Her robe was fuzzy and peach in color. It reached all the way down to her ankles, and the long sleeves sat just above her wrists. She would fasten the pearly buttons haphazardly, missing a few here and there, and it always sat slightly skew on her shoulders. With her curly, brown hair still unbrushed, her glasses slipping down her nose, and her feet wrapped in her favorite slippers she looked like a nutty professor who’d just this minute leapt out of bed.
It took a few presses of the doorbell before she answered.
“Hi Gran! Where were you?” Our voices were loud and happy with afterschool relief and love for our Gran, as our eyes took in the well-worn and familiar peach robe. There was a smudge of flour on her cheek.
“Sorry my darlings, I didn’t hear the bell above the noise of the mixer. I’m baking biscuits.”
Always. She was always baking something. Biscuits. Ginger cake. Her famous bulkes (Jewish cinnamon buns). Or trying a new challah recipe.
For the first 24 years of my life, we spent every Shabbat dinner with my Gran and extended family, in a weekly rotation between our house, my cousins’ and my grandmother’s. Those were wonderful family gatherings of gatherings and tradition, laughter, stories, jokes and
arguments heated discussions. And yummy food.
My mother’s chopped liver. Gran’s fried fish balls. My aunt’s youngberry tart. Specific dishes of wistful deliciousness that taste of nostalgia every time I try to replicate them.
Sometimes my Gran made challah when she hosted Shabbat dinner. She didn’t have a signature recipe but no matter which one she used (and most of the time I think she did her own thing, she wasn’t one to follow measurements and instructions) her challah was always fabulous. Sweet but not too sweet. Yeasty and cake-like and braided to perfection. Always a treat to have homemade challah, made with love and what I now know to be a lot of effort, on Shabbat.
This morning I wake up extra early, hoping to get into the kitchen and prepare the challah dough for its first rise before the kids and their breakfast clutter the counter. But one son is already toasting his waffles and I can hear his siblings not far behind.
With my gray robe belted tight against the chilly morning fog, I set the tin of flour on the counter. Running out of time. Why am I doing this? The kosher bakery down the street sells great challah, perfectly braided and baked and all I’d have to negotiate is a parking space.
Instead I am navigating four hungry and bickering children, boxes of cereal, spilled milk, and countless reminders from me to “Hurry up” in between the multiple cups of flour I had long ago lost track of for my homemade challah. Why indeed?
“Are you making challah, Mom?” one surprisingly observant child asks. “Yep,” I mutter, trying to remember if I’ve mixed in four or five cups by now because six cups will definitely be too many but four cups is undoubtedly not enough.
The dough is too sticky and it clings to the mixing bowl, the counter top and my fingers as I try to move it into a bigger bowl with room to grow. What a mess.
I look up at him for a brief second, and catch his smile as I say yes. He loves warm, fragrant homemade challah. Suddenly I am happy to be making it. It’s messy and inconvenient and I always make it when I’m in a rush and too busy to give it the time and attention it deserves.
But as chaotic as these mornings are in the kitchen before he leaves for school, perhaps his future self will remember his mom making challah in her robe on foggy Friday mornings. Perhaps he’ll longingly taste these Shabbat memories when he blesses the challah in years to come. Or maybe he’ll ask me to email him my recipe so he can make it himself.
I will never be sure if it’s four or five cups of flour.
The dough is finally ready to rise and I leave it sitting in the bowl, covered with a damp dishtowel for protection.
I glance in the mirror on my way up the stairs.
And notice the smudge of flour on my cheek.
This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “The chore I hate doing the most is…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Michelle (this week’s sentence thinker upper) from Crumpets and Bollocks and Jill from Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. Baking challah is obviously not the chore I hate doing the most (actually it’s not a chore at all, it’s a pleasure)… but it is the messiest!