By: Chevi Friedman
Boiling, bubbling, hopefully not burning, baking, cooking, cutting, rinsing, washing, watching, carefully to ensure optimal taste at your dinner table. The kitchen is your sanctuary, but it’s also your own personal hell. No one is allowed in unless they’re willing to peel some potatoes. You’re frantic, running from stove to cutting board to oven to fridge. Your ingredients and recipes are strewn all over the kitchen and your mind is somewhere else entirely. You’re keeping an eye on the kugel in the oven while pleading with the rice not to be (please God I’m begging you) overcooked this week. The bright, vibrant orange that is carrots are pushing their way to the brim of the soup pot, defying physics and fighting with zucchini and parsley for the top spot, but you lower the flame and cover the thing. The whole raw chicken you’re trying to rub with spices and oil has flown the coop – it flops down into the sink with an oddly satisfying but disturbing squelch. The chulent, you realize with a horrified groan, has not even been assembled yet. It’s 2:30 PM. And Shabbos begins at 4:00.
I am woken up at the ungodly hour of 8:00 in the morning on my only day off to “come downstairs and help.” “Help” is a loosely defined term in the Friedman household. I get downstairs bleary-eyed, asking my mother what is left to do. “Well, I have to go get ready for work. So make the chicken, the chulent, the side dishes and desserts. Don’t worry, I’ll set up the soup. Also don’t forget to pick up the food from Holon, get the challahs and take money out of the ATM for the cleaning lady.”
No problem, let’s get to work. I have roughly eight and a half hours until Shabbos starts – that’s “plenty of time to get everything done with time left to spare,” I tell myself. My mind plays tricks with time right from the get-go.
No one really understands how complex and intricate some recipes truly are. Chulent, for example, is quite a process to assemble. Trying to remember the correct order after watching my mother do it week after week, a layer of two different cuts of meat gets placed in the Crock-Pot, topped with a layer of potatoes. This is followed by sliced onions, seven various spices, beans, and barley, and then more layers of each, but in a new order this second time around. Gently, so as not to disturb the delicate ecosystem of ingredients I’ve created, I pour water over this stew-like mix and set the Crock-Pot to high.
I grab the raw chicken by the wings and begin picking out feathers that the butcher missed. Trying to keep a firm grip on the little guy, I think back to the time when I was seven or eight years old, a painfully shy and easily frightened little girl. I must have been deeply engrossed in whatever Nickelodeon show I was watching because I failed to notice my mother creeping up on me, one hand inside the chicken, the other hand under the wings, until it was too late. I can’t say that screaming at the top of my lungs while being chased around the kitchen by my mother with a dead bird madly flapping its wings is one of my fondest childhood memories, but my family certainly loves to tell the story.
I snap out of my daydream and glance over at the clock. Upon seeing that the time is nearing 10:30, I quickly rub the chicken in spices, put it in a 9×13 aluminum pan and throw it in the oven. I grab my keys and bolt out the door.
Now, if you think that driving in Brooklyn is bad on any regular day, come take a ride through the Jewish neighborhoods on a Friday afternoon. If you’ve ever seen a “disaster-is-about-to-strike-and-the-whole-city-needs-to-evacuate-at-once” genre movie, you’ll know what Brooklyn Friday Traffic looks like. I patiently wait, inching up to the major intersection and watching as one car per traffic-light cycle makes it across, until it’s finally my turn. After twenty-five minutes of combing the streets for parking, maneuvering double-parked cars and a few illegal U-turns, I arrive at Holon, the small market where we’ve been getting our authentic Israeli spreads, dips and groceries for fifteen years.
And that’s just my Friday morning beginning.