Labor of love: Making challah on a busy Friday morning

The thing is, Friday mornings are chaotic — like all mornings. There are kids to wake (sometimes more than once), school lunches to prepare, breakfasts to make, backpacks to pack (“Why don’t you do this the night before?”), shoes to find (“Did they walk away in the night?”), reminders to issue (“Brush your teeth! Don’t forget your instrument! Do you have your lunch? What about your backpack?!”).

But on Fridays, there’s also challah to bake. I wake up an extra 15 minutes early. I sneak as quietly as possible down the creaky stairs, hoping to get into the kitchen and prepare the dough for its first rise before the kids and their breakfast requests clutter the counter. I carefully measure out the yeast, flour and sugar, and mix it together with two cups of warm water. Immediately it starts to bubble.

Nicki Gilbert gets up extra early to bake challah for Shabbat dinner. photo/jta-shutterstock

And so does the rest of the house.

I hear toilets flush, closet doors slam, bickering and singing. I crack the egg and quickly beat it with the salt, oil and honey. This is stage two. The yeast mixture continues to bubble and rise in the small bowl. If I don’t tend to it soon, it will creep up and over and down the sides. It’s happened before.

I hear them clattering down the stairs.

“Morning, Mom! Can I have French toast?”

“Have you seen my Taylor Swift T-shirt, Mom?”

“I’m not hungry. I just want three links and nine pancakes.”

“Mom, can I stay to watch the varsity game after my game?” Darn. Football. I forgot.

I set the tin of flour down firmly. There is a yeasty mess inching its way along the counter, and now my Friday-night lights are competing with those of the football team. Why am I doing this? Once again, it seems unlikely we’ll be sitting down to a restful family Shabbat dinner together. And the kosher bakery down the street sells great challah, perfectly braided and baked. All I’d need to negotiate there is a parking space.

But here I am, navigating way more than hungry children and a missing T-shirt. I leave the football question hanging between us, and wrestle the yeast and egg mixtures into a bowl before the bubbling monster threatens to take over the kitchen.

“Are you making challah, Mom?” He doesn’t seem to realize that I haven’t actually said yes to watching the game.

“Yep,” I mutter, trying to remember if I mixed in four or five cups of flour, because six cups will definitely be too many, but four is undoubtedly not enough.

The dough is too sticky and it clings to everything, especially 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. More than he loves football? Maybe. Suddenly I am happy to be making it. It’s messy and inconvenient. It seems I am always 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 Friday mornings. Perhaps he’ll longingly taste these Shabbat memories when he blesses the challah in his own home in years to come. Or maybe he’ll ask me to email him my recipe so he can make it himself.

I am never sure if it’s four or five cups of flour.

When we finally gather around the table together to bless the children, the challah and the wine that evening, our Friday night lights shine extra bright. Shabbat shalom.

 

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Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is RedBoots.me.