By Ben Falik

Bravely building the food pyramid from almost ancient artifacts.

You can’t blame people when ancient Jewish traditions happen to meet a particular need in their very contemporary lives. Shabbat for digital detox. Threadbare kabbalah for celebrity rebranding. Kippot for male-pattern baldness.

At least I hope you can’t blame them for cherry-picking, because I’m about to. For observant Jewish households, the weeks leading up to Passover involve a rigorous ritual exercise that prepares them to commemorate the deliverance from Egypt and differentiate those nights from all other nights. Among other things, they exile chametz, any leavened food that might be lurking in a far corner of the pantry, fridge or oven that could threaten to turn the holiday from unleavened to unlawful.

Mine is not a kosher home, unless you count the prohibition against Einstein Bagels and the miraculous rekindling of our sporadic WiFi, the password for which is 88888888.

And yet the coming of Passover, with coronavirus plaguing grocery aisles and threatening quarantine, seems like an opportune time to confront my own Pharaoh: expired food. As orthodox as I am to eating strawberry tops, apple cores and now mango skin, I still contribute to the 30-40% of U.S. food — more than 130 billion pounds annually — that goes to waste.

Long have I hoarded chametz, and thus now shall I atone by attempting to eat that which plagues my pantry:

1. Pumpkin Butter

Purchase Date: Jan. 26, 2015

In the early weeks of 2015, as my colleagues in New York were bearing down for a historic blizzard that would soon bypass the city, I was similarly scrambling. My fearful forecast was that Trader Joe’s would stop stocking Pumpkin Butter, the only thing my son would eat on the only other thing he would eat, their toaster waffles. It appears I was overzealous in my supermarket sweep, as evidenced by the 13 jars still nesting next to our wedding china.

Start spreadin’ the news! I was uncertain at first based on some separation of the contents inside and my difficulty separating the top. (Belated thank you to JARC for their 34th anniversary rubber jar gripper; happy 50th, JARC!) While slightly darker than I recall, the pumpkin butter stood the test of time — far longer than your jack-o-lantern or the two-year shelf life of ground nutmeg, the actual flavor behind our perennial Pavlovian predilection for pumpkin spice.

2. Brussels Sprouts

Estimated: Spring 2014

I’m guessing these follow the live comic styles of Nick Kroll, who made a compelling case to the NEXTGen Detroit audience of the Brussels sprouts’ remarkable 180° turn from a boiled “bowl of farts” to a sliced, roasted medium for transmitting bacon.

The presence of sproutsicles did not instill confidence. I tasted one and am also not confident that this would be a marketable variety of Sno-Kone® syrup. Roasting for 20-25 minutes did not yield edges “just beginning to get crisp and dark brown,” nor did another 25 minutes do much other than permeate my kitchen with Brussels eau de toilette.

Alas, these sprouts have a pre-Kroll mushiness and there’s no bacon in sight. While edible strictly speaking, no — I cannot in good conscience recommend consuming six-year-old Brussels sprouts prepared as such. But I am going to honor their legacy and this endeavor by using them as the base for:

3. Thyme Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Pack Date: April 9, 2016

Thyme is on my side, honey! I can’t say whether the vinaigrette has improved over the last four years, but it has certainly held up better than the politics of the time. Like Brexit, for that matter, it could do without Brussels.

4. Soy Vey, Veri Veri Teriyaki

Best Before: Jan. 15, 2011

Soy vey, indeed. Those heroic sesame seeds must have felt like Jack descending into the dark, salty sea of marinade among the Titanic’s other detritus — so, like Rose, my heart will go on.

5. Whole Wheat Matzah

Passover: 2017

Tastes like matzah.

6. Roasted Vegetable Multigrain Lasagna

Expiration Date: Pre-Obama

Hello, old friend. It seems like yesterday I was packing up the contents of our condo to start a new chapter, equidistant from the Royal Oak Trader Joe’s and yet a world away. That was 2008. And here we are. I do hope the interminable preheating didn’t further bristle your freezer burn. The microwave seemed wholly inappropriate for such an occasion.

… Hot damn! After all these years, I suppose I could have waited another 10 minutes so the roof of my mouth wouldn’t be on fire. That said, my remaining taste buds approve. Garfield would bless this beloved lasagna on the occasion of its char mitzvah, especially for the versatility of the ricotta and mozzarella between -9° and 350°. I, in turn, feel blessed — for all the good humor and Good Humor we enjoyed while it waited patiently behind that stainless-steel door.

Still, this is a lotta lasagna, so maybe freezer once it finally cools off.


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