Our daughter came home from college during her midterm break — her first year at college, her first time home in six weeks.
Anticipating her arrival, I make brisket, her favorite, that morning, and later that evening, a big salad and a plum cake to go with it. Though the brisket takes little preparation, it cooks all day in the oven, low and slow. The house smells like Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah. It smells like Passover. It is the best kind of smell.
Some weeks later, on a Wednesday, I listen to the news, a full U.S. withdrawal in Syria. My daughter calls me from school, upset; she wants to talk about the Kurds. It is October, and it’s too hot and dry outside, and this concerns me.
I retrieve the mail when I get home, and college brochures have started to arrive for our son — an exciting time, for sure. But junior year in high school is also a very stressful time; I think there is just too much pressure on the kids.
I decide to make challah with dinner. I know it is not a Friday, but I need to do something with my hands, and challah is good for that. Besides, I stuff it with sautéed leeks and thyme, so it feels different than Shabbat. The smell of it baking in the oven reminds me that, in a few days, the work week and school week will be done, and we’ll all feel a little lighter. We say a quick Hamotzi. There is much to be grateful for, even on a Wednesday.
The Kincade Fire rages. I watch, and can’t stop watching, the local news. After two long weeks, the fires are finally contained. The fog has returned. I’ve been making soups and stews for dinner lately; lentil and minestrone, a meatball soup with kale and carrots, and a white-bean chicken chili that I made twice in two weeks because it’s a family favorite. I chop carrots, celery and onions, mince garlic, measure spices, roll meatballs, shred chicken.
The kitchen is my constant, especially during uncertain times.
Within days of each other, the FBI arrest a white supremacist planning to bomb a synagogue in Colorado, and Eileen Filler-Corn becomes the first woman and Jewish American speaker of the house in Virginia. (My daughter and I text each other, elated about Filler-Corn.)
Later in the week, the kids each tell me separately that they are ready for a break from school and so much homework. We are all looking forward to the time off during Thanksgiving. I make a batch of corn muffins over the weekend with jam piped in the middle. It’s an easy recipe. I’ll freeze some so our daughter can enjoy them, reheated, when she comes home for break.
After all these years, I still love cooking for my family. I can’t hug my kids for as long as I’d like to anymore, nor hold hands with them while walking down the street as I did when they were younger. The days when I’d read to them for hours cuddled up on one of their beds are long gone, too.
The distance now is right and necessary. I am no longer the center of their world, and this is as it should be.
But I can still cook for them with abandon. I can channel all the boundless, infinite love I have for them into a bowl of chicken soup, an apple pie, brisket cooked just the way they like it.
I know I am not solving the world’s problems in my kitchen. I cannot turn the clock back on climate change nor make peace in Syria. Baking challah will not make anti-Semitism go away, heal a divided country or remove our kids’ stress.
And though I’m not “repairing the world” in my kitchen, there is a repair of sorts that happens inside of me when I am able to give back to my family in this way.