We are two-dimensional beings most of the time. It is rare that we show 360 degrees of ourselves to anyone. The first husband had an image of me that I could never live up to and it made him angry. Well, he was already angry — the fact that I wasn’t what he thought he had simply added fuel to his already stoked fire. I wrote some time ago about burying the best parts of me deep inside so they wouldn’t be hurt during those years.
Like an egg, or maybe more like a cocoon, I kept those parts carefully wrapped in a hard shell of education coated with a bit of wry humor. Christopher’s caring over our 16 years together softened the shell but as he got sicker, it hardened again. Not against him, mind you, but like callouses that form to protect tender skin from ouchies, my outer visage hardened under the necessity of caring for someone who shouldn’t have been sick in the first place, if anyone had asked my not-so-humble opinion. Being a caregiver washes you like bleach, sloughing off the softer, gentler you so you can keep moving, keep a smile painted on when you want to melt into the earth’s magma because it gets so hard watching someone important to you suffer and knowing there is nothing you can do to make it better, other than by persevering for them.
In times like that, others see only parts of who we are.
I wasn’t eating real food when I met the first husband, having gone on a packaged food diet; one of those companies that sells you pre-made meals that are supposed to help you lose weight, which they do, because you eat more air and chemicals than food.
‘You cook baby portions,’ he complained. I cooked more and ate more to cover the pains of life. He complained about portions, about the way it was cooked, about my not eating what I cooked, about me spending money on packaged foods, about me not eating enough of what I cooked when I stopped buying packaged foods, about me gaining weight. He’d not seen me before and had no way of knowing my body had simply put back on what I’d lost before.
During my time with Christopher, he eventually did most of the cooking because he was home more than I was; before he retired, I am not sure what we ate since we both kept crazy schedules. After relocating to California, even before that, he did retire and found cooking for the family a way to take care of us. My schedule got weirder with commuting so he continued until he got too sick to do it. After I stopped working the hamster wheel (you know, commute to office, stare at work stuff for 8.5 hours, commute back), I took over cooking, but he didn’t have much appetite. Khalil soon left the house and I think I spent most of the time eating tuna.
When you’re on autopilot, trying not to think of what is ahead on the Path, you don’t eat much good stuff.
After Christopher crossed the Rainbow Bridge, I began to find different parts of my house, making them mine. One such space was the kitchen. I dusted off my cookbooks and started experimenting with different things.
I’ve always been able to cook; I just didn’t give myself to it. Many around me have only seen the me who didn’t cook, but I will try to make anything I like to eat.
On Wednesday, I made cookies and decided, since I had a batch of bread flour, to make Challah. It was the first day of Rosh Hashanah, after all, so it seemed fitting.
Making bread, but I think especially Challah, is a great love lesson.
It takes patience and preparation.
The first part of the process is working the starter. The recipe I used had a comment: if your starter doesn’t froth after a few minutes, toss it out and go to the store for more yeast because otherwise, the bread won’t rise. Not only was there a time frame for which the starter should show whether it had done what it was supposed to, but the water for the recipe was described as needing to be lukewarm room temperature (okay, so I rushed that a bit — tap water popped in the microwave for about 30 seconds). In relationships, people often start off wrong. Or should I say they come together with wrong intentions, not taking the time to let the starter work. I think about the first husband and if I’d paid attention to the starter, well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation I bet.
To mix in the flour, the instructions said to put it in, one-half cup at a time, rather than dumping all 4-6 cups in at once. Stir it in until stirring is too tough, then knead it in. Folks in relationships rush when they should be patient, anxious for the outcome, not realizing by rushing that they have already spoiled the recipe.
Once the dough was formed, I had to let it rise for an hour, then beat it down and let it rise for another hour. Patience! People like to short-cut to the goal, rather than nurturing what’s there between them. Take time and learn about one another. Enjoy each other’s company. Smell the roses together, for cryin’ out loud.
The dough has to be separated, rolled out, and braided carefully, then painted with egg wash to get that shiny glow. Cooking it is done in stages: after braiding, let it rise for another 30-45 minutes, cook for 20 minutes, take it out to coat the expanded parts in egg wash and turn it before putting it back in the oven, and cook for another 20 minutes. Maybe — it all depends on how dark you want it to get; it can be tented during the last 20 minutes, but the tent comes off for the final 2 minutes.
Challah is like love: give yourself to it but don’t rush it. Follow the steps on the path. In the end, your heart will soar as the results are well-worth it.