My daughter Sara wanted to know if the young women could use my kitchen for their event, “Shabbos in an Hour.”
“What do you need me to do for it?” I asked, half holding my breath.
“Nothing,” she answered plainly.
“Well, that works,” I smiled. Of course, I knew the event would offer me a wonderful excuse to declutter my kitchen. There had to be a better place than my window sill for the hand sanitizer that hadn’t been touched in months.
When she came to me a few days later and asked me to share some personal tips with them, I laughed, and agreed immediately.
My two worst subjects are organization and cooking. If I can learn how to prepare for Shabbos, anyone can.
I still haven’t found the common thread among women who actually enjoy cooking. If it’s something you inherit from your mother, this could explain why I don’t like it. Like many baby boomers, going out to restaurants was my family’s favorite pastime, and I carried it with me affectionately into young adulthood. I had it all figured out: eating in restaurants works. Forget about the enjoyment factor, going out to eat is often times plain old more economical than cooking. All that effort that goes into planning, buying, putting away, preparing, serving and cleaning up the food– just for one meal for just a few people. And that’s assuming you didn’t leave the food in the oven for a minute too long (one minute!), thereby turning the whole process into a gigantic waste. There are cooking schools with cooking rules; professionals know how to do it right. I didn’t know and I didn’t care to learn. It’s true that eating is something I do all the time, but I drive all the time too, and I trust my car to someone who knows cars better than I do. And for those times when restaurants don’t work, that’s why G-d created tuna fish.
In college, I viewed my lack of interest in cooking as a celebration of my selfhood and freedom from gender stereotyping. But in order not to be fearful, I would need at least one recipe, like the one my sister Stephanie gave me so I could make dinner for my five roommates. I just needed a package of onion soup mix and a jar of apricot jam to spread over chicken, and voilà. (Don’t forget, we share the same mother.)
When I learned that being an observant Jew meant keeping kosher in and out of the house, and keeping kosher out of the house meant no more eating in non-kosher restaurants, it was almost a deal breaker. But if Torah is Divine, I had no choice and, with G-d’s help, I would have to learn to cook. I just kept remembering what I read about Maimonides refusing to teach Torah to members of a certain community because their observance of kashrus had lapsed. If I wanted to be receptive to matters pertaining to holiness–and I did–I had to eat like a Jew.
Fortunately, though, G-d made me clever. I immediately learned how to bake challah, so everyone would fill up on it and barely notice that the rest of the meal was less than stellar. And I’ve been looking for other cooking shortcuts ever since.
Of course, if you do anything long enough you get better at it by default, as was certainly the case with me and cooking. Several years ago, after I had made all the food for a reunion with these same college roommates, my friend Gail casually observed, “there must be a G-d if Lieba can learn to cook.”