Me and My Kitchen: Some Personal Reflections on Overcoming Ambivalence to Cooking

Me and My Kitchen: Some Personal Reflections on Overcoming Ambivalence to Cooking

I once overheard someone I sort of know telling her friend about her favorite recipe for meatloaf. “And then you put in the matzo meal, not bread crumbs, never use bread crumbs –ever! And it’s amaaaaaazing!”

I don’t think I’m generally so much of an envious person, but oh, how I envied that woman’s excitement for that meatloaf…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been ambivalent about cooking.

But, for as long as I can remember, I’ve really, really wished that I wasn’t.

At this point, I can proudly declare that I have made some progress in the hating-cooking department. Today, I no longer resent cooking. Today I have even reached the point where I experience cooking as a vaguely meditative, almost pleasant activity. But my level of excitement over those hours spent chopping and frying and baking would be more aptly represented in a shrug and a blank look than a yippee and a leap for joy.

But this week I read something that gave me some new insight into the spiritual power of food, and added a near-yippee to Shabbat preparations.

On Thursday, my friend and I started studying Rebbe Nachman of Breslov on challah making. Listen to this…Rebbe Nachman teaches that all food is made out of the Divine letters that animate creation (cool, huh?). Challah, for example, represents wisdom, and when we remove challah and recite the blessing, we are transforming wisdom into Daat d’kdusha, wisdom of holiness through the awesome power of Hebrew, the holy language. Adding that water to that flour to form the dough means that you are changing the spiritual make-up of the universe, correcting Eve’s sin by removing the evil from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and leaving in its stead only holiness and connection to G-d.

Don’t get it? Truth is I don’t really either. But this past Friday, as I chopped carrots for the chicken soup, and rolled the matzah guck into balls, and removed that spongey piece of challah and held it up between my hands and prayed for people I know in need, for the first time I felt that I wasn’t engaged in something that was shrug/blank look material. Not at all.

We know an American rabbi who did an informal survey to find out what memories adults maintain of Jewish experiences from childhood. In all cases, it wasn’t the hours spent in Sunday school, or the Rosh Hashana sermon the rabbi spent months preparing, or even standing on the chair and singing the 4 questions as their parents nodded with nachas. What remained in their hearts for the rest of their lives was the salty sweetness of mom’s gefilte fish, or the mushy warmth of grandma’s bread kugel, or the crunchy wonder of Aunt Marla’s famous mandelbrot.

For me, I know that every seder night when I taste that parsley dipped in salt water, I feel as though the prehistoric mitochondria dormant in my body awaken to savor that taste, the most ancient one I can remember from this incarnation. Just thinking of that taste as I type these words makes my mouth water and yearn for seder night yet again in the ironic glow of Grandma Florence, of blessed memory.

So next week, when you stand over your kitchen counter up to your eyeballs in apples and quartered chickens and sweet potatoes for the YomTov tsimmes, know that in those pots, pans, and casserole dishes you are preparing the sparks of holiness that have the power to nourish your soul and the souls of your family. Not just for this upcoming holiday, or for this upcoming year, but really, truly forever.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user Mr.RobertWade (Wadey)

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5 comments

  1. Thanks, that really is an inspiring thought.

  2. I am reading this about 5 months after the original thought and I want to say thanks. This week is the first in a while that I am cooking the whole shabbat meal(s) among a variety of other errands that are getting in the way. But o was looking at it as the cooking getting in the way and that’s the wrong way to view it. After reading this I really feel like I have an opportunity to give to my family on a physical and spiritual level. Thank you!

  3. I really enjoyed this article. I relate to the ambivalence felt by the writer. (For me it’s because I don’t think I’m good at cooking.) Maybe it’s also just laziness. In any case, this article inspires me to take more pride in cooking and invest more thought and intention to what I do. Thanks- perfect timing right before R”H. Shana tova! 🙂

  4. Hadassah Aber

    It is like we read in Chassidus, Hashem takes the spiritual and turns it into the physical so that we Jews can take the physical and turn it into the spiritual. the key to enjoying our role as cook, baker, meal planner, etc, is to make sure we make things our families enjoy to make the chag special not to impress others or make the top ten balabusta list! We don’t need to overburden ourselves into resentment by overdoing it. Especially when there are six meals to eat, why should they be over the top? and if possible enlist the help of your family so they feel pride and accomplishment too!

  5. This is such a beautiful post.

    Where did you read the Rebbe Nachman on Challah? I’d love to take a look at it ….

    ( If you ever get a chance to read “Hatzofen” about the spiritual depth of the Hebrew letters it is truly insightful: it goes into the deeper secrets beyond the letters themselves according to Torah and Zohar. Through this we can learn sooooo much about ourselves via our given Hebrew names….! Quite remarkable. )

    Actually this Rosh Hashana I’m not cooking at all…. my husband and sons are off to Uman so i bought some prepared food for myself and the little kiddies left behind: but hey, I made the boys 9 cakes for Rebbe Nachman, and now I’m so happy that I did!!!!

    Shana Tova and enjoy that holy challah with your holy family!

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