When I got married, I sort of knew how to make eggs. I lived in a studio apartment on the Upper West Side with an 8’x8′ kitchen, where I mostly used the stove for storage and the cabinets for books. Whatever food traditions my family might have had, they remained buried in a notebook where my mom had laconically jotted recipes dictated by neighbors in Rehovot, or within the pages of a lone Ruth Sirkis cookbook she’d managed to bring along when we moved to the States.
As I learned from an early date night, if I was going to leave the cooking to my husband, we would be eating steak with limp broccoli every night. That, or takeout. Neither of which I particularly enjoy.
We moved out to Brooklyn, to what we thought was the edge of a nice neighborhood, but was actually not so much. The new apartment did have more counter space, as well as a closet-sized room allowing me to unearth the sewing machine from my parents’ basement. Also, less places that would deliver to our marginal address.
So I opened a book, something I’m good at doing. It said to buy a can of chipotles in adobo. I shored up my intentions and went looking at the nearest bodega. And there it was, just like the book promised. I went home and stuck the contents of the small can in some mac ‘n cheese, because that’s what the book said to do, and I thought that was a safe bet given my husband’s proclivities.
He said: What did you put in this? It’s spicy. Which, for the record, was excellent practice for cooking for our future family.
But to me, the adobo was a revelation. Complexity! Umami! It could make even mac ‘n cheese bearable. (I’m the kind of person who likes anchovies and very dark chocolate). It dawned on me that you more or less have to eat, and cooking is kind of like a craft project.
When I was pregnant with our first child, I decided that if there was one experience that I would give to my baby to tether him (him, as it turned out) to his heritage, it would be memories of cozy, delicious, spirited Shabbat dinners, the kind I’d longed for as a child. I thought about the little can of adobo and how following recipes is basically magic, and promised myself that even though Friday annoyingly insists upon coming at the end of the week, I was going to cook. Every Friday. And holiday, because I’m prone to perfectionism. Judaism has a lot of holidays, by the way.
I never expected to enjoy it. Luckily for me, I’m a techniques junkie and an introvert, which is a perfect match for being in the kitchen trying out a new recipe on your guests while your cute children and gregarious husband do the talking. The rhythms of Jewish life tack me down from the lofty and abstract places where my mind tends to wander, firmly into the present. And in the process, I am, I hope, creating ritual and food traditions that my children can carry with them, wherever their own wanderings may lead them.
Where does one start? With challah. See you at the top of the week.