Monday, January 16, 2012

Self Medicating

This past week was of the longest and most challenging in my recent memory. I say recent memory because having been overdue with 6 out of my 7 children, I think there were some long and challenging weeks there too.

I spent the previous shabbos staffing at “Call of the Shofar” in Baltimore. It’s an incredibly humbling process to witness. Jewish women, bound by their common desire to move past a hurdle. To do better. The time and commitment required is the least of it. It’s the getting deep into the “self”, reaching into the core, vulnerable part that generally stays tucked away, hidden deep down, almost untouchable.

Very rewarding, very gratifying, but it brought up so much stuff for me, I think I need another 100 years of therapy.

So it’s Friday and I’m still a mess. 
I self medicate in my kitchen, cooking and baking and crying. (I’m thinking my challa may have been a little salty.) Professionals in the field like to call it “self-soothe”. Me, I like the way self medicate sounds. I cook, I bake, I take pictures, I share them - with you... Your welcome.

I always do challa first thing in the morning, for a number of reasons. 
#1 There's enough surface space early in the A.M. As the day progresses I'm piling things, using awkward surfaces and there's a teeter-tottering going on that wouldn't work for a giant bowl of challa dough. 
#2 I want to bake the pareve stuff before the chicken goes in.
#3 I like making challa dough and the later in the day it gets, the more pressure I feel and the more of a chore it feels like.
#4 When I prep the dough bright and early I end up shaping it just after I take my kids to school and then I don't have to tap into the patience required to let them 'help' me.

But I made an executive decision to keep my 7 year old home from school (I hope her teacher isn't reading this) and my 4 year old is getting over something so reason #4 is out the door for this time.

I love the way the dough feels in my hands. The rolling, the shaping, the creating. Instead of rushing though the process I make tiny little six braided challas. I call this culinary therapy.

As I said, reason #4 out the door. I did have some challa baking help. Moussia, age 7, made this one. Isn't it beautiful? I'm very proud of my big girl.

Freida, my 4 year old made a number of challas from the same piece of dough. After each completion, she gingerly placed it on the tray and within seconds was falling apart about a do-over. (hence, reason #4). 

Challa #1: a rosh hashana challa

Challa #2: Yes, all by herself.

Challa #3. Final attempt. "Look Mommy, I made a helicopter." Hmmmm.

My standard little knots. Notice the empty space? That's where Freida's challa kept going.

Making challa in our house is a multi faceted operation. I make traditional(ish) challa and Pinny makes sourdough bread. He doesn't like it that I call it bread, and not challa. He also thinks that sourdough is far more traditional than the egg 'n yeast stuff I bake. I don't have a strong opinion either way (shocking, I know), but a. this is how my kids differentiate and b. I want to give you a little glimpse of my life.
Pinny starts the night before by placing some sourdough starter in a bowl with a little flour and water. Come Friday morning he adds oats, flour, water and salt and leaves it to rise for hours. Pinny uses the biggest bowl and smallest fork he can find. My day is filled with things that make you go hmmmmm.

In between the shaped challas rising and baking, I start a cookie dough. I'm feeling sorry for myself so I make my neiman marcusesque cookies.

I measure out oats and grind some raw cacao beans in my mortar and pestle.

Huge lapse of judgement there. I end up eating way too much cookie dough. 

While the cookies were baking I cooked up some chick peas with cilantro, garlic, olive oil and paprika.

I cooked them until they smelled good and were somewhat browned.

We sample the cookies after they have cooled. Freida doesn't like them and asks me "to make another treat". More cookies. Why not? We just have to get the fish and chicken happening.

I prep the chicken with lemon, rosemary, garlic, homemade olives and cumin.

My fish order arrives just in time. I ordered ground whitefish and filleted red snapper. I add chopped garlic, cilantro, a bit of turmeric, salt, pepper and couple of eggs to the ground fish.

I heat up the olive oil and dredge balls of fish in flour. This is a step that I frequently skip, (the flour, not the oil) but today is one of those days where I want to go all the way. I feel like covering all the little details.

When it's closer to Shabbos I will put these into a frying pan. Add olive oil, paprika, water and a jalapeno pepper and cook. I serve them hot Friday night and cold Shabbos afternoon.

The fish takes a while. In between batches we get the next set of cookies going. Freida wants 'plain white' and 'some with jelly'. My basic cookie recipe is just right for this. Freida sits on the counter and helps me. I measure and she pours.

I drain the fish, set the next batch frying and get back to the cookies.

I put some jam into a sandwich sized ziploc bag and snip the corner off. I am squeezing with my left hand, taking pix with my right hand. It's one heavy camera, that Canon 60D,  I am so capable. Freida approves of these cookies. Whew.

When the fish patties are done I prepare the snapper. I dredge it lightly in flour and fry until golden. I sprinkle it with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. This is a delicious dish if you can get it really fresh. Don't buy previously frozen snapper. It stinks. 

I'm sure I've mentioned this before - Pinny is a fabulous cook. He's creative, experimental, persistent and messy. He gets back to his sourdough as I'm finishing up with the fish. Pinny takes up a lot of kitchen when he cooks, and I take up the whole kitchen so we try and pace ourselves. He is learning to come do his thing before the housekeeper cleans up after me. This is a learning process. He used to wait for a clean kitchen...

Pinny takes his dough very seriously. He shapes some into loaves, rounds and then the awesome sesame braids. He rolls each strand into sesame seeds before braiding. Then he coats the whole braid with sesame seeds again. Yum. 

I'm having a hard time here choosing pictures. There are 105 pictures of the bread process and I don't know what to do. Don't judge me, I told you I was having a hard day.

--can I just say that this was harder than choosing pictures for my wedding album--

The breads rise, their tops are scored and they make their way into the oven.

During the first 15 minutes of the baking process, the oven door is opened frequently and water is sprayed. This creates a steam, and I'm not totally sure what the purpose is, but the bread is delicious. Don't try this with pyrex or other glassware. We did and it took hours to clean up the mess.

I took 581 pictures, but somehow, lots of other food didn't get photographed. Roasted eggplant salad with garlic, tahini, baba-tahini, fennel salad with granny smith apples and citrus marinade, roasted golden and chiogga beets, roasted cauliflower, red quinoa salad with zucchini and red onions, green goddess dressing, miso dressing, and chicken soup. I think that's all. I took a picture of my fridge. It's rather messy though. Wanna see it?

Hey, thanks for listening. I'm feeling better already. Why did I eat all that cookie dough?

And my emotional state, well that takes a little more effort. Applied mindfulness. Tapping into the feelings that I'm afraid of. Acknowledging them. Validating them. Giving them space to grow and ultimately, to be released.  When I find it challenging to provide self care, I find comfort in being creative, by playing with food, with dough, with the camera. I recognize that therapeutic activity is a substitute, a temporary fill in, one that I am grateful for. It's a tool that helps create a space in which I can ultimately address that which is plaguing my soul.

To good health,



  1. Chani, can you adopot me?

    1. Hey Shaina,
      We are not currently accepting applications. Try again next month? Or just come by for food... You don't really want me to be your mom.

  2. Can we have the recipe for you chickpeas? They look yummie :-)

    1. Thanks anon, They were yum. There's not really a recipe - what you see is what you get. I cooked chickpeas, drained them and added olive oil, paprika, cilantro, garlic and some salt. Cooked them for a while. That's the recipe.

    2. awesome, will try them out! Love your blog!

  3. Everything looks simply amazing, fresh and delicious (and i know it is!) The pictures add an excellent touch.

    1. Awwww thanks Vigs. You always know just what to say.

  4. Wow, luv your food and your honesty. Gotta try the quinoa salad.

    1. Thanks Shainy.
      I appreciate you taking the time to comment

  5. I loved reading this-I can't believe you made so much in one day! Your food looks incredible and I'm sure it tastes amazing too

    1. Thanks Ruth. Let's do lunch sometime. My place...

  6. i love to cook. it is the most healing of all creativity. i hope you'll invite me to eat at your house when i am in ny. (how presumptuous of me!) i kove the process of starting from scratch. nothing can taste as good as fresh ingredients.Since you keep posting pictures to tease i think you could indulge me!

    1. Faygie, you are hereby invited. Don't call it presumptuous - if you don't ask for an invite, how would I know that you wanted one? Thanks for the comment