Every little kid will tell you that his mom is the best cook in the whole wide world. She can make the best mac-n-cheese, the best chicken nuggets and the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without the crust. Now that I'm 18, do I still think my mom is the best chef in the world? Probably not, but she does make darn good bread.
When my mom and dad got married, my dad convinced his friend Gittel to give her famous challah recipe to my mom as a wedding gift. OK, he may have used a little guilt trip, but she still gave him the recipe. After all, what is a young Jewish couple to do without fresh challah on Friday night?
From sundown on Friday night to nightfall on Saturday, Jews celebrate Shabbat, the day of rest. Shabbat is the one day of the week that we get a break from our mile-a-minute lives. We're not allowed to do any work. One day out of the week we can just sit back with our feet up, enjoy a good meal and spend time with family and friends just because it's Shabbat.
Friday night dinner is a big deal, with a cup of wine and a specially braided bread called challah. While my mom isn't a professional chef, I always look forward to her challah on Friday night. There's nothing like biting into homemade fresh bread still warm from the oven. Shabbat just isn't the same without it.
One day, a long time ago, my mom taught me how to make it. The recipe is ingrained in my mind, imprinted like footsteps in the sand. I know which ingredients to mix together and how the dough should feel when it's just right. I know how warm the water should be so it activates the yeast. I know how to braid the dough with six strands so it looks nice and full, and I know how long to let it rise and bake. Sometimes I like to experiment with the recipe by adding raisins or cinnamon - or even chocolate. We've made "everything" challah, and even tricolored challah, but the basic recipe is the same.
More than anything, though, challah represents home for me. When we go to someone else's house for dinner, the challah tastes OK, but it's not my mom's challah. It doesn't look the same, or smell the same or feel the same. If my mom doesn't have time to make challah, then she'll pick some up from BJ's or Tops, but it doesn't taste as good. They're made with the same flour, water and yeast, but they pale in comparison to my mom's. Maybe it's because it's familiar, or maybe because it's made with love. Either way, it definitely takes the gold medal.
I loved coming home from school on Friday afternoons and seeing two golden loaves of bread sitting on the counter, but before I even saw them, the aroma met me at the front door. I'm off to college now, and I'll have to make do with store-bought challah . While I'm going to have a blast living away, my mom's challah will be sorely missed.
My mom gave me my brown eyes, my wavy brown hair and my freckles. She gave me my clothes, my brother and the home where I live, but someday I'm going to move out. I'm going to get married and have a job of my own. I'll have a family in a nice suburban neighborhood where my kids go to school down the street.
My mom has given me an awful lot, but the best thing she gave me was her recipe for challah, because the taste of my mom's challah always takes me home.