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Monday, September 1, 2014

Preparing for holidays: the matzo ball open

I was scaling the shelves of a local supermarket, trying to beat out another shopper who was heading for a box of farfel, when I had an epiphany: You have to be in terrific shape to prepare for our spring holidays.

For me, nothing is fun about Passover except sitting down to read the story of the Exodus, after all the work is done. I’m thinking that an Easter dinner is far easier to prepare, but ham is a non-starter at the First Seder. Even a tasty Easter leg of lamb is easier than the multi-course feast demanded by a traditional Seder. Admit it — how much more adorable are Easter eggs than gefilte fish balls?

Surely it is a touch of Jewish irony that the holiday, which celebrates the escape of my people from Pharaoh’s Egypt, requires two weeks of personal enslavement to domestic chores I skillfully avoid the rest of the year.

Food shopping for Passover is a particularly onerous task. It is wise to begin training shortly after Hanukkah, when you have the dark days of winter to pump up the arms, strengthen the legs and put steel in your spine.

A week or two before the holiday, I drag home the big stuff — the 12-packs of soda and juice and the cartons of matzo, matzo meal, matzo farfel and matzo stuffing. I buy dozens and dozens of eggs, cans of macaroons and huge jars of horseradish, white and red, hot and not-so-hot.

Perhaps this is a good moment to mention the Passover menu, which can be fatal — not just to shoppers who stagger home with the bundles, but to those who overindulge in matzo, putting themselves at risk for digestive inertia, even failure. If you’re an uninitiated guest at a Seder, go easy. This menu is not for the novice. Think you’re eating sushi? Ribs? Donuts? It’s all made from matzo!

I practice my open-field-running skills before I hit the stores. Once inside, I bob and weave, dodging grannies and leaping ahead of young moms balancing wagons heaped with food and kids. I jog up and down the aisles, picking up a few things but mostly getting the lay of the land for my next 47 trips.

Next visit to the market, I use my rock-climbing skills to reach the items tottering on the top shelves. I buy everything that doesn’t need to be a last-minute purchase. Then I head home to cook.

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