Ha! Reader, you may have thought you caught a spelling error. All foodies now know locavore is an eater dedicated to eating local products. But, no, locovore, is the word I’ve coined to describe how I feel preparing for the Passover seder.
For readers unfamiliar with Passover, it is the joyous holiday celebrating the Israelites’ freedom from slavery. For traditional Jews in the Diaspora there are two celebratory feasts and a host of dietary proscriptions which differ depending if your ancestors hailed from Russia or Yemen. The most well known of the restrictions is the ban on bread but it extends to include all products made of wheat, oats, barley, spelt, peanuts, beans, rice, etc.
Enter 21st century dining. There are three aspects of Passover preparations that drive me meshuga (loco, crazy). First, the cleaning and changing the dishes. Someone else can write about that. Second, if you live in the US somewhere between the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Pico Boulevard in LA, there will be a shortage of some Passover commodity. The question is, which one? Two years ago it was Passover margarine, last year it was Hungarian cherries. I fear this year it will be Dijon mustard.
But, top to bottom cleaning and locating food items with the kosher for Passover label is only the prelude for the locovore. What pushes me to the edge is the MENU. Keep in mind that there are two nights in a row of holiday meals and a Sabbath meal later in the week and then it’s all capped by two more holiday meals on days seven and eight. No respectable cook would prepare the same food for all five meals!
About thirty-five years ago, I devised five menus that worked. I assembled a shopping list. I was organized. Now think special diets combined with nostalgic eating. There are family members who still crave the chicken soup with matzah balls and the brisket. Then there are special diets to take into account. Here’s the family for this year: 2 gluten free, 2 diabetics, 1 vegan, 1 vegetarian, 1 no turkey and no beef, 1 no chocolate, 1 organic please, 1 locavore, 2 Weight Watchers®, 3 lactose intolerant, 1 low cholesterol, 1 no acidic foods like tomatoes and oranges, and 1 no onions or garlic. Did I mention there are children as well as adults who have trouble waiting for the food while we recount the story of the Exodus?
Thanks to the wise ruling of Rabbi Drazen, I feel confident about holding off the hungry so we can conduct the seder at less than warp speed. We will eat all manner of vegetables and dips after we’ve said the blessing over the parsley early into the seder. This night is different from all others because everyone eats vegetables with relish! Problem solved.
Now for the meal. For the nostalgic there’s the traditional, core menu. For the specials, I need another dish. Matzah ball soup and a vegan soup that’s gluten free. Make the turkey and brisket but will the no-brisket, no-turkey guest eat soup chicken? Nope-well, he’ll have to cope. Is there any vegetable dish I can make with a protein for the vegan and vegetarian? Quinoa?—check with the rabbi. How many points® in matzah? What about the sweet potato soufflé with the kosher for Passover marshmallows? The six-year-old loves the golden marshmallows. Too much margarine for the low cholesterol? Marshmallows? Hardly organic. They’re probably plastic. Dessert—have to make my 12 egg choclatissimo for the traditionalists, but what about the no egg, gluten free, low cholesterol, no chocolate, Weight Watcher® crowd ? Fruit. Maybe even fruit compote with prunes. Everyone will appreciate prunes sooner or later.
A week before Passover the phone rings. The oenophile relatives from northern California are coming. Translation—they won’t drink Passover wine. Oh well.
I am a certified locovore by this point but I am not careening off the edge into the abyss of ultimatums of “I’ll never make another seder.” What’s the secret—it’s the same trick Moses used to turn slaves into free people—40 years of walking together. Except I walk for forty days before Passover with my walking buddy and she opens with, “What do I do about the guests who want to bring something, but they don’t have a clue about what’s kosher for Passover?” Our locovore issues differ, but we walk them away day by day.
It’s the night of the seder. I am exhausted from cooking (and walking) but there’s a lot of food and I think everyone will have something to eat. The advantage of living in the Midwest is the basement with an extra refrigerator and freezer. I can prepare ridiculous quantities of food and keep it all cold. Seated at the long table, I gaze at my family from the round smiling face of my four-year-old granddaughter to the proud visage of my mother. We are ready to begin and I feel like I, too, escaped from bondage to freedom.
Finally, the meal is served. From my vegan Mom, “That chicken soup looks amazing. I think I’ll try it tonight instead of the vegetarian version.”