Growing up in a secular home is probably not the best excuse for lacking fervor in the kitchen, but that will not deter me from using it. My mother actually happens to be a phenomenal cook, but being she never had to prepare a three-day Yom Tov, she also luckily never required my help in the kitchen. In the rare occurrence that she did need a hand, I’m sure she would have resorted to asking my brother first. She is probably reading this and flinching at the memory of asking me to “add the noodles to the water when it boils,” but at least recalling this incident gives her one reason to be thankful I don't have a TV in my house.
It was with this extensive experience behind me, that I found myself 22, married and struggling with the simple life skill of making toast. Call it a possible inability to multitask, but airing out our Brooklyn apartment from yet another forgotten piece of bread was a regular event in our first year of marriage. I wasn’t even offended when a good friend bought me “Cooking with Kids” as a belated wedding present.
Fast forward multiple years and many a take-out meal, and I can now safely wing together a wholesome Shabbos- just. And whilst this achievement feels almost as good as keeping the house clean for longer than an hour after the cleaning lady leaves, there’s no denying the communal pressure to step it up just a little bit more. Which is great! There’s nothing wrong with a bit of peer pressure to challenge us to up our game with the nourishing meals we deliver to our guests and family. Except of course when it leaves you hungry.
You cannot imagine the desperation of having to make a Shabbos meal without knowing how to turn on the gas stove. Or maybe you can but have been too embarrassed to say so, because as a Jewish mom you should not only be cooking Shabbos with your eyes closed (don’t actually do that because it’s dangerous), but doing it for the whole neighborhood. Heck, you should be teaching the world how to make Shabbos in an hour, because that’s totally realistic and encouraging, when you've been in the kitchen since the morning, sunset is in 10 minutes and that oven just WON’T BAKE ANY FASTER.
Back in the day, hosting people was such a big affair I only managed to pull it off once a month. I would spend days if not weeks putting together menus that resembled another language. Multiple edits were then necessary as I realized only Martha Stewart could pull off such a feast in a small apartment kitchen with one sink and no dishwasher. Keeping up with the latest food trends was impossible (still is), and as I excitedly served asparagus wrapped in pastrami everyone else had already moved on to pulled brisket pizza.
Whilst I slaved away using ingredients I had never heard of, from stores I rarely went to, my family would simply turn in puzzlement and wonder, “Where’s the kugel?” I’ve learned a lot about cooking over the years but namely to just keep it simple. There’s only so many times a bundt cake can decide to self-destruct the minute its transferred into a serving dish before you decide to opt for cookies instead.
It’s pretty clear I’m not going to be the next Busy in Brooklyn, or one of the other myriad of kosher food bloggers that make our lives both simpler and more complex in the one go. But I can whip up a yummy Shabbos with minimal leftovers that will probably leave a memorable impression of warmth and comfort on both family and guests. I am thankful to be connected to creative artists who do the hard work and allow me to try something new every so often with minimal damage to my ego.
If the thought of spending hours in the kitchen testing new recipes and cooking up a storm rings bells in your ears then by all means continue, and please consider inviting us for a meal. But if you’d rather fly solo internationally with a toddler, than spend hours standing and preparing food, then that’s fine too. Come Purim when it feels like you're the only person that hasn't come up with a unique way to serve food in a triangular format, despair can be channeled into the knowledge that your kids probably prefer dough and jam just like their bubbe used to make back in the day.