As the holiday season is really all about food, I thought it would be funny if I attempted to cook a traditional Shabbat dinner for my boyfriend Mike and wrote a blog post making fun of my inevitable failure. Lucky for me (and for Mike), this isn’t a story of failure at all.
Let me back up a bit. I don’t cook. In fact, I’m actually quite phobic about cooking—touching raw meat, messing up my kitchen, not cooking things correctly, accidentally using expired ingredients, making people sick…you get the point. I usually prefer to leave the cooking to the experts, like chefs, or Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice. I never really had the desire to cook—I figured my time could be better spent in other ways. Plus, I had managed to get by for 25 years making soups, sandwiches, TV dinners and pasta.
And then, I moved in with my boyfriend Mike.
For the purposes of this story, all you really need to know about Mike is that he loves to eat—particularly meat—and for a skinny guy, he eats a lot. He loves meat so much that he often salivates while watching commercials. He loves chicken so much that he actually dressed up in a full chicken suit this Halloween. The day I was going to cook dinner, he ran around the apartment all afternoon singing “today is the day of the Shabbos chicken!”…but I digress. He also loves to cook and experiment in the kitchen—a blessing for the half of me that loves to eat too, and a curse for the half of me that really doesn’t like having raw chicken out on my kitchen counter.
Since we moved in together in May, Mike has slowly but surely been showing me the ropes in the kitchen. I can now proudly say that I make a mean scrambled eggs, and despite our super-busy schedules, we take the time to prepare dinner together nearly every night. But despite my progress, I was still lacking the confidence to really be on my own in the kitchen. So, I gave myself this assignment—no backing out of this one. I knew the only way I was ever going to learn and conquer my culinary fears was to just get out there and do it.
I decided to make a traditional, kosher Shabbat dinner for two—no need to subject any of our friends to my cooking quite yet. In the week leading up to the Friday night of my big dinner, I nervously made lists of everything I would need to get at the store, and asked my coworkers silly questions I felt I should have known the answers to. By the time Friday came around, I felt a bit anxious, but ready. I found a recipe for lemon and sage roasted chicken online, borrowed an awesome and tasty recipe for potatoes from Cheryl (Oy! managing blogger) and Jane (Oy! blogger) shared her delicious and simple family recipe for apple cake.
Mike’s only job for the night was to make sure we didn’t get salmonella—I wanted to do this myself. I started with the cake, which was, as they say, easy as pie. Then I moved on to the potatoes, and just as my nerves were calming down, it was time to deal with the chicken. We had purchased a whole chicken that was already broken down into pieces, so all I had to do was rinse each piece and get it into the pan. I’ll admit that a small wave of nausea passed through me as I picked up the first bony, bloody breast, but I swallowed my fear and kept going.
Though our tiny one-bedroom apartment doesn’t have room for a kitchen table, I covered our coffee table with a table cloth and pulled out the Shabbat candles we bought at IKEA when we first moved in and had yet to use. We turned off the television, lit the candles and broke out the nice bottle of wine we had been saving for the right occasion.
While waiting for the chicken to finish cooking (the chicken recipe called for 25 minutes in the oven and actually took about an hour and a half), we drank wine, laughed and talked, and finally got around to putting our mezuzah up on the door post. It took me about four hours to prepare everything, and we didn’t get to eat until long after the sun went down, but we didn’t really mind. Everything came out more than edible and I was really proud of what I had accomplished.
We realized how nice it was to just slow down for one night, to take a break from law school and work and crowded bars and parties and just enjoy spending time with one another, and we made a decision that night to make time one Friday a month to cook Shabbat dinner for the two of us. Stay tuned, next month, I’m planning to tackle matzo ball soup, brisket and challah!
Want to help me learn to cook like a Jewish grandma? Email me your favorite simple recipes at Stefanie@oychicago.com. I’d love to try them out!