Rounding Up

September 16, 2012

We are on the threshold of Tishrei, the beginning of a beautiful month of Jewish holidays. It is the New Year, a time for self-reflection and thoughtful resolutions, as well as my seasonal penchant for list-making.

True to human nature, my first list details the blessings I’d like for the coming year, requests that rarely vary: health, gainful employment, happiness, nachas from my boys, and that perennial favorite, fitting into a size 6 pencil skirt. 

A second list itemizes what I hope to improve in myself. These are challenges that involve overcoming inveterate personality traits, but I really try to tackle them anyway. 

There is a third list, a compilation of the sins I remember committing as well as a few transgressions I suspect I may possibly have committed. I throw those in just in case. Who wants to play games this time of year?

And then there is the fourth: a detailed list, by meal, of what I will be serving to friends and family. Let’s face it. We may all be praying and repenting in earnest, but when we have a free moment, we are also thinking about holiday food. 

So I am busy planning impressive meals, even if the only thing my children will eat is challah and schnitzel. Hence the onset of exhaustion levels concomitant only with yom tov preparations. As such, I tend to goof in the kitchen here and there under the strain.

Like the time I was so distracted by other tasks that I ignored the oven timer. I ended up overbaking the potato kugel to the point of disintegration, forcing me to toss it along with the pan from which I could not extract it. 

For the Shabbes of one three-day yom tov, I zealously added so much barley to the cholent that I was roused in the night by the sacrificial aroma of a burnt offering. 

On yet another occasion, I forgot the sugar in our favorite cake, the one I have baked so many times that I no longer (so I thought) need to glance at the recipe. And I have done this, too: oiling the Bundt pan for an apple cake with the garlic-flavored baking spray.

Sometimes I am lucky enough to catch my mistake in time to remake the dish. Other times, however, my gaffe comes to light too late in the game. But I know soon enough what has happened — oh, I know — because I catch my dear husband pursing his lips as he chews, too afraid to tell his sleep-deprived, overextended wife that something is terribly, horribly wrong. 

Lord help me when it is my children who are the first to make the discovery. Guests tend to be more gracious, hoping to spare me the embarrassment.

When it happens, I try to shrug it off, but I am human and nonetheless turn beet red. And yet, when I am so very exhausted that I haven’t the energy even to blush, I begin to laugh a slap-happy sort of laugh. It starts small, then expands to consume all the air in the room. It is genuinely cathartic. Sometimes it ends as a snort. 

This year, I girded myself for an entirely new batch of culinary faux pas when I set to cooking. Not wasting any time, I baked enough challah to get us through Simchat Torah. I was so proud to have that big ticket item crossed off my list a full two weeks before the start of the holidays that I brazenly wrapped the loaves and went to bed, planning to stack the freezer early the next day.

Alas, when I returned to the scene, I discovered that I’d braided them all. Not a round challah in sight. I shook my head in disbelief, throwing a one-two punch in my own direction. When was I going to get everything done? How could I have been so off the mark? I crossed off the check next to challah on the menu, sprinkled on a little more self-deprecation, and with a sigh of exasperation, began pulling ingredients out of the cabinet. 

Then something inside me made me stop short. Luckily, I’d caught the error of my ways before anyone — myself included — had time to taste its bitterness. The shape of the challah really made no difference. What I needed was a do-over on the message I’d sent myself. 

So I sat down and neatly rewrote the menu on a clean page, adding ROUND in big letters next to challah. After all, I am as entitled to a clean slate and the sweetness of the season as the next girl.

Sure, I rebaked the challahs, not because I had to, but because I longed to reshape that regrettable moment. 

Which leads me to think I should keep a fifth list. This one would track mistakes that at first seem to spell the end of the world but soon lose their edge, thanks to a little faith, some hearty humor, and a bite of what is on list number four.