Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Impatience does in the rabbi/baker

My mother made sure to teach me how to cook, a trait which served me well in various Shabbos-preparing situations. Spending Shabbos in a shul in Massapequa as baal keriah, or making Shabbos in an apartment in Yerushalayim, I knew I could rely on my stand-by gefilte fish and chicken soup and potato salad and tomato/onion roast chicken and Israeli salad.

Then I became a shul rabbi, and Shabbos cooking came to an end. The gemara (Kiddushin 41a) reports on various amoraim preparing for Shabbos, cooking the fish and cleaning the house, but today’s shul rabbi, or this one at any rate, has very little time once the calendar switches to “Wednesday.” 70% of all Jewish community emergencies occur from Wednesday afternoon through Friday afternoon, believe it or not. You could look it up.

So I have been a frustrated ex-chef for over a decade, but recently I decided that enough was enough. If I can’t cook because the last days of the week are too hectic, I’ll bake Challah. Prep in advance, bake it on Wednesday, sure, why not?

So I found a recipe I liked, and set about doing it. And I learned something: Baking is much less forgiving than cooking. You can’t play around with baking, or at least I can’t play around with baking. When I cooked, I added whatever ingredients looked interesting, or whatever I had at hand, to save myself a trip to the supermarket. I played with the timing based on my schedule. And in the end, it was always at least edible.

Challah, on the other hand, has made me pay for my impatience:
I used a bowl that was smaller than the recommended size, because it was near at hand.
And I used rapid-rise yeast, because that’s the one I found quickest in the supermarket.
And I didn’t knead it that long, because I had to get to an appointment.
And I didn’t let it rise as long as they recommended, because I was using rapid-rise yeast and because it looked big enough for me and because I had to get to a Bar Mitzvah lesson.

You get the (impatient) idea.

The result: A loaf of challah you could have tied to a mob rat’s ankle instead of bothering with cement shoes. Seriously dense - think brick - not exactly light and fluffy.

Lessons learned
Be patient.
Follow the directions.
Be patient.
Use the recommended ingredients.
Be patient.

Yeah, right. It seems that impatience is as disastrous for a baker as it is for a rabbi.

Well, this week I’m going to try again, if for no other reason than that I think it’s important for my kids to see that I don’t give up in the face of difficulty.

And, yes, I’m going to try to follow the directions. And be patient.


  1. LOL - yes, there's a reason that separating challah is a task traditionally assigned to women... :)

    All teasing aside, I have found gardening to be a true test of my patience, this year. I WANT it all to be in the ground and beautiful, but realistically, I know I should only buy as many starter plants as I can get in the ground in the brief period after the baby has gone to bed and before it gets dark, or I'll have lots of sad, wilted, potted plants looking at me the next day.

    One challah tip: you can't mess with the essential steps, but you can always throw in something to make it interesting, if you want to be creative. We've done small bits of dried fruit, cardamom (for my Swedish side), candied ginger, and even chocolate chips (just don't try that one if you're mixing/rising in a bread machine... a friend did it and the heat melted the chocolate).

  2. Gardening - Ah, yes. I could write many posts about my gardening exploits. A definite lack of patience there. I'm the farmer who pulls seeds out of the ground daily to see if they have germinated.

    Challah - I may branch out, but only after I get it down right.
    I will say that this week's challah looks great; I can't wait to see how it tastes on Shabbos...

  3. not sure which recipe you're using, but if you feel like doing a taste-test, I really really love the challah recipe we got from a rebbetzin in Boston several years ago. I'll post it back here after Shabbos.

  4. great post - an excellent commentary on life in the rabbinate...and balancing it all...thanks!