Shabbat & Holidays

For many segments of the Jewish community, Shabbat is a day of rest. It begins a few moments before the setting of the sun on Friday night, and lasts until three stars can be seen in the sky on Saturday night-about 25 hours later.

Shabbat begins with the lady of the house lighting two candles and saying a blessing over them. I was told of a custom to light an additional candle for each child; and so I now light four candles. The candles I light were brought to America from Russia by my Father in Law’s Mother.  They are a concrete connection to past generations.

There are many holy days and festivals that make up the Jewish calendar. Each has their own set of rules, customs and food. Should you think that there is just one set of Jewish rules, let me simply divide the Jewish people into Ashkenazim and Sephardim: two different cultures, sets of customs and food as well. Over the years, I have seen many Sephardic dishes being incorporated into the Ashkenazi menu. The blending and understanding of different cultures is also an important lesson for people to learn.


It seems ironic to me that Shabbat is considered a day of rest- rest for whom? There is so much food shopping and cooking required. Advance preparation is the only way to get everything done so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor with your family at the table. Typically, I’ll plan a menu and order from the butcher on Wednesday. I tailor my recipes based on the time Shabbat begins; which is also the time all cooking must be completed. During the Summer, when Shabbat begins 7:30-8:00 PM, it is easy to have a roast or lamb chops come out of the oven at the last minute before you’re ready to eat. As Shabbat begins to start earlier in the Winter ie. 4:00-5:00 PM, I prefer to make meats that sit in gravy like pot roast, coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon. When you sit down after 6:00 PM or 7:00 PM, the food is still warm and moist. The latter recipes get even better when made one day or two in advance and can be easily frozen. I’ve basically given up the idea that vegetables will be served hot if they are steamed or roasted. If you keep them hot, they overcook and wilt. The only hot vegetables you can have in the Winter are puréed ones. Some desserts, like cookies, roasted pears, fruit crisps can easily be made in advance; but others like Lemon Meringue Pie are best assembled the same day. I can have the crust baked and the filling made on Thursday. On Friday, I fill the crust, make the meringue and top the pie. There are many recipes that can be prepped like this and I will point them out along the way.

The only way to happily survive  having a full table Friday night and Saturday lunch is to find short cuts where you don’t lose quality or flavor. I once asked Chef Jacques Pepin if he had ever used a box of broth, and he whispered “of course, I have never met a chef that didn’t.” Some people may think that it is a crime to take such shortcuts, others like me think that it is just a part of surviving the kitchen.  The low salt boxed broths (as opposed to the over salty cubes and metallic tasting cans) available to us today are terrific. Some of the vegetable broths have a lot of color which will alter the appearance of your recipe. That’s not always a bad thing. You just need to be aware that a white soup may have an orange tinge with certain broths. There are “no chicken, chicken” broths which are also pareve and are generally clearer in color. My daughter is vegetarian, so I make mainly pareve or dairy soups-except when I hear a cry from others for chicken soup or split pea soup with meat!

Some Shabbats I just have my immediate family, and sometimes many more. On these days I can look around the table and see four generations sitting together, eating together, and most importantly speaking with one another. An important benefit of regular family dinners is that arguments and family tensions are diffused at the table. There is just no time for grievances to ferment between family members. Every week, you know you’re going to be with the same people and you better work it out. Yell and scream during the week; but when you return to my table-bring peace.

My daughter and son live busy lives, and maintain crazy schedules. Getting them on the phone during the week is a feat in and of itself. Throughout my children’s lives, they have always had Shabbat dinner as a time to stop for a moment; and I truly appreciate what that has brought to our lives. I must admit, I didn’t always have this point of view. Before I was married, I didn’t quite get that Shabbat was 52 weeks a year. I remember my “husband to be” packing for our honeymoon. Yes, Richard did and does the packing. I’m not neat enough. I saw him pack Shabbat candles, Kiddush cup etc. I asked him what they were for. He responded-for Shabbat. I then said-“but we’re going on vacation” and he answered: “Shabbat comes on vacation with us”. I was overwhelmed. It never dawned on me that we would observe Shabbat on vacation. 49 years later, I get it. Although, my Mother in Law used to tease me about practicing “gastronomic Judaism”, Shabbat has been joining us on every vacation every week of the year. It’s not always easy, but the impact it has had on my family bears out its importance.