We have the remnants of received shaloch manos (Purim gift baskets of food) all over our kitchen. For dinner tonight, I ate...I'll confess it...twelve hamentashen. That's all, just the hamentashen, nothing else.
Purim is past; can't believe it. What an intense weekend, with Shabbat, then immediately, Purim. The holiday in which we remember that God is hidden but constantly in control; where we are hidden in costumes, and can deceive via externals for either good or ill. Purim: The celebration where we get slightly inebriated (reminds me of the Almost Live skit of "songs of the slightly inebriated," my favorite of which is, "I'm gonna beat that train!") until we no longer perceive the difference between curse Haman and praise Mordechai. Or, we drink some, fall asleep, and while in dream-land fulfill the mitzvah by being basically unconscious.
So festive! So happy! Then what was the stress I felt? Could it have been...shaloch manos???
The task of making my shaloch manos started last Tuesday, when I spent all day combing my fave cheapo stores for ingredients to put in the baskets. And my ultimate happy hunting ground of all stores is Big Lots--does anybody else (beside my partner in crime Doubletee) love BIG LOTS like I do? This is the store where everything is cheap and some things are CHEEEEAP (stupid ideas that nobody should have manufactured in the first place) and a LOT of things are good-and-cheap.
This store has zero ambiance. Maybe negative-two ambiance. The premise of Big Lots is to sell stuff that is repackaged, discontinued, got on the wrong train, or purchaser couldn't pay--and so carloads of respectable and weird goods get shlepped to this bargain store that is, in itself, slightly akimbo.
And so I approached Big Lots with the noble mission, nay, MITZVAH of filling shaloch manos! And indeed, goodies were laid in wait for me...candy, cookies, tea, condiments...and of course I would only stuff my shaloch manos with ingredients that I myself would love to receive! Two Hundred Thirty dollars later, I emerge from Big Lots, shopping cart overflowing with expensive-looking treats bought a fraction of their worth. And a floor lamp that uses full-spectrum bulbs (see previous post about searching for bright light) and face cream with Dead Sea Minerals and band-aids and two kinds of shampoo and a fiberglass pot for the garden...
Then, a stop at DOLLAR TREE! Such glee at the 'Tree! Where everything costs..what do you think? Where I find computer paper with swirls of turquoise and hot pink, goop to clean grease, aisles of fringed and ribbon'd gift bags, aluminum pans and shaloch manos ingredients galore! No, this is NOT shlock manos! It's great stuff, like jars of salsa, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, hot sauce, tortilla chips! All kosher! And gaily-colored wire wastebaskets to hold it all!
The final destination--do I dare? TRADER JOE'S! Wild for that kosher selection! And, since I eschew the brown paper lunchbag, or paper plate with a napkin-type shaloch manos, I go for the gold--KOSHER FRENCH WINE! A full-sized bottle, not those whussy mini-sized ones--of merlot, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon! And granola, coffee, chocolate-covered pretzels, kalamata olives, soup and cheeses! Heart be STILL! Gimme that hot, hot, hot SHALOCH MANOS!!
Wednesday...Thursday...it's the Fast of Esther, but I must get those Shaloch Manos ready to go, because tomorrow I cook for Shabbat!
The family room is the staging area. To do: Twenty big baskets for the "A" list and 10 for the "B" list (no wine for them!) Make the assembly line: separate piles of jars of sundried tomatoes, Twizzers, boxes of fruit rolls, the cases of wine, the salsa. The cluster of unusual ingredients for the special baskets--the rabbi who needs all pareve, the friend with an allergy.
THE TAGS! Run up to my computer and call up the template saved from last year with the wacky font; print on canary yellow paper, cut out the tags with crazy-edged scissors; affix three colorful star stickers to each one.
Now get out the ladder to retrieve the bag from the top of the closet with the shredded straw to pad the baskets! The straw saved from the big cellophane'd fruit gift tray with a foot of filler-straw at the bottom topped with three pears, two apples and an orange. The straw pulls apart, sticking to the front of my clothes with magnetic force, shredding further to become irremovable stick-lint in my carpet.
Time to fill each basket, and now my hands and my heart focus on the task at hand...and the recipients of each basket. I think of each person, each family for whom I carefully craft an assortment....her child can't eat peanuts...she gets two pounds of Starbucks coffee since she hosts my Thursday class...that family likes health food...this family loves chocolate...he likes olives... Each of them is special, and as I balance the wine upright, and arrange the jars and bottles and packages, each collection is about the individuals who make up my community, who make up my context. The people whose kindness, sincerity, effort and generosity elevate our little world with sweetness, with cohesiveness.
I enclose each heavy basket in a white plastic bag, and cut lengths of gold, turquoise and magenta ribbon. I tie each in a bow, and pull the ends past opened scissors to make cascading curls, twisting the ribbon so it falls just so, with the shiny side out, the happy side out.
And that is the essence of Purim. We hide our selves, our gifts, in costumes, and offer from our inner selves gifts to others--money as charity for the poor, and shaloch manos to our friends. And this way, perhaps with a bit of lubrication, we allow our shiny side, our happy side, to face outward.