blumenkrantz book. The reason that these two publications are important is because they itemize medications and cosmetic and personal care items.

One excuse I got for the lateness of the books is that "it takes a while to get everything put in the works." Have these people ever heard of computers? Do they know how to use them to advantage? My daughter works for a major publishing house as a senior editor; she laughed when she heard this excuse. "Someone doesn't know what they are doing," was her answer.

Kudos go to the OU, which had its listing of Kosher for Passover products out two weeks ago. And a slap on the wrist to the OU for having produced a truly frustrating booklet this year. Categories overlap, some items are put under their manufacturer while others are not, and the booklet is nowhere near as useful as it was in past years. Again, with computers available there is truly no excuse for the disorganization. As my husband always says: "Computers don't make mistakes--people do." Someone goofed.

And here is the really strange part. The Pathmark supermarket chain always puts out a pamphlet or flyer, available at their customer service desk, of items carrying the Pathmark brand that are Kosher for Passover. That flyer was available weeks ago and has already gone to a second printing. That means that the companies giving the hashgochah already knew which brands were going to be kosher for Passover. So why aren't their booklets already available?

Stores are already packed with Passover items, if you only knew where to look. In one major supermarket chain the obvious kosher producer items are in a special Passover section. Their own brands with hashgocha for Pesach are in the individual sections where you would normally find them. Domino sugar with the OUP and their own brand with the OUP are in the sugar section. But without the booklets you don't even know to look for these items.

And here is another pet peeve. The OU booklet is free of charge. The Chaf K booklet is only sold in Jewish book stores. Yet another example of a kosher organization holding up consumers for Ransom before yom tov.

Here we are, all getting organized before Pesach, and our major kashrut organizations cannot seem to get their acts together. Maybe they need to consult some women about when the best time to have the booklets out would be.

Finding Storage Space

This time of year the topic of storage space becomes an important one. So, you are shopping ahead for the non-perishables and for items to use on Pesach. Where are you going to store all of these things? Come to think of it, where are you going to store all those Pesach items when yom tov is over?

If you have a house the problem is less critical. Either you will have an attic, a basement or a garage. Somewhere in one of those places you will have a space to store your items. But what if you live in an apartment? Where are these things going to go?

Suggestion #1: The space under beds is open, empty space. Any store that carries storage items--Home Depot for instance--will sell cardboard, under-bed storage chests that you pop open. A twin bed will accommodate two of these storage chests. True, high pots won't fit in here, but just about everything else will. And it's a good idea for regular storage during the year as well. A friend uses these chests to store out of season clothing in. Another friend puts all those rarely used but needed serving items from the kitchen in them. She freed an entire cabinet in her kitchen that she has made Pesachdik year round. Do you have four beds in the house? Imagine the storage space.

Suggestion #2: The space under a baby's crib is taller than under a bed and will accommodate larger items. It's a good place to put one of those industrial strength plastic lockers full of Pesach stuff.

Suggestion #3: Abbi made a good suggestion. If your cabinets in the kitchen don't go all the way to the ceiling, then use the tops of the cabinets for storage. Abbi isn't happy with the way the garbage bags used for storage look. A suggestion for that: get some empty heavy weight cardboard boxes and cut them apart to exactly the height from the top of the cabinet to the ceiling. Tape them together securely to make a solid wall across the top of the cabinet. For decor? Get some adhesive-backed shelf lining paper or other pretty adhesive backed material and cover the cardboard wall to match your kitchen. Inexpensive wallpaper can also be used and glued on to the cardboard.

Suggestion #4: I don't know of any house that doesn't own at least one suitcase. Somehow we find storage space for those suitcases. But they remain empty except for the few times that we go away somewhere. Usually we aren't going anywhere in the few weeks before Pesach. Use the empty suitcases for storage for Pesach.

Suggestion #5: Do you have a desk? The foot space under these desks is usually pretty deep. Use the back of the space to store a few boxes before Pesach.

Suggestion #6: A friend had some room in the area used as office space, just enough to fit two tall file cabinets. One cabinet is used for filing. The other holds a wealth of Pesach items stored year round.

Suggestion #7: Do you have a fairly wide hallway in the house? There are plastic shelving units that are easily collapsible (store them under the bed when you don't need to use them). Set up a unit or two in the hallway. So people will have to navigate a little more carefully? It's only for a few weeks.

Suggestion #8: Do you have any bookshelves in the house? For Pesach double up the books on some shelves leaving yourself a few empty shelves to use for storage for Pesach items.

Look at your apartment with an eye to where some storage could be accommodated for Pesach. Think outside of the box--or think about inside a box and where that box could go.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Treating Yourself Like a Human Being

Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of making Pesach we women lose track of an important idea; we are human beings. The human body is not made to be working at full strength 24/7. Trying to push ourselves beyond physical endurance results in some very cranky, very tired women.

Remember those to do lists I talked about? It's important to schedule some down time for yourself on those lists. Yes, schedule, because otherwise you'll forget to take it. One friend who normally takes showers only schedules herself a bath for every day, not for cleansing purposes but for relaxing purposes. She buys herself a fragrant bath oil and gives herself a treat. Another friend gets a book she has been dying to read and schedules reading time every day. Another goes out a few times a week and indulges in one of those sinfully rich and delicious flavored cappuccinos and drinks it in the store, at a table she doesn't have to clean. I have my own "secret" vice for the weeks of Pesach. Some of the manicure salons in the area also offer chair massages at $1.00 per minute. Given what Pesach costs me in time, energy and money I gladly add this in to my expenses. A ten minute massage irons out the kinks that Pesach making puts there and leaves me feeling as if I can accomplish anything.

Another friend has a wonderful gift she gives herself. She knows she is going to be up late at night no matter how organized she is. She schedules herself for a half hour nap every day, even if she has to take it from 6:00 to 6:30 at night when her husband is home. That little amount of sleep gives her the extra energy she needs to keep going.

What ever you choose to do, treat yourself as if you were actually a human being. Your body will thank you. So will your mind. And so will your family.

Why Label?

When the kids were really young I was the only one who worked in the kitchen for Pesach. Even when the kids helped they were under my direct supervision. Now that everyone is adults the situation has changed. Everyone can and does "patchke" around in the kitchen. And what is the one question that inevitably comes up? "Is this fleishig/milchig/pareve?" I purchased the items and use them and I know which is which, but the others do not necessarily know. The colors of things are different for Pesach, as are some of the items themselves.

To save all kinds of trouble, get yourselves those labels that are sold that say "meat," "dairy," and "pareve." Label anything and everything where there may be a question. In truth, there are a few items that I had to remind myself of and the labels help me too. You only use Pesachdik items for one week out of the year and it's testing human memory to assume that you will remember exactly what each item is used for. After all, if you can't remember you can't use the item, and you will need to purchase another one, a waste of money that a tiny little label can save you.

When there is a long chol hamoed my working people take lunch and drinks from home. Those that like coffee with milk can clearly identify the thermoses that are milchig. Those who are taking fleishigs for lunch can clearly identify those thermoses that are correct for their purposes. No confusion either over the containers they can use.

I have two baby bottle brushes that I use for cleaning those thermoses. They are identical--just how many different types do you think there are really? The labels prevent any problems from happening.

It's a little thing really, but it can save you from headaches down the road.

To Spend or Not to Spend

Here's a news flash in case you missed it elsewhere: Pesach costs...and costs...and costs. It is the most expensive yom tov we have. But sometimes we are making expenses for ourselves that don't have to be there.

This is the 31st time I am making Pesach in my own home. And when my Pesach things come down from the attic what I'm going to find in there are mostly the same things I bought the first year I made Pesach. True, I've added a few items over the years as my family has grown and as I've had the money, but basically everything I needed I bought the first year.

31 years ago I did not have an unlimited checkbook to go shopping with, and yet I needed everything. When it came to all the little things that make up the kitchen inventory I "cheaped" out. I went to the dime stores. I bought only sale items. I avoided the name brand trap where ever I could. And what has been the result?

Let me give you this example by way of answer. Let's say you bought a cheap set of steel mixing bowls. Let's say you used those bowls three times a week. That would be 156 uses in one year. Let's say that the bowls only lasted in good condition for 4 or 5 years. That would be 780 times you used the bowls. Now let's look at Pesach. Let's say you give the bowls a workout and use them 10 times pre and over Pesach. Let's even be generous and say you used them 15 times. How many Pesachs would you get from that cheap set of bowls? 52 years of Pesach. Now let's say that you bought an expensive name-brand set of steel bowls. Instead of $1.50 you are going to pay $30. The more expensive bowls might or might not last longer then the cheap bowls. Let's say they do last longer. Let's say they last 30 years in normal use, which would be about 312 years of Pesach use. Is it really necessary to spend so much more so that somewhere in the dim future your great great great great grandaughter can inherit your mixing bowls?

Where good quality and reliability is a must, there is where you should be putting your money. 31 years ago I spent $35 on sale for a food processor. Keep in mind that that was real money in those days. That food processor is still alive and well today and is the workhorse of my kitchen. Ditto for my mixer.

Sometimes we get caught in the amortization trap. We figure that we will be making Pesach for at least 35-45 years. So if we buy something now for $300 that is "only" about $6 to $8 per year of use. But it's not: it's $300 that you are spending right now. This is where you have to look at the item and make some hard decisions. Just how much is a particular item really worth to you if you have to put out all the money up front, right now, never mind how many years you will use it? Is paying X for a mixing bowl or a ladel or a tray equal to paying X for flatware or a becher or a food processor?

I made my decisions based on what was important to me. I have good china for Pesach and silver-plate flatware. I did spend more on some items. Those things I do hope to pass on to my children and their children. But my spatulas? My mixing spoons? The thermos for chol hamoed? Not likely.

And by the way, I'm thinking that it's more than time to dump that word cheap. Let's try frugal or thrifty instead. Maybe more people will become inclined to save money on Pesach shopping if they are known by the positive connotation of thrifty rather than by the negative one of cheap.

A List is a List, Of Course, Of Course

A reader asked about what kinds of lists she needs to have for Pesach making. The exact types of lists will vary from household to household but the following might be useful as general guidelines.

1. Cleaning lists, divided by room.
2. Must go to the laundry before Pesach list
3. Non-perishable food items, divided into categories for ease of use:
a. drinks
b. spices
c. baking supplies
d. matza and matza type products
e. canned, jarred and bottled products
f. Nosh and dessert items
g. Cleaning and kitchen supplies
h. Paper goods, foil items and storage items
i. Miscellany, such as candles
j. Baby items, if applicable
4. Perishable items #1:
a. Fish
b. Meat
c. Eggs and egg substitute
d. Dairy products
e. Miscellany, such as frozen vegetables
f. Ices and sherbets and ice cream
g. Fresh Bakery items
5. Perishable items #2:
a. fruits
b. vegetables
6. The k'orah--read the hagaddah and make a list--don't forget the zroah
7. Wine and grape juice order
8. What to bake list
9. Cooking list--pre-yom tov
10. Cooking list--on yom tov
11. Bathroom cabinet check list--many medications and beauty products can't be used for Pesach. They all need to be checked and the ones that are chometz need to be moved to a cabinet that will be sold for Pesach.
12, Missing items to be purchased--can include kitchen utensils and holiday items for use at the seder. Anything you don't own that you believe you will have to have for yom tov.
13. Guest lists--who is coming, for which meals, how many people, any food allergies or problems

There are, of course, other possibilities. The point is not just to be making lists, but to be making lists that are helpful. In all cases, when something is purchased or finished check it off the list.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Special Report to the New York Times. A Staten Island housewife has joined the ranks of the scientific elite, having been nominated for a Nobel Prize in Physics. Her ground-breaking work has exploded the long held belief in the Quantum Sock Theory.

The theory, supported by scientists and lay people alike, posits that if 12 socks are put into a dryer, only 10 will come out of the dryer. Furthermore, if two socks disappear, they will never be both halves of one pair; only mismatched socks will disappear. This led researchers in the field of Quantum Metabolism to establish that dryers ran not only on electricity or gas but also required the regular ingestion of fabric for optimum performance. So rock solid was the scientific evidence, garnered over many years and with millions of experiments, that the Quantum Sock Theory has been held to be the only scientific theory that would never be challenged.

Until today. ProfK, the newest light in the scientific milieu, told this reporter how it all happened. Her dryer succumbed to old age and pre-Pesach anxiety on Saturday night. Unlike every other owner of a dryer that has died, who puts out the dryer for burial in a landfill, ProfK and her husband decided to do an autopsy on their dryer. Yes, an autopsy, unprecedented in dryer-death history. "I was hoping to get back the zillions of socks the machine had eaten," Prof K stated. But what did they find when they disemboweled the machine? "We found nothing, absolutely nothing!" ProfK noted that not even any threads were seen in the dark recesses of the dryer.

Dr. Raymond Montgomery of MIT was amazed at the discovery. "If the dryers were really eating all the socks that disappear there would be residue in their bowels, " Dr. Montgomery opined. "Since no residue was found, the Quantum Sock Theory must be in error." Dr. Saldovar de Guzman of Stanford was one of the few scientists not shocked or amazed by ProfK's discovery. "I have been a lone voice in the scientific community for years now in saying that dryers have no digestive systems. Were they truly to have been eating socks, they would have died of esophageal blockage early in their lives."

While we congratulate ProfK on her amazing discovery, we also need to ask the important question: "If dryers don't eat socks, then what happens to the ones which go missing?" Already a research team in Xadong Province, China, has come forth with a theory to replace the tarnished Quantum Sock Theory. Xan Wu Dong, lead researcher, reports that his team has found traces of finely particled nuclear waste inside the dryers they have been testing. "Such particles," stated Dr. Xan, "are indicative of the type of particle normally found in long range radioactive waves. Chinese science has long held that it is not dryers which eat socks, but aliens from outer space. The presence of radioactive particles only otherwise seen in deep outer space confirms what we have always known."

So there you have it--scientific fact you can take to the bank. Dryers don't eat socks; aliens do. Beam 'em up, Scottie!

Freezer Surprise

During this month it becomes necessary to use up everything that has been in the freezer up to now. This results in some truly interesting meals being produced. I've dubbed these meals "freezer surprise." Mostly these meals are perfectly edible if not terribly inspired, and they all do just fine if you pour on the ketchup or a load of brisket sauce.

Slices of potato kugel, baked in the oven and topped with ground turkey meat sauteed with pearl onions, green beans and the last of the frozen zucchini--see the reference to ketchup. The small remnants of pasta still left in five containers, broken to uniform size with a meat mallet, cooked and topped by finely chopped turkey hot dogs mixed with ground chicken, the remnants of what is left in the jar of garlic and some additional frozen zucchini that miraculously surfaced again--see the reference to brisket sauce.

What to do if what you find in the freezer is not enough to serve all the people you need to serve? Never fear. Cut into tiny bite-sized pieces, stick tooth picks into each piece, put some sauce in a small bowl for dipping, place on a tray and tell your family these are hors d'oeuvres. Complaining miraculously stops if you call them hors d'oeuvres. Cut up that cucumber you just found in the back of the fridge into chunks and add for variety. Same goes for those 6 baby carrots hiding in the veggie bin. If you really want to get exotic, put a tooth pick into some grapes and place on the tray.

Eggs and egg substitute are your best friends during this time. Whisk some spices into the egg substitute, dump in all the left over odds and ends of veggies from the freezer and from the veggie bin and bake for about 45 minutes. If you really want to get fancy, chop up the left over anything from shabbos and stir it into the mixture. (I do offer this warning--chopped gefilte fish and cauliflower in eggs is not a grouping made in heaven. Not even the sauce could save this one.) When questioned as to what you are serving, do not under any circumstances call the dish quiche. There seems to be a male gender problem with quiche. I have found that calling it "Xan yin Ma" in the Cantonese style seems to stop the conversation. Sprinkle with chow mein noodles if you still have any and you lend authenticity to the dish.

It's been my experience that the less you can tell what the dish is made out of the more chance that someone will eat it; therefore, chop, mince and grind everything. And until you've eaten chicken chow mein soup you haven't truly lived. Also, anything that has been chopped and ground can be mixed with cooked pasta and baked with sauce. The only thing necessary is to give the dish either a French or an Italian name. People will accept a lot of funny cooking if they think it is a foreign dish.

I will tell you one truly marvelous result of cooking freezer surprise three nights in a row. You just might get a phone call from your husband or your children in which they tell you that they know how hard you have been working to make Pesach and that they absolutely do not want you to have to add in cooking another weekday meal and they are at the pizza shop and did you want pizza or falafel or maybe some baked ziti? Or maybe you'd like some nice BBQ chicken from the local takeout store?

Just a little note, not so tongue in cheek: these kinds of meals are one of the best reasons for keeping a list of what you have in the freezer and using it up regularly. It avoids those "buried treasures" that surface pre-Pesach.

Reading Tea Leaves Pesach-Style

Around this time of year women don't speak in regular English. There is a special type of short hand to our language usage that is not clearly intelligible to men but is instantly understood by other women.

Example #1: "Pesach? Who's worried about Pesach?" This is not, as some would surmise, an announcement that the speaker is going to a hotel for Pesach. Instead, one of the following is the case: "My child is getting married in 10 days and you think I have time to worry about Pesach yet?"; My daughter is due, probably with twins, in a week. I'm still in possible bris mode. And she's coming to me to recuperate"; "The contractor who swore up and down that he would be out of my house by Chanukah is still not finished and there are no toilets in the bathrooms and you want me to think about Pesach too?" There is also this possibility, brought out with a little skillful questioning: "We bought a house with a brand new, never before used kitchen and I refused to close until the week before Pesach so all I have to do is move in and cook."

Example #2: "What's the big deal about making Pesach? People make too much of it." This identifies for women that the speaker is a young married woman who has never before made Pesach in her own home and isn't doing so this year either as she is going to her parents and planning on arriving erev yom tov in the morning.

Example #3: When said three weeks before Pesach: "I'm finished with the shopping now." Clearly identifies the speaker as someone who is going away for Pesach, probably to her parents. When said one to two weeks before Pesach this phrase identifies someone who is going to a hotel and has been clothes shopping for the past 4 weeks. When said two days before Pesach this indicates a seasoned balabusta. When said two hours before Pesach starts this indicates a new balabusta who refused to listen when told just how many eggs can get used on Pesach.

Example #4: "Where are you up to?" does not denote any desire on the speaker's part to actually know at what point the listener is in making Pesach. It is, instead, a plea for reassurance that everything will get done. The speaker is having some insecurity about getting done on time and needs some TLC.

Example #5: "My mother in law tells me that she is already up to the baking and I haven't turned the kitchen yet." Anyone with a mother in law, good, bad or indifferent, will understand that when a mother in law says this she is actually saying "Get away from the computer and put some steam on!" You need to understand that you will never, ever get ahead of her in her preparations, so don't even try.

Example #6: "If I peel one more potato I'll scream!" This can be variably interpreted. If a woman's children are older then it means "How could the college/office keep them so busy right now when I need them!" If the children are slightly younger the interpretation is different: "How dare my son's rebbe take the boys for a chesed to help a poor family clean up for Pesach. Charity begins at home! What am I--chopped liver?!"

Example #7: Said the afternoon of erev yom tov--"I'm sitting here having a cup of coffee. Surely I must have forgotten to do something?!" This, children and husbands, is not a time for you to run through a list of what the balabusta had to prepare--she is not actually missing anything. What she is missing, perhaps, is a "Wow does everything look good/smell good!" Perhaps what is in order is a "I don't know how you did all this mom but you are terrific."

A Computer is a Balabusta's Best Friend

Long ago I realized that a lot of the headaches involved with making Pesach, indeed with making any yom tov, are organizational ones. What needs to be done and in what order? What needs to be purchased, how much and when? What needs to be cooked if yom tov comes out before Shabbos, coinciding with Shabbos, directly after Shabbos?

A computer is absolutely a great help when it comes to making any yom tov. I keep the records from year to year, updating as necessary. Deep in my records and available at the click of a mouse is the information of what I cooked the last time Pesach came out the way it does this year, going from Shabbos to yom tov. No more guessing as to how I'm going to manage.

I also keep the guest lists with what was served and if the dishes "went." Helps in planning meals for this year.

There are the lists of perishable items, divided by type, that I use to go shopping with. There are the lists of non-perishable items that are checked off when purchased and that also form a shopping list. No guessing as to how much oil is needed or how much potato starch or how many chickens. And no trying to remember if you have X in the freezer--the list tells you all.

All the pesachdike recipes are on the computer as well, including how to double or triple or quadruple them--no guessing needed.

There's a list for the k'orah, with everything that has to go on, when to prepare it and how much to prepare. No last minute glitches that way. Need an eruv tavshilin? There's a reminder to post on the fridge so it doesn't become a last second thing.

And yes, I also keep a cleaning list, room by room, although that list tends to get edited depending on how nuts I plan on being before any given yom tov.

My first step in making Pesach is to take a cup of coffee and commune with my computer. Not only is it more organized this way but there is a secondary benefit as well. Those lists prove to me that Pesach got made in other years and it's going to get made this year. No use in panicking because it's "only" 28 days to Pesach.

A Word About Non-Perishables

For the last three weeks the major supermarkets in our area have already put out their Passover product displays. Yes, more will be coming in as we get closer to Pesach, but the non-perishable staples are already in the markets. And many are almost sold out. There have been some very good sales on these products, sales that won't be there in the week before Pesach. The local kosher groceries have also had much of their Pesachdike products out for a week already.

The women in my neighborhood are pretty much divided as regards the shopping now for Pesach issue. Some feel that the products that get put out closer to Pesach will somehow be "fresher." Then there are those of us who look at them a bit quizzically. Perishable products may be fresher the closer you get to Pesach, but non-perishable ones? If potato starch has an expiration date of 3/2009 and I buy it now instead of three weeks from now, is it going to be any fresher? The companies that produce Pesachdike products have been in production for months now.

My goal is to have all the non-perishables purchased and in the house by the end of next week. One less thing to have to do close to yom tov. No fighting the crowds of those who wait and shop closer to yom tov. No worries about the stores not having a product I need for yom tov. I clear a space to store them and in they come. Pesach is hard enough without leaving all the shopping for that last week.