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Berger’s Burg: Food a central part of celebrating Passover

Many people live from hand-to-foot. I live from hand-to-mouth, as in refrigerator to stove to dinner. I love food, eating and all holidays that revolve around food. Passover's one of these holidays and is fast approaching (sundown April 19).I've already planned the menu, guest list and preparations for the big day. This foodie's reason for being is one wonderful occasion when I open my dog-eared cookbooks, which have been handed down from my mother, mother-in-law and others, for ages. I also search libraries for newer, more modern recipes to update the Passover food variety.Passover is preceded the day before by the "scouring" of the entire house with a ceremonial feather to look for dust, even though the house was previously cleansed during spring cleaning. Children are also given feathers to join in the task.As part of the food preparation, I try streamlining as many traditional and venerable foods for health reasons and eye-appeal. Removal of "gribenes" (chicken fat) from "kugel" (potato pudding), is one necessity, as is eliminating foods I consider unsavory (like the "delicacy" of unborn eggs found in freshly killed whole chickens).Food, however, isn't the main reason for Passover. There are perennial rituals performed by all attendees before eating. Each one is called upon, in strict succession, to read passages from the Haggadah, a book describing the story of the Jews' exodus from ancient Egypt. The name "Passover" accurately describes the Angel of Death's passage over the Israelites' houses, exempting them from harm as he slew only the Egyptians' firstborn in punishment for the Israelites' enslavement.Before the pre-meal rituals begin, however, everyone must wash their hands. The head of the family, usually the oldest male, then wraps an "afikomen" (matzo) in a special cloth and directs another adult to hide it. At the meal's conclusion, the children are sent to search for the afikomen, and the child who finds it is given a reward.The patriarch then holds up the Seder plate, containing small portions of ceremonial food for participants to sample: the "charoset" (a mix of honey, walnuts, apples and wine) symbolizes the mortar the enslaved Jews used to build Egypt's pyramids; the "maror" (horseradish mixed with beet juice) represents the bitter struggle Jews endured; and a hardboiled egg, a lamb's shank bone, bitter herbs and the most famous of all, matzo (unleavened bread), are eaten throughout the eight days of Passover. Jews are forbidden to eat foods containing leavening for the holiday's duration.Each person will also take four sips of wine - grape juice for children - with an extra glass of wine set out for the prophet Elijah. The door's left open so he may enter without knocking. Some family rituals may last as long as two hours; by then, everyone's hungry and eager to eat. As Alex likes to say, "At its conclusion, the consuming of the choice comestibles will finally commence."Despite my desire to introduce new foods to the gathering, most seem to gravitate toward the traditional fare of chicken soup with matzo balls; gefilte fish; salad; an entree of brisket, potatoes, broccoli, and wine; and dessert of fruits, nuts, date nut cookies, meringue cookies and macaroons.One child-oriented part of the Seder I enjoy is when the youngest male is given the honor of asking the Four Questions, each one concerning Passover's meaning. Of course, Passover traditions and menus vary depending upon the family's country of origin.While the Seder rituals continue, the aromas of the waiting dinner whet the guests' appetites dramatically - and gastronomically - until the scrumptious meal is served on the Passover table. Dessert soon follows - stomach capacity permitting.Passover is a wonderful celebration for family, friends and guests. At this time, Alex and I want to wish the entire world a "Zissen Pesach" (sweet Passover) and peace.Now let the gluttony begin.

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