For the greater good of art, I present to you this unflattering photograph of my back to the camera, as an illustration of this morning’s ritual Making of the Challah.
Do you like my apron? It was my grandmother’s: my father’s mother, who, during my childhood, made the journey from the steppes of Russia her apartment in Winnipeg to our house in Toronto twice a year, at Passover and Rosh Hashanah, and cooked her heart out. Traditional stuff: gefilte fish, honey cake, Passover rolls, kugel. She and I had a little bit of a tortured relationship in my late teens, her being all about tradition and me being, well, not so much traditional. But I do like to think that she would be pleased to see me sporting the halushious apron each week as my sons and I make Friday-night challah. Even if we do use a bread maker.
Sometimes, when time and patience are in short supply, I wait until after the kids have left for the babysitter before I get going on the braided bread routine. But this morning (despite the fact that it started, as per the current usual, at 5 AM) everything was going so swimmingly that I decided what the hell. Rowan was so eager to help that he went as far as to get his own self dressed — right down to his Home Depot apron — in order to participate. Then Isaac got in on the action, and demanded his own apron, too: we improvised with a vintage yellow bib with a Mickey Mouse decal painstakingly handstitched onto it. With him perched on the counter and Rowan on the stool, we were ready to go.
Baking with Rowan used to completely unnerve me: all those jerky movements and flying flour and overzealous mixing and the hands in the batter and the way he’d tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap an egg on the counter for a full minute without so much as bruising the shell, only to crush the thing in his fist a moment later. These days, it’s either that I’m more relaxed or he’s more skilled, because he doesn’t faze me the way he used to. Even with Isaac sitting crosslegged on the counter, repeating, “I help!” and poking teaspoons into everything, it was an entirely enjoyable exercise.
And just look at this!
Every week, it’s a struggle not to tear into one of these babies, just warm from the oven, instead of waiting until we’re at the table and the candles are lit. But I don’t, because to do that would mess with tradition, which around here dictates that Friday night dinner consists of challah and roast chicken, yam frites and broccoli. We’ve fallen into the pattern, and now there is no deviating. Not even for, say, the organic wild salmon fillets purchased for last night’s dinner that never got cooked because we were too busy enjoying soccer in the park. At snack time before bed last night, I casually put the question to Rowan as to whether he’d mind if we skipped roast chicken in favour of salmon, and he burst into tears. Don’t fuck with tradition, man. Or the wrath of the bubbies and the four-year-olds will be upon you.