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October 23, 2016
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The Clean Sweep

Purim is two weeks past, and it's high time to get ready for Passover.

I'm not so religious that I deep-clean my entire apartment (and every other place we have stuff stored), though I do seal up a lot of cabinets and spend most of the holiday with lots of bins and boxes serving in the stead of kitchen cabinets. If I can find the time to do everything the way I'd like to, I start off the holiday with my kitchen at the cleanest it can realistically get without having to physically move out of the apartment.

For both good and ill, the biggest thing that gets cleaned out for Pesach is my wallet.

Decades of not being able to find Passover items available close to the holiday, or too far in advance of the holiday, or both — and the customs that have developed in order to avoid owning or consuming chometz (leaven) — have conditioned me to become a scavenger-hunting hoarder of holiday food, staples, and cleaning supplies. While certain unopened items (such as canned tomato paste) and nonperishables that can be sealed away from chometz and kitnyot can arguably be saved from year to year, there's still quite a bit of "refurbishing the kitchen from scratch" that goes on each year about this time. Add to this that, since I don't keep a Kosher home during the rest of the year, I face both the regular price bump-up for Kosher certification (similar to the price bump-up for organic foods, but without the organic), and the additional price bump-up for special Kosher-for-Passover certification. Last year, I think provisions for the week ran us something like $600 for the three of us.

With its popular emphasis on wheaten matzot, Passover can be a diabetic Jew's blessing or nightmare. Matzoh aside, it takes so much effort to find substitutes for our usual cakes, cookies, pastas, and breakfast cereals that it's just easier to low-carb or whole-food the week, despite the extra time it takes to prepare foods for breakfast, take-along lunch, and dinner. For most of us, tradition and custom restrict us from rice, bean, legume, edible-seed, and corn products as well. (Barley, rye, and other cooked-grain starches are already off-limits.)

For people living with celiac, there are other blessings and curses. I don't remember if the usual sources of oat matzoh (hard to find, expensive, and generally considered inappropriate for the various rituals unless one is restricted from wheat for bona fide medical reasons) claim to be gluten-free or not. I do know that many of our other everyday starches are replaced by potato products, and occasionally tapioca products. This makes Passover one of the better times of the year to stock up on potato-based noodle products, potato and tapioca starches for gluten-free "flour"-like blends, and sometimes even nut meals as well.

The challenge for me is finding all of the things I need to buy fresh, when they are not always shelved at the same store or at the same time. It's a bit like Supermarket Sweep, Passover Edition, without overbuying ("because we may need it during the week" and then not using it, or using it and then not using it up during the year). But overbuying seems to be as much the tradition as our version of "spring cleaning".

Let the rush begin.

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