Back in 2010, when I was 21, I was dating a Jewish man named Daniel Lobell. At the time, I was not Jewish.
One Friday night, Daniel took me to a Shabbat dinner at the local Chabad in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As I listened to the rabbi speak, I felt the warmth from the community, and I also had my first taste of challah. It was the most delicious bread I’d ever tasted, so naturally, I had six rolls.
From there, I kept studying Judaism and decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion — I was drawn to Judaism because the lifestyle and laws made sense to me, and believing in God gave me an inner calm.
And though it wasn’t on my conversion curriculum, one of the things I wanted to accomplish before dipping in the mikvah and becoming a Jew was to make a challah bread as scrumptious as the first one I had. Mind you, I’d never baked anything in my life, save for Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix.
So, I found a recipe online. I had to use flour — so much flour — and let yeast rise, and buy a bunch of eggs, and pour in a lot of sugar. When my challahs came out of the oven, I was so proud of my work. They were a perfect shade of brown, nicely braided and … approximately five pounds each. They were so dense you could use them in place of free weights. You could definitely break a window with them, or cause injury to an unassuming passerby. To his credit, Daniel was very nice about my flub and encouraged me to keep trying.
Who knew that it was going to take nine years for me to perfect my challah making skills? During that time, so many things happened in my life: Daniel and I became observant, I finished my conversion, we got married, we moved to Los Angeles, and I became a full-time freelance writer. In fact, after so many (so many!) tries, I only made the perfect challah once I got pregnant. And the timing was perfect: Since I was about to become a mother, it was important to me that my child would grow up with the yummiest challah they’d ever tasted.
How did I finally figure it all out? Well, I found the best challah maker I know, my friend Jessica, and carefully watched as she made her signature bread. Turns out I was making a bunch of mistakes: I didn’t knead the dough enough; I was using honey instead of sugar, which was weighing the dough down; I didn’t cover the dough properly when it was rising; I mixed the egg wash with water when it’s supposed to be only egg. We baked a few challahs together and, once it came out of the oven, it was indeed the best challah I’d ever baked.
In finally perfecting my challah making skills, I realized a lot of the lessons I learned will serve me well in motherhood. Now that I have a baby daughter, here are some of my takeaways and how they relate to being a mom.
1. Challah making, and motherhood, take a lot of patience.
Making challah is one of the most difficult things to do in the kitchen. There are just so many things that could go wrong, like not letting the dough rise long enough, using expired yeast, putting in too much sweetener, or baking it too long. You can’t rush any of the steps. You have to have a lot of patience in order to get it right.
When my three-month-old is taking awhile to feed, or she tugs on my hair, or won’t go down for her nap, I have to be patient with her. She can’t yet understand what I want — usually, for her to go to sleep! — or practice self-control. And so, instead of getting frustrated or upset, I have to be patient with her as she, God willing, matures into a little girl, and then a young woman one day.
2. You need to sweeten the experience for yourself.
I am always surprised by how much sugar goes into a challah. But, alas, that’s what makes it so incredibly delicious and addictive.
Motherhood can be tough sometimes — especially those times when you’re low on sleep, nutritionally depleted, and haven’t left the house all day. I find that I can “sweeten” my experience by exercising, getting as much rest as possible, and eating well. When I’m with my daughter, I try to get her to smile and have conversations with her in baby talk. When I change her diaper, I make funny faces and kiss her so that even my grossest responsibility as a parent is that much sweeter.
3. I’m always saying prayers.
When we separate the small challah we’re going to burn — called “taking challah,” a commandment that appears in the Torah — we say the blessing, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.”
Every day, I am grateful for my little one. Daniel and I waited a long time to try to get pregnant, and I’m just so happy she’s finally here. I thank God constantly for my daughter, and I always say blessings that she should be healthy and happy. On Friday night, we bless her as well, which is always such a heartwarming experience for my husband and me.
4. I make it special.
Now that my basic challah is perfected, I like to add fun toppings to give it some pizzazz, like cinnamon sugar or Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. Since we only eat challah on Friday nights, I like to make it — along with the rest of the meal, the table settings, and the outfits I dress my daughter in — extra special.
My daughter is growing up so quickly; it feels like I just left the maternity ward and now, she’s laughing, smiling, rolling over and absolutely crushin’ it at tummy time. That’s why I do fun things like celebrate Shabbat, go on family vacations, and take my daughter to parent-and-me musical class. I aim to make our time together special.
Like a tasty challah bread at a table that gets gobbled up in an instant, life goes by fast, and we have to slow down for a moment to recognize just how wonderful it is. It may have taken me nine years to refine my challah making skills — and the same amount of time to be ready for a child — but now that my perfect bread and my perfect baby are here, all I can do is thank God for how special my life has become.
Image by Rafael Ben-Ari via Getty Images