Tag : challah

July 9, 2019 by

From M.D. to Baker, Beth Ricanati’s Memoir of Challah

What’s the story behind Braided?

About five years ago, I realized that baking challah had taught me a lot of lessons that were universal; maybe they would be helpful to someone else.

What life lessons?

When I started baking challah, I was stressed and unhealthy, as both a doctor and a mom. By making challah, I was able to reclaim some sense of self. I realized that making challah was a ritual—and this got me thinking about the importance of having a ritual in one’s life.

It also got me thinking about community. I’d serve the challah on Friday nights, and if my kids had friends over for dinner, they’d have challah, too. Then I’d get these calls on Saturday from my kids’ friends’ mothers, and they’d say ‘I don’t know what it was you made last night, but I want to learn how to do it.’ So I’d make challah with some of my children’s friends’ mothers, and [now] I make challah with other women here in Los Angeles or as I travel around the country sharing Braided; we are building community together.

We’re not just building community, we’re sustaining it, too. In 2019, the world is pretty stressful. You can see that just by opening the newspaper. But on Friday I can make challah here in L.A., and I know that Meredith is making it in N.Y., and Miriam is making it in Tel Aviv, and Allegra is making it in London. We’re all doing this activity for the same reason, and the world doesn’t feel like such a scary place.

There’s a real value in having sustaining ritual. It’s a different way of practicing medicine.

Do you read other people’s food memoirs?

I love them—Anthony Bourdain, Peter Mayle, Ruth Reichl, Kathleen Flinn, Kate Christenson… I have several of Laurie Colwin’s books. But I didn’t see what I was doing as a food memoir at first. In fact, it wasn’t until after my manuscript was complete that I realized that what I had braided together—a memoir, a cookbook of sorts, and a self-help/how-to book—could fit into this category.

You grew up Reform, but in the book it’s clear you’re more observant now. Was that prompted by the challah?

I probably started inching towards it before then. My husband grew up keeping kosher, and when our kids were very little, we found Judaism such a wonderful framework for parenting. But what challah gave us was the ready-made Shabbat practice. When there’s fresh challah, it’s very easy.

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April 2, 2019 by

Baking Challah to Bring the Torah

As my mother drove a car full of kids to elementary school, I sat in the backseat, creating dough. The blue mixing bowl on my lap didn’t protect my clothes and the vehicle from a light layer of flour, and the practice was probably not the most sanitary, but the Friday was busy, and 7:30am was the only time for dough prep.

Challah, a staple of Shabbat, holiday tradition and Jewish cuisine, plays many roles: a rushed ritual in the back of a moving vehicle; the perfect bookends for a deli meat sandwich; a piece tossed across the family table; the loaf the dog can’t seem to get enough of. For Vanessa Harper, challah has become a space for shaping and sharing Torah.

Harper, a third year dual rabbinical and education program student at Hebrew Union College, uses the medium of challah as “a medium of interpretation.” Last year, she followed the entire Torah cycle, shaping and baking a challah in relation to each portion.

“There’s something a little wonderfully subversive about how bread-making has been the province of women for so long. For so many centuries, women’s contribution to the Shabbat table has been the food and the challahs, and men bring the dvar torah. And so using the challah to bring the Torah is in a way, a feminist, subversive act,” Harper told Lilith over a challah-making tutorial. With Lilith, Harper created a pomegranate shaped challah. The pomegranate corresponded to the High Priest’s robe, described in the Torah portion Tetzaveh as adorned with bells and pomegranates.

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The Lilith Blog

February 21, 2019 by

Baking Torah into the Challah

 As my mother drove a car full of kids to elementary school, I sat in the backseat, creating dough. The blue mixing bowl on my lap didn’t protect my clothes and the vehicle from a light layer of flour, and the practice was probably not the most sanitary, but the Friday was busy, and 7:30am was the only time for dough prep.

Challah, a staple of Shabbat, holiday tradition and Jewish cuisine, plays many roles: a rushed ritual in the back of a moving vehicle; the perfect bookends for a deli meat sandwich; a piece tossed across the family table; the loaf the dog can’t seem to get enough of. For Vanessa Harper, challah has become a space for shaping and sharing Torah.

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