More Than A Smudge Of Flour

Cuisinart

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!

challah

32 thoughts on “More Than A Smudge Of Flour

  1. Your son will have the same wonderful memories that you do, Nicki. Totally worth the mess.

    My Grandma made the best matzah ball soup, and now I make it. And as I type this, you’ve inspired me to write about it. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your words get me every time. How are you so good? I love that your son’s smile made you re-appreciate making such a special dish that reminds you of your Gran. I agree with Dana – your son’s memories will be very much like yours are.
    xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh darling Kristi, thank you! It was a good moment, and a necessary reminder. It’s funny how as soon as he sees that tin of flour he asks if I’m making challah. Pavlovian almost! xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The challah looks totally yum!!! There’s something about homemade that just shouts out family and love. I’ve gone the bakery route many times, but it just isn’t the same. Even if it is supposed to taste better, somehow it is missing something essential…..

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Tear-jerker, as I remember, with awe, my Mom somehow, some way, putting home made challah on the Shabbat table when she was a single, working Mom with 5 kids aged 5 to 16. How on earth did she do that? To you, and to the memory of my Mom: #RESPECT
    Shabbat Shalom, my friend. You are awesome.
    XXXOOO

    Liked by 1 person

    • How on earth did she do that, Nancy?! That’s so wonderful. Thank you for sharing that amazing, inspirational memory of your mom with me. Shavua Tov chavera xoxo

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  5. just last night I was with my folks at dinner and we were sharing food memories: my gran making fish cakes in a Friday afternoon, her steamed spotted ‘dog ‘pudding, my mom’s mother making crumpets on Sunday afternoon at our house and my mom’s fabulous ‘child welfare cake’ a syrupy hot milk sponge and I am drooling now as I respond. These are all such key moments ( all with food as a feel good factor- excuse the pun) How important are the symbols of memory – so deep they are still felt today. I loved this piece Nicki as you touched a warm place in many of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh those are wonderful memories, Terry, and the most interesting names for pudding and cake! Will have to look those up. Thank you for this lovely comment. So glad you enjoyed reading this one.

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  6. Sweet story with classic Gran. I hope to be a Gran that is home baking for my grandchildren. I bake for my family too. My slippers or socks are always floured. I wonder if anyone notices. Love the way you write, you can almost imagine an accompanying illustration.

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  7. Oh man am I hungry after reading this. Both of my grandmothers were wonderful cooks and bakers. However, we always had Sunday dinner at my paternal grandmother’s so I knew her cooking best. The roast beef, yorkshire puddings, peas, potatoes, gravy, two baked desserts plus ice cream … lovely memories. My mom on the other hand? Hates, loathes, detests baking, cooking, indeed food prep of any kind. My sister and I had to teach ourselves. So, not for us the cozy memory of Mom baking on a Saturday morning. She’d be grinning and nodding right now reading this, by the way. And saying “No, but you sure as hell had lovely artwork courtesy of me.”

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    • I adore your Mom, Kelly! I think she did it right, no cooking or baking – that way you and your sister had no choice but to teach yourselves! I don’t love the cooking, I admit, but I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen so I’m raising kids who don’t know much about feeding themselves, except where the fridge and microwave are 🙂

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  8. Lovely story and wonderful memories. At least this Shabbat you won’t be making Challah – perhaps Matzo? With lots of love to you and your family. Chag Sameach xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Lisa. I have her fish ball recipe that she typed and faxed to me in 1998 in the front of my recipe binder. I read it and hear her voice every time I open it (which is at least weekly because that’s where the challah recipe is!). ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the legacy of your grandmother’s baking. This piece of writing will surely be passed down through your family, along with a tendency towards flour-smudged cheeks!
    This is my first visit to your blog, after hearing about it from Kelly at Just Typikel … but it will not be my last. Looking forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for coming by and for your lovely comment Susan! Kelly is a wonderful friend. Loved your photos and commentary about Apple and Sephora in Boulder, but I would love to visit Montana, a place I have never been and where I’m sure my red boots would feel at home :).

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