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Bread, I Still Love You!

April 18, 2011

I’m as Jewish as f*cking Tevye.
~ Walter Sobchak

Speaking of Tevye, let’s talk about tradition for a moment. I’m a big fan. I love traditions. You know what else I love? Bread.

Last year, on the day before the first night of Passover, I wrote a love note to bread. This seems like a worthy annual tradition for the FLB. Each year I may change it up a little bit around the edges, but at its core, it will be the same piece. I hope you enjoy it. Because these memories of bread are going to have to get me through the long hard week of Pesach.

I have loved bread for a long time.

It has been far too long since I’ve enjoyed the simple pleasure of a hot loaf of pain d’epi with a healthy smear of Pamplie butter. The butter melts on contact with the light yeasty crumb, and the crust offers such a satisfying crunch before it yields to the warm soft center below.

But it’s not just fancy bread with French names. As a young child I remember loving the soft fluffy indulgence of Wonder bread. In college I would sit down with a loaf of sandwich bread and a tub of margarine and just eat until I couldn’t eat any more. Recently I’ve switched from a bowl of cereal to a slice of toast to start the day.

I find the smell of toast to be intoxicating.

Of course I mention all of this because tonight is the first night of Passover, and it will be eight days until I can enjoy these delectable delights again. Tonight we will have a seder, the festive holiday meal that retells the story of when we were slaves in Egypt. Naturally there will be plenty of tasty things to eat.

Although instead of bread there will be matzoh.

Matzoh also has another name. It is lovingly called The Bread of Affliction. And usually around this time of year, people who don’t observe Passover will say, “I don’t know what you’re complaining about, I think matzoh is tasty.”

And you know what, on that first day it is tasty. Maybe it will even be tasty the second day with plenty of butter and jam. Plus it’s likely been a full year since you’ve made matzoh brei, which may carry you through the third day. But by day four, the affliction has certainly set in.

The story I will tell tonight, and the one I will teach my children, is the story I was told as a boy. In its simplest form, Moses asked Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh declined, but after the tenth plague was visited on the Egyptians, Pharaoh finally relented. The Israelites fled as quickly as they could, which didn’t allow them enough time for their bread to rise before heading off into the desert.

Which means that to commemorate the exodus from Egypt we refrain from eating bread for a week. And bread is used loosely because we refrain from eating a whole host of other treats too.

The official line is that all Jews who observe the holiday are to avoid all forms of the five grains that are referred to as hametz: wheat, barley, spelt (also known as farro), oats, and rye. However depending on your background and level of observance one may also omit the additional foods known as kitniyot which include rice, millet, legumes, peas, caraway, fennel seed, mustard, garlic, corn, soybeans, and peanuts.

Passover is like heaven for someone on the Atkins diet.

I’ve always thought these dietary observances were strange. The Israelites didn’t have time to make matzoh ball soup or braise their brisket for hours either, yet we have no problem eating those delicious morsels on the holiday.

I will miss pizza, I will miss pasta, and I will miss pretzels. But I will miss bread the most.

This past weekend I ate most of a challah, gorged on pizza, and devoured a whole mess of pasta. Today I will enjoy my last slices of toast and some granola with yogurt. This year we are heading out to two different seders in two different states, so while I may need to do some driving, there will be no cooking. I don’t even need to schlep down a brisket.

But taking a significant car ride without pretzels or peanut butter sandwiches for the kids is daunting.

While it seems like eight days shouldn’t be that long, I know that by the time Tuesday, April 26 rolls around, I will welcome bread back into my life with open arms. And likely with pizza.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2011 10:25 am

    Glorious post. Travel safe! Have a zissen (sweet) Pesach.

  2. April 18, 2011 10:31 am

    Agree – day 1 matzah is good, day 2 ok, and by day 3 I feel like its sharp corners are stabbing my stomach from the inside.

    This weekend I had one of my favorite hometown treats–a stromboli from Stuff Yer Face (a place of humble beginnings for Mr. Batali, actually). And I made a cheddar beer quickbread that didn’t last long at a dinner party.

    A little Pesach humor for you:

    • Kerosena permalink
      April 18, 2011 11:03 pm

      Thank you for this day 1, day 2, day 3 joke. I repeated it at my family’s Seder this evening and it got quite a laugh!

  3. April 18, 2011 8:41 pm

    “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” James Beard

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