My family marvels that, on the one hand, I passionately apply a freewheeling creativity to everything I do (this is either disorienting or exhilarating, depending on who you ask but it is never boring), while on the other hand I am seriously organized within an inch of my life (the clothes in my closet are organized by color and season, pantry items line up by size, color and utility, and the last bat mitzvah was planned a full year ahead of schedule). So -- how does freewheeling, spontaneous, joyously unrestrained creativity co-exist with a pragmatic, detail oriented I-mean-business planning-meister?
As luck would have it, a Jewish home, and by extension, inspired Jewish living, calls for both mindsets, since with weekly Shabbat meals, frequent holidays and the robust Jewish life cycle, there is usually some kind of event going on. (I realized both mindsets were absolutely necessary after watching my uber creative friends with wonderful ideas frustrated and unable to execute a holiday menu [actually six holiday meals on a three day Yom Tov!] due to lack of foresight and structure; and observing my super organized friends who dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" yet struggled to regularly come up with an ounce of creative inspiration for the Shabbat table.) To be fair, neither task is quite so simple, and daunts the very best of the bunch. Who couldn't use a little help from time to time?
Each Shabbat, Jewish holiday, milestone or celebration provides the structure of Jewish life with a personal and memorable creative moment.
Shabbat and the Jewish holidays provide the plan and organize our passage through time. Each Shabbat, Jewish holiday, milestone or celebration offers a unique opportunity to interpret and endow the structure of Jewish life with a personal and memorable creative moment. It's a way of living everyday inspired.
But without a creative-organized plan it is virtually impossible to bring everything together. So I started thinking about creating a Jewish woman's planner with features that would capture the unique aspects of a Jewish life and home and provide inspiration, too. I wanted to produce a book with recipes as delicious as anything Martha Stewart would do, but kosher. I wanted organizing tips for my Jewish life, not for someone else's ? and I imagined many other Jewish women would love such a book, too. When we combine our creative talents with an organized plan of action we will truly enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Here are a few tips that promise to bring more order and inspiration to your life: it's real simple, Jewish-style.
Start your preparations early.
Whether I am planning a holiday meal, preparing dinner during the week or for a special occasion, the key is what I call the "work plan". (Others call it the battle plan, but I never like to call upon military analogies because they don't quite conjure up the creative mindset I find absolutely necessary in the kitchen!) I recently hosted a mini-Shabbaton weekend in my house for my teenage daughter's friends. This involved three multi-course shabbos meals and breakfast on Sunday. My work plan looked something like this: I did a little each day, planned the menu well in advance, picked delicious recipes that were not overly complicated, spread the grocery shopping over three days and assigned specific days to prepare specific dishes. I also opted out of baking and ordered wonderful cakes from the local kosher bakery. And of course I pressed my daughter and her friends into serving and clearing service, which they were happy to do. What can I say? It worked. Everyone had a wonderful time and, most importantly, I was able to enjoy my guests. Give yourself enough space to accomplish everything and it will work for you, too.
There are certainly times when a more complex meal is called for, whether it is a bar or bat mitzvah lunch, a Pesach dinner or a
Take shortcuts with style.
It's one of those weeks where you need to be in ten places at once, and your culinary muse is laying low. That's when you find out that your (fill in the blanks here:) in-laws/relatives from overseas/teenager's class is dropping over for breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner/shabbos. This is exactly when I rely on prepared and store bought items, and infuse them with my own touch. I'll buy three different flavors of sorbet and let them soften, layer them in a 9 x 13 pan and freeze for a party-ready dessert. Ready-made piecrusts can be defrosted quickly and pressed into service with a variety of fillings. Sometimes a creative presentation makes the most basic ingredients shine. Plain vanilla ice cream layered with strawberries, crumbled cookies and chocolate shavings, and served in parfait glasses, instantly adds festivity to the table. In the last few years, there has been an explosion of gourmet kosher cookbooks, and each one is better than the next. Kosher cooks can now take on the most complex and sophisticated recipes. This is great, except when it's not (i.e., when you need to be in ten places at once...) Just a longhand way of saying it's perfectly o.k. to trade in the French gourmet's upside down double chocolate souffle for a simple piece of cake.
And now, for a very simple no fail recipe for a bread machine challah – even the busiest modern Jewish woman/balabuste has time to put seven ingredients in the machine's pan and push the start button. When the cycle is complete it, remove the dough, knead it, braid it, and let it rise. Your family will thank you for making challah; after all, heavenly challah is the perfume of Shabbat. (Warning: you will have no leftovers for French toast from this recipe.)
Heavenly Bread Machine Challah
Place the liquid ingredients in the bread machine's container:
3/4 cup water
3/4 stick of pareve margarine, melted
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 TBL salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 TBL bread machine yeast
(Make sure the yeast does not come in contact with the wet ingredients)
Set the machine's dough cycle. At the end of the cycle, remove dough and lightly knead. Braid dough and let rise on a lightly greased baking pan. Or, make eight rolls and put them in a round spring form pan – as the dough rises, the rolls will meld together; when baked, the challah can be gently pulled apart.
Beat 1 egg with 1 tsp water; brush on dough. Optional: sprinkle sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or my personal favorite, rolled oats.
Preheat oven to 325 f. When the dough has risen, bake approximately 30-35 minutes. Check during baking, as ovens differ in preheating cycles and in temperature, until you find the precise baking time.
© 2007 Devorah Rosen Goldman.