Wondering how to have a relaxing, enjoyable family Passover without driving yourself insane cleaning and cooking? Simple! Read on to learn my secrets of a stress-free Pesach…
I have just spent the last week in bed with the flu. I don’t recommend it. One evening as I was laying weakly back on my pillows, my daughter Kipper came in and asked me, “Mummy, how long is it till Pesach?”
“About three weeks,” I replied.
“Mummy!” she squealed in horror. “You are WOEFULLY UNPREPARED!”
Well thanks for the vote of confidence, kid. I actually don’t feel woefully unprepared at all. Let me tell you about last year…
Last Pesach we were heading to Israel for the chag, so my Pesach preparation had extended as far as buying sun-screen and packing our suitcases. We were due to fly two days before Yomtov. Then, the night before our flight, I came down with D&V. There was no way I was flying anywhere. With just a day’s notice, Pesach needed to happen in our house! And DH was going to have to do it single-handed…
And do you know what? It was fine. In one day, with no assistance, DH gave the kitchen what he described as a “cursory but adequate” clean, went shopping, organised seder invitations for himself and Kipper (I was too ill to go anywhere), did bedikat chametz, and conclusively proved once and for all that you can make Pesach in less than 24 hours and you DON’T NEED TO SPEND WEEKS DRIVING YOURSELF MAD WITH IT.
Obviously I wouldn’t necessarily recommend leaving everything till the day before, but I think there are some lessons that we can take away from that experience, to make a routine, ‘normal’ Pesach a lot less stressful than it otherwise might be.
1. Cleaning – good enough is good enough
Pesach cleaning ≠ Spring cleaning. Do the bare minimum and be happy with it. Sure, if you have the time and inclination it’s good to give the kitchen a thorough deep clean, but realistically, I usually blitz those cupboards and drawers we’re going to use for the chag, and give everything else a quick once over and tape them shut. When you do bitul chametz any specks you might have missed will be rendered “ownerless as dust of the earth” and are no longer a problem anyway.
Similarly, now is not the time to start deep cleaning rooms that you don’t eat food in anyway. You can rest assured that I won’t be cleaning the spare bedroom/utility room/bathrooms etc especially for Pesach! If at some point I decide they could do with some extra attention, then they’ll get it, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the weeks before Pesach is not the time I’m going to do it!
To be honest, I like to think that my house is pretty clean year-round, so giving the food preparation and eating areas a once-a-year overhaul doesn’t seem so unreasonable. And as DH has shown, you can do it in less than a day if you’re prepared to let “good enough” be good enough.
(BTW – that’s not me in the photo!)
2. Eat real food
What’s wrong with eating vegetables, salads, fruit, fish, eggs, cheese and matza? Why is there a need to be ‘creative’ and spend hours making things that emulate the stuff we eat the rest of the year? Why not celebrate all the delicious foods that are naturally kosher for Pesach? Instead of attempting to make a pizza crust out of mashed cauliflower, eggs, ground almonds and heaven knows what else, just live without pizza for a week!
This is actually one of DH’s major bugbears. The one week of the year when it’s impossible to make a ‘proper’ cake and people suddenly need to have a selection of a dozen different baked goods to offer to guests at a moments notice! Really? How many types of cakes and biscuits do you usually have on offer the other 51 weeks of the year? Sure, make some coconut macaroons or meringues (which are delicious all year round) and otherwise, how about offering a fruit platter? Or some chocolate nut clusters? Or just some matza crackers and butter?!
3. Enjoy simple pleasures
Pesach comes at a time of year when delicious local fresh fruits and vegetables are starting to really come back into season. It’s an opportunity to enjoy meals that focus on nothing more than fresh seasonal vegetables, eggs, fish, fresh herbs, cheeses and potatoes. For instance, I’m really looking forward to having plates of local asparagus, steamed and dripping with melted butter. Yum.
Also, have you ever sat down and really eaten matza? Spread it with butter (or humous if you eat kitniot – mmmm!) and then just concentrate on the texture, the crunch, the flavour. It’s delicious! Why not spend the week enjoying it? It’s the true spirit of Pesach.
4. Stick to tradition
My Mum made seder for over 30 years, maybe even 40 years, and she served the same menu every single time. And people loved it!
(In case you’re wondering, her winning menu was: egg & salt water, gefilte fish, chicken soup with knaidlach, roast chicken, potatoes, steamed greens, tsimmes, and pavlova with parve cream and strawberries. Many members of my extended family still contend that it’s not a real seder without a strawberry pavlova.)
The point is, if you’re already cooking for a large crowd, with unfamiliar pans and utensils that you only use once a year, then that’s not the time to get innovative. Don’t make life harder by trying some fancy new dish you saw on the internet. Traditional is definitely best.
And that’s true during chol hamoed too. All those simple stress-free Pesach dishes our parents and grandparents made? They came back year after year for a reason – because they’re easy to make from a few basic ingredients and they taste great. Embrace this once-a-year opportunity to eat matza brie, chremslach, matza pizza and the rest.
5. Eat the same meal twice, or three times, or more
There’s a tendency to want to make something different every day, and while I wouldn’t want to have the same dinner multiple nights in a row, lunch and breakfast are a beast of a different stripe.
I mean, during the rest of the year, I have toasted bread products for breakfast pretty much every day, and DH has a bowl of porridge.
So when those things are off the menu, why do we need to have something different every day? Answer – we don’t. In this house our usual Pesach breakfast = matza with butter and jam, cheese, honey or the spread of your choice. Plus fruit or yogurt if you’re still hungry.
Likewise lunch. Don’t overthink it. Matza with tuna mayo and sliced cucumber – bosh! Vegetable soup with buttered matza on the side – done! Omelettes – simple! Then rinse and repeat and before you know it the week is over.
No meal planner needed
I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally plan meals unless we’re having multiple guests over multiple days. On a normal week, we just cook and eat what’s available. So the idea of suddenly sitting down with an excel spreadsheet and planning a week of family meals like a military campaign seems unnecessary, and just a way to add more stress.
However, if you find it helps, go for it. Just don’t feel you have to do it. No pressure. No judgement.
Remember that the shops are open!
If you’re following my stress-free Pesach “plan”, then running out of K-for-P teriyaki sauce (uuugh!) is unlikely to be a problem, since you won’t have bought it in the first place.
But even if the worst were to happen and you were to run out of say, potatoes or eggs halfway through the week, it’s a simple trip to the shops to get more. There’s no need to go insane in the aisles in the days before Yomtov, stockpiling ground almonds and bottles of Palwin. You’ll still be using them up come Rosh Hashanah, in my experience.
Buy the basics, and smile serenely (and feel superior!) at anyone who rams you with a trolley load of K-for-P pasta sauce, breakfast cereal, and matza smores kits.
I hope you’re feeling suitably relaxed! Now, just in case you need them, here are:
The best family-approved Pesach breakfasts – for days when matza and butter just won’t cut it
The vegan Pesach survival guide – yes, you can have a stress-free Pesach even if you (or a family member) are vegan
The best family-approved Pesach cakes & desserts – all delicious, tried & tested by me, and no ‘fake food’
The best easy Pesach lunch ideas – quick, easy & stress-free Pesach lunches FTW
My top 10 potato recipes for Pesach – a handy guide for when inspiration fails
The best family-approved Pesach dinner recipes – also delicious all year round!
And if all else fails, don’t forget the Jewish Mothers Ruin – a k-for-p gin cocktail! L’chaim!
Let’s make Pesach 2019 a stress-free and enjoyable Yomtov! Chag Pesach kasher v’sameach!