Passover started last night. This is my first Passover gluten free. In some ways it is easier to be gluten free during Passover, in other ways, more complex. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley, and in the derivatives of these grains. During Passover, we are commanded to avoid 'hametz', which can be made from wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats. Notice any similarities?
Matza, the 'bread of affliction', which is the main starch eaten during Passover, is made from wheat, so obviously matza is a no no. Matza is just wheat and water, baked quickly so that the dough has no time to ferment (that is how hametz develops). This is reminiscent of the Israelites baking their bread on their backs as they fled Pharaoh and Egypt. Flour used to make matza balls and many baked goods for Passover is made from ground up matzas, so that is also out for me. Just as wheat flour is found in many items you would not suspect of having flour in them, matza meal is found in many products.
But there is a commandment to eat matza at one point during the Seder, the festive, highly ritualized meal that begins the week long Passover. The answer? Pikuach nefesh, an over-riding commandment to save a life. Since eating matza would make me sick, I am excused from the commandment to eat it. There is gluten free matza available, but my local stores do not carry it, and I did not order any. One reason is that I am not a big fan of matza in the first place, so it is no great loss that I can't eat it. I did buy a small box of gluten free matza crackers, which are not really Kosher for Passover because they have a leavening agent in them. I am not very strict about following the commandments, so they will be fine for me to use.
We are commanded to feel as if we, ourselves, were brought out of slavery. In the past, I 'slavishly' followed family customs of what to eat. Now I have to think more, to plan more. I have the freedom to choose from a variety of options that are both gluten free and kosher for Passover. Becoming gluten free has shown me a whole world of flours I did not know existed: almond flour, garbanzo bean flour, and flours made from tapioca and amaranth are just a few of the multitude that I have found. Some of these flours are acceptable to use during Passover.
I like to cook, and this experience is opening up new avenues of creativity for me. Some things I took for granted that I could buy off the shelf I can no longer eat because they have matza meal in them. I can make my own, using my usual cooking method of looking at several recipes then making up my own. I can experiment, jotting down notes, so I know what worked and what needs tweaking. I am cooking things I never thought to cook before, like gefilte fish (a traditional Jewish food made from fish that is similar to a meatball, but is eaten cold with horseradish). It came out okay, I have some ideas of how to make it better next time.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Food is a necessity, so I am inventing.