I recall our good friend talking to my husband and me, years ago, about the concept of ‘Shalom Bayit’ (creating calm & peace in the home). As he walks out to Synagogue on the first night of Sabbath or a holiday he waves at his wife covered in food stains and flour while screaming at their over-screen-timed kids and says, “Shalom Bayit”.
Ever since that half-truth, I have dedicated myself to trying to create a home where true calm and peace exists – even in the kitchen.
When I first became a wife and mother the thought of holidays and hosting scared the crap out of me. I would take my cooking plan, break it down into a shopping list that was combed over three times, shop, stock and do a 1-day cook-a-thon to offer my guests and my family the freshest of food. I had not learned how to bake ahead and freeze, how to organize prior and I did not even have the extra space necessary to do so anyway. I would call people to invite them, pit in stomach, hoping that they would shoot me down and I’d get “credit” for the invite. But, alas several accepted. And so, the chaos would begin.
This sort of lifestyle of standing, cooking, baking, stirring, chopping, kneading and then collapsing consumed my holidays and exhausted me as I sat at our table. Coordinating food that went well, ensuring I had all the cooking or baking ingredients prior (which I never did) and that my guests ‘matched up’ with one another. I was both catering company and full-time mother, none of which I felt I was doing well.
Half asleep that first night and too tired to enjoy the myriad of songs and projects my children made – I would blearily clear the table, wash my dishes and fall into bed. Finally, I would wake up from my cooking stupor around Day 2 or 3 of a holiday – far too full and just when everyone else was petering out.
Much as a metaphor for my life, I have learned the art of planning ahead to enjoy the moments at hand. I have also learned to R-E-L-A-X.
Company doesn’t have to match, exactly. Menus can be yummy and healthy, but not necessarily fancy.
Now, I allow my plan to consume me in small, manageable bits per day leading up to the holiday. I have yearly Excel spreadsheets that I add or subtract to on a whim. Shopping lists are printable and easy to access. I have been blessed with a larger fridge and freezer that can hold premade meals, I am no longer embarrassed to serve my guests. I do not always make impressive desserts that take hours of prep so I can hear those beloved words “I can’t believe you made this!” I no longer need those accolades to ensure a good meal was had by all -except an exhausted me.
Validation of a job well done comes from my sitting at the table and taking in my family, my friends and my guests.
I laugh, out loud, when I read articles in magazines or watch tv cooking shows where they talk about hosting “dinner parties” and the stress that comes with that. We Jewish women have been hosting dinner parties, lunches and brunches for days at a time, with panache, class and wonderful food since the dawn of a refrigerator. It’s for many a no-brainer and, yet for many still a huge source of stress and exhaustion.
I implore my fellow Domesticated Goddesses to stop, drop and rest. There is no point to impressing your guests if you are too tired to enjoy the fruits of your own labor.
Raise your hand if you went all day cooking without feeding yourself a thing. Raise your hand if you ignored your children because you were in the kitchen all day prior to a holiday. Raise your hand if you barely had time to hop in a hot shower last holiday. We’re all guilty and we’re all tired. This cannot be what was meant to be for a holiday.
Holidays are a beautiful, special and delicious time – but, it’s not supposed to be all about the food. It can’t be all about the food. If you don’t have the luxurious extra fridge or freezer, pare down the menu. Love the people at your table enough to spend time with them. Most of all, love yourself enough to remember the point of it all…