For those of us who follow the Passover dietary rules, the eight-day holiday (which begins next week on Monday at sunset) requires more than a bit of preparation. With the extremely limited selection of Passover goods available in our little town, this is the season for making the hundred-mile trip to the Coachella Valley to locate food items that we purchase only once a year.
One could say that I practice a middle-of-the-road variety of Judaism. In my elementary school years, my parents sent me to an Orthodox school known as a yeshiva, even though my mother is a Conservative Jew and my father is what he refers to as a “cultural Jew.” Today, the Judaism that I practice reflects all of these influences. On one hand, I don’t pray three times a day, but I do pray and I do believe in the power of prayer. I am not fanatical about the rituals, but they do still mean something to me.
Do I “keep kosher?” Sort of. I have been unaffected by the virtually unavailability of kosher meat in our remote desert area, as I sloughed off my meat-eating habits more than twenty years ago. Am I a vegetarian? Not even close. One could say that I am a devoted pescatarian.
The Passover dietary rules are even more complicated than the regular kosher rules. For one thing, we eat nothing leavened, which means no bread, bagels, muffins or donuts. Instead, we eat unleavened bread, called matzah. And although I no longer search for hametz (bread crumbs) in corners with a wooden spoon, a feather and a candle, I do stick to my hard, crunchy matzah boards throughout the holiday.
Passover is a festival of freedom, a yearly reminder of how our people were enslaved and mistreated by the Egyptian Pharaohs many centuries ago. The Biblical book of Exodus describes how, when we were finally freed, we had to leave without a moment’s notice, with the result that the dough placed out on the hot rocks of Egypt to bake had not the time to rise. Hence, the unleavened flatbread cracker that we eat for eight days.
We were able to pick up a pack of five boxes for $2.99 at Von’s in Palm Desert.
Although there is no synagogue in this area and we are too far away from family to share the traditional Seder dinner, I still make it a point to obtain some of the traditional Passover foods that I grew up with. Chief among these is matzo ball soup. The little round dumplings are a delicacy that I look forward to all year. Although it bears no resemblance to the lovely soup my mother makes, the “matzo balls in broth” that comes in a jar is really not half bad. It’s a quick meal that I can heat up in the microwave. Matzo balls are traditionally served in chicken soup, but some brands of the jar soup are meatless, which is perfect for me. (For those who cook, I noticed a yummy-looking vegetarian matzo ball soup recipe on Momtastic.)
The only problem is that, at the one large supermarket in our little town, a single jar of matzo ball soup goes for $8.99. Yikes!
At Von’s in Palm Desert? (Drum roll, please…) $4.39 per jar! Hallelujah! I laid in a supply of a half-dozen jars.
We also don’t eat legumes on Passover, which includes corn, beans, peas and peanuts. This excludes almost everything that comes in a can or a box, as it is difficult to find anything these days that is not made with soy or corn products.
Even canned tuna is an issue. The water-packed tuna sitting in your cupboard probably contains such ingredients as soy, corn oil or polypropylene. For the Passover-observant, the trick is to find canned tuna that contains only two ingredients: tuna and water.
Trader Joe’s to the rescue! Fortunately for me, TJ’s in La Quinta carries exactly the type of tuna I need, albeit at the steep price of $1.69 a can. But it is what it is. Passover comes but once a year, and now I can carry matzah and tuna to work for lunch.
Finally, there is the matter of Passover deserts. I’ve seen many mouth-watering delicacies pictured in Passover cookbooks, but the sad fact is that I don’t cook. Lucky for me that Von’s carries numerous varieties of canned macaroons, made with coconut instead of wheat flour.
So I think I’m all set! Now, if only I could get hold of a few boxes of those Pechter’s Passover chocolate fudge brownies that I remember so fondly from New York . . .
To my Jewish friends around the world, a zissin, kosher Pesakh!