Saturday, October 17, 2009

Contemplations From the Kitchen

There is something quite comforting in the making of homemade bread. It speaks of home and warmth and comfort. When I was a little girl, around 7, my mom and dad made a very contentious shift in the direction of our family. Many many things came about because of it, but one thing was this: mom started making our bread. Now this may seem a small thing to you, if you make bread regularly. But I had never had homemade before and this was very new and strange. I remember trying to eat a sandwich (the kind with lunch meat on it) with mom's whole wheat bread. It was really difficult and not the tasty-est. I slightly rebelled against the whole bread made at home thing. But as time went on I learn to appreciate and love my mother's bread. I learned how to mix and knead and rise and shape the loaves. I help roll it out and spread it with butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon and brown sugar, then roll it up and drop it in the pan, watching it rise and bake with mouth watering and cutting it open before it was even cooled to have a slice. By the time I was 13, I could make bread almost without the recipe and the love of bread making has never left. My 1st year or so of married life put bread making on hold. I was pretty busy with my new life, husband, and soon after, the expecting of a new baby.
But eventually I pulled out my cookbook, the one identical to my mom's, given to me by one of her old LLL friends at my wedding shower, and looked up the bread recipe. Olivia was now the helper and has a love of bread making - the sprinkle of yeast on warm water, the mixing and kneading, the slow wait of the rise, the punch down and rise again. All for the delicious taste of warm golden bread.

My mom was inspired by new friends to make bread. We had just moved away from the midwest and left all family and everything familiar behind to start over in the mountains of North Carolina. We knew no one and my mom had taken the plunge to be a stay at home mom and home-school me and having a newborn all at the same time. She joined the local La Leche League and soon made many friends. At the time I thought they were weird (little did I know how I would turn out!) with their breastfeeding, home birthing midwife stories, tofu and quinoa, Birkenstock's and no make-up. But, they encouraged my mom to eat healthy, stay at home, love her babies, and try new things. My mom bought the LLL "Whole Foods For the Whole Family" cookbook and started practicing "new." Her bread making adventures were wide and varied with wide and varied results. The bread recipe that she finally landed on was called "Challah" or Jewish Sabbath Loaves. I always thought that was pretty cool but since we didn't do the traditional braiding of the dough, it was soon just bread. Good bread, but just ordinary bread.

Let's fast forward the clock 18 years, shall we? I'm now the mommy, teaching and homeschooling my girls, involved with my own "weird" friends and totally used to making my own bread, salad dressings, jellies, and the like. One day a friend and I get to talking about our school plans and this Math curriculum, and that science book when the subject of Jewish traditions came up. (Why, I can't say and don't remember, but that is not unusual for us as we have some very winding conversations.) I tell her that I bought this book to study with Olivia as part of our history curriculum and we talked about our desire to celebrate life during the month of Oct. and something other than Halloween at the end of the month.
This all lead into a discussion on Sabbath and learning Hebrew and a million other things (that's how we roll. Our husband's drag us out the door, still talking, and bundle us into the vans, still talking, and drive away with us still talking and saying, "I'll call you tomorrow!") but it boiled down to wanting to learn Jewish history for ourselves and our families and we started celebrating Sabbath together. My friend and I read over a suggested menu and she says, "What's the ch-al-lah" thing they keep talking about?"
Cue light bulb moment music please!
"Challah! I know how to make that! It's Jewish sabbath loaves. My mom made it for years growing up. I'll make the bread for Friday. "
And so it began. A tradition began, a recipe was shared, heart attitudes adjusted, lives forever changed. What started years ago as my mom's desire to feed her family healthy has turned into a Friday tradition of one of us making a batch of bread on Friday and breaking bread together as a family (two families) and taking some time out of our busy busy lives to honor and bless our Heavenly Father.

Challah Or Jewish Sabbath loaves
2T. yeast
2C. warm water
2 eggs
1/4C. honey
2t. salt
2T. butter or olive oil
7 to 8C. flour (my recipe calls for whole wheat, but I don't use w.w. for this recipe)
egg wash

1. Dissolve yeast in water in large bowl. Let rest for 10 minutes.

2. Add eggs, honey, salt, butter, and about 3 1/2 c. flour. Beat well with mixer. Add as much remaining flour as possible in your mixer.

3. Turn soft dough out onto well-flour surface and knead for 8 minutes (5-10) Use as little flour as possible for a delicate Challah. It should be velvety soft (like a baby's bottom my mom always said.)

4. Place dough in greased large bowl, greasing top of dough as well and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let rist for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled.

5. Punch down (kids love to do that part!) and let rise again.

6. Cut dough in half, set half aside. Cut into thirds and roll dough into "snakes." Braid the 3 strands of dough. Repeat with reserved half. Place on greased baking sheet, let rise until doubled.

7. Brush with egg wash and bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve warm or cold.

Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam,
ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.

Blessed art Thou, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who brings forth bread from the earth.

Biteavon! -Hearty appetite!

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