Calling all harried housewives, hungry husbands, and other stressed-out-from-Pesach-
Don’t Yell Challah in a Crowded Matzah Bakery was popular humor columnist Mordechai Schmutter’s first humor book, and though it sold itself out in just a short time, we are proud to announce that it is now back in print once again! This is the book you’ll want to buy for your wife, after you come home to a sparkling clean, kosher l’Pesach room and then discover that the pocket you’d put your emergency stash of pretzels in had a hole in it. This is the book you’ll want to buy for yourself after you get through that encounter. This is the book that will preserve your sanity even during the most hectic and nerve-wracking moments of Pesach cleaning-shopping-cooking-
To get more of an idea of what we mean, here is an excerpt from this book, from the chapter titled “Cleaning House.”
The Cleaning Process
The basic idea in cleaning for Pesach is to turn everything upside down and shake it, and then to cover it in contact paper just in case. The most practical method of doing this is to start at the far reaches of the house and slowly work your way toward the kitchen, so that you don’t stupidly paint yourself into a corner and end up eating all of your last-minute chametz meals in the guest closet. Many women who would like to at least get some Pesach cooking done carefully leave one strange-but-not-totally-insane room to eat in, such as the basement or the garage, and then do most of their chametz cooking on one of those little travel burners that heat up when you plug them in, not unlike your laptop computer.
One of the most daunting things about cleaning absolutely everything you own on a deadline during tax season is the fact that, in order to get everything organized, you will first have to make a huge mess. For instance, if you look through the drawer near your telephone, which ideally should contain nothing but a few telephone books, a pad and some writing implements, you will probably find a handful of dead batteries, some random screws, a bunch of pennies, some “Box Tops for Education”, a button, your old answering machine, and what appears to be a dead banana. So immediately you’re going to have to start taking apart the drawer and making piles. The banana, for instance, would go in the dead-banana pile, along with the one from between the couch cushions and the one that was stuck to the ceiling fan. So if, for some reason, you have to stop in the middle of cleaning, your house will not look like it is about halfway clean, but rather like it was hit by an exceptionally well-organized tornado. This is all part of the process, though, as is illustrated in the popular cleaning-instructional book, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, in which the cat, who does not seem to have a name, sets out to clean a ring that he has made in someone else’s bathtub, and the basic message of the book is that sometimes, if you want to clean something up, you’re going to have to first invite twenty-six of your closest friends to help you smear your bathtub gunk around the lawn for a little while.
But in fact, cleaning can be fun. Okay, not as much fun as a barrel of monkeys or a hatful of tiny identical cats, but there are always little things to look forward to. Like sometimes, while you’re cleaning under your bed, you’re going to find something which you have torn up most of the house looking for a few months ago, and then finally caved and bought a new one. Or maybe it’s something you bought at the checkout once because you thought you needed it, even though about thirty seconds earlier you were unaware that the product had even existed, and it’s been living under your bed ever since. In either case, having fun with your Pesach cleaning means that you can hold it up and proudly announce, “Hey! I’ve been looking for this all year!” And then add it to your Things-That-Go-Back-Under-The-
But the most important thing to remember, in cleaning for Pesach, is that you absolutely must have good cleaning music. You want songs that have a good beat that you can scrub along to, so cantorial music is out of the question, as that would never get real stains out. Ideally, you should find a tape that is somewhat Pesach-related, as it will help you get into the right frame of mind for the holiday, and will probably also have some great scrubbing music. The “Dayenu” song, for instance, is an awesome song to scrub along to. If you have a tape that plays nothing but “Dayenu” over and over and over again, that is enough.
Helpful Cleaning Tips
- Make sure that before you begin, you have adequate cleaning supplies. This should include:
- A bunch of seemingly identical spray bottles of varying toxicity
- A vacuum cleaner
- A broom, for when the vacuum cleaner stops working
- A second broom, to push the first one out of the vacuum cleaner hose
- A big bottle of club soda
- A big bottle of Advil
- Elbow grease (any)
- Forty-seven rolls of contact paper with the goose design
- If you have no cleaning sprays, you can use lemon juice. Lemon juice cleans almost anything. You almost never see a dirty lemon. In fact, you can even use a lemon to clean off a bar of soap.
- You can make a homemade furniture polish using two parts olive oil and one part lemon juice, and put it into one of the spray bottles you have laying around the house that you are afraid to throw out because they still have some liquid in them, although not enough to actually come out when you squeeze the handle, and you are too afraid to pour all of those little drops into one bottle because you’re not entirely sure that doing this won’t cause an explosion.
- You can clean out your toaster with a standard fork, and you can get into those tiny electrical outlets with a paper clip.
- If you can get your couch out the door and over to the dry cleaners, they’ll be happy to take it.
- Do not forget to clean underneath your couch cushions, because the cleaners will just keep whatever they find. Items you may find in there include: library books, magazine subscription cards, enough change to pay for the dry-cleaning on a couch, the little brush piece that came with your vacuum cleaner that you never quite figured out what to do with, the remote to your air conditioner, a mismatched sock, the pen from the phone drawer, enough crumbs to feed a hungry child in Africa, a dead banana, and that hamster that your daughter used to have.
- You can pry the computer keys off your keyboard with a flat-head screwdriver.
- You can find them under the furniture with a standard flashlight.
- You can get stains out of hard-to-reach places using your spouse’s toothbrush. Just remember to put it back when you’re done.
- It’s always a good idea to shampoo your carpets before Pesach. If you have shag carpeting, you should also use conditioner.
- You can clean off your exercise equipment, such as your treadmill or your exercise bike, by first hanging up the huge pile of clothes you have lying on it, and then scrubbing it with your olive oil/lemon mixture. Make sure to wait until it’s not slippery anymore before you put your clothes back on it. Although the truth is that if you actually have chametz on your exercise equipment, you arguably do not even deserve to have exercise equipment.
- You must clean your vestibule. If you do not have a vestibule, or are unsure what a vestibule is, you can probably go out and rent one, and then clean it. Or you can clean someone else’s.
- Do not forget to empty your vacuum cleaner bags. Contrary to popular belief, the stuff you vacuum up does not go through the cord and into the wall and back to the electric company. What would they do with it? And you very rarely hear about somebody’s power going out because he’s got a tissue stuck in the wires.
- Also, do not forget to sweep off the outside of your vacuum cleaner, and to vacuum the dirt off the bottom of the broom. Which of these you should do last I do not know.
Cleaning the Kitchen
Cleaning your kitchen is tough. On the one hand, it is the most chametz-laden room in the house, because you eat out of it all year. On the other hand, you want to turn it into the most chametz-free room in the house, because you are planning on eating out of it on Pesach. So you’re going to want to be even more thorough with your kitchen than you were with any other room. For instance, you should definitely scrub the ceilings. Although when it comes to the rest of your house it is generally acceptable not to clean the ceilings, kitchen ceilings are often caked with food. I myself am guilty of sticking food onto a kitchen ceiling.
I was about seven or eight at the time, and cereal had of course gone on sale about a month or two before Pesach, so my parents ran out to the store and stocked up, out of habit, I guess. So it was basically up to me and my sister to finish a scary amount of Life Cereal, which tastes okay in moderation, but is very easy to get sick of if you’re eating bowl after bowl of it for weeks. And it does not help at all that Life is the one cereal that gets soggy before you even put in the milk. You get the milk out of the fridge and then turn back to your bowl, and—“Huh! It’s soggy already!”
So there I was one morning, my cheeks puffed out, my mouth full of mushy cereal that I was shoveling in like crazy because I was trying to make the bus. I was so annoyed at the situation that I took a square of cereal out of the bowl and heaved it at the ceiling. (I don’t know. It made sense to me at the time.) I expected the piece of cereal to fall back down and get lost somewhere in the kitchen, so that I would just have to eat the other three hundred pieces of cereal in my bowl, but it didn’t come back down. I couldn’t see it on the ceiling either, because our kitchen had that weird ceiling pattern that a lot of kitchens had at the time, which was no doubt called “The Tiny Shiny Square Pattern”, so I think that the cereal stuck to one of the squares and blended in. I honestly could not find it, and I was scared to mention it to my parents. There was no telling what kind of trouble I would get into for throwing a piece of cereal at the ceiling. (That also made sense to me at the time.) In retrospect, I hope my mother found it.
But you should definitely be careful about your ceilings. Even if you don’t have “The Tiny Shiny Square Pattern” and an endless supply of cereal, there is always the portion of the ceiling above your stove, which gets all kind of splash-back and makes you wonder, as you stand on your stovetop and scrub at it, why your entire kitchen does not look like that. And then there are the mysterious handprints, which were put there by your teen-aged boys, who sometimes try to enhance their Midnight Snack experience by holding contests to see who could jump up and palm the ceiling. (This may answer the question of the mysterious thumping noise coming from your bedroom floor in the middle of the night.)
Another big and complicated aspect of kitchens is the kashering process. Kashering is the process by which you make your pots and ovens and George Foreman grills fit to be used on Pesach, even though you use them for chametz all year long, and everything tastes like that time you burnt the gefilte fish. Kashering basically works by heating up the utensil with no food inside, so that instead of absorbing the taste of, say, the kugel, it absorbs the taste of nothing, or, if you heat it for too long, burnt nothing.
There are various methods of kashering, based on how you normally use the utensil in question. Items that are normally heated directly, such as ovens, grills, Bunsen burners, those little travel ranges that heat up when you plug them in, and sandwich makers, are all kasheredby letting them heat up to the point where you could basically light your chametz off of them, although Hashem alone knows why you want to kasher your sandwich maker. If these objects do not become hot enough on their own, a popular option is to use a flamethrower, because in what other scenario would a middle-aged housewife get to use a flamethrower? Of course, in the old days, they had to kasher their pots with two sticks or a magnifying glass. But they did have way more time on their hands, because it took them only one night to clean their homes.
As far as items that are normally used with foods, such as pots, pans, silver cups, silverware, flatware, trays, serving utensils, teakettles, and the kitchen sink, they all have to be kashered through immersion in boiling water. (And if you cannot for the life of you figure out how to immerse your kitchen sink in boiling water, we will tell you that the process involves a tea kettle, and hopefully, your rabbi.)
Below are the steps necessary to clean out your kitchen, with the exception of your kitchen chairs, which we’re going to assume are already soaking in the bathtub.
The procedure for the table is basically the same as for the chairs – scrub it very well, soak it in the neighbor’s pool for a while, and cover it in contact paper (the table, not the pool). The contact paper will help the underside of your tablecloth remain chametz-free.
Don’t forget to clean the spaghetti marks off the front of your cabinets. On that note, you can also tell if spaghetti is done by tasting it.
If you’re only cleaning out the fridge once a year, then you need more help than this book can provide. But that won’t stop us from trying. First, clear out everything that you’re never going to eat except maybe on a bet. This includes any white foods, such as yogurt, that have started to turn green; any green foods, such as celery, that have started to turn brown; and any brown foods, such as leftover cholent, that have started to turn white. You should have nothing in your fridge that is not the same color it was when you bought it. Also, you should throw out everything that is growing a beard. And get your lulav out of there, for Heaven’s sake. Burn it with the chametz or something.
The next step is to take the entire fridge apart, piece by piece, using power tools if necessary, while taking care to remember which piece is which because refrigerators are expensive. Wash all the pieces, rinse, and repeat. If you are able to put the whole fridge back together and it still smells like feet, you can leave an open box of baking soda in there to absorb the odors. Baking soda is very good at absorbing odors, which is why they put it in toothpaste. Just make sure never to use that baking soda for cooking, but to use an entirely different box that you keep sealed, preferably in a separate house that no one lives in.
If you have the kind of sink that needs contact paper, make sure it is the type of contact paper that will remain sticky even after you use the sink.
We think you should get your dishwasher something nice for Pesach. Just don’t call her “Dishwasher” on the card.
You should definitely use a flamethrower on this; preferably the kind that shoots out flames from over six feet away, because sticking your head in the oven is dangerous. If you have a self-cleaning oven, you can just turn it on and leave the house, because the smoke detectors will keep going off and the house will get too smoky to see anything anyway, and you don’t want to be there every time the fire department comes by to check on it.
Stoves can get really dirty, because everything you make either splatters or spills over, and you can’t just jump in and wipe it up, because it’s too hot. And by the time it isn’t too hot, it’s crusted over. So you should definitely remove and clean all of your burners and your knobs and your round things and even the entire top of your range, but only if it is the type that comes off. My mother’s does not have the type of stove that comes off, but every year she tries to take it off anyway, and every year she shorts out the oven three days before the biggest food-centric holiday of the year, and every year my father has to buy a new one. You’d think that just once he’d buy one with a top that can actually come off, but the truth is that he can’t afford it, because he has to keep buying new ones.
Offices, Cubicles, Etc.
These are important places to clean that often get overlooked, because you are just so happy to get out of there when Pesach comes that you often forget. Also, if you work with non-Jews, you may get caught crawling around under your desk with a candle and be asked to take it outside with the smokers. And you are not really interested in standing under the overhang with a bunch of people trying to light their cigarettes off of your candle while you’re carefully looking for the ten pieces of bread you hid in the ashtray. But before you brush off cleaning your cubicle, you should think about how much office cake you ate in there, and how many snacks you bought from the vending machine, and how many pieces those snacks were in from hitting the bottom of the machine. Just don’t forget to warn people to duck before you start prying buttons off your keyboard.
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