Learning To Cook in My Southern Jewish Kitchen

There are many stereotypes about Jewish mothers. Some of them are positive, some less so. But we all know them — they just can’t wait for you to meet their son, you must be dead if they haven’t heard from you within five minutes of when you said you’d call, and they LOVE to cook and feed those they love. While I am not a mother myself yet, I see little bits and pieces of these stereotypes creeping into my personality: I do enjoy playing Yenta (matchmaker/busybody), I take care of my friends, and my fiance Erik frequently finds multiple missed calls on his phone when he’s running late.

But here’s the one Jewish-mother-in-training area in which I totally fail: I hate cooking.

I have never, ever enjoyed cooking. In fact, I DREAD it. Especially in the South, this sets me apart from many of my Jewish friends, who seem to be able to “just whip up” the most mouth-watering Shabbat or break-the-fast food while I’m always arriving with a bottle of wine and joking about how I might not have cooked it, but I slaved all day picking the grapes.

In college, my hatred for cooking didn’t bother me too much as we were all mostly consisting on Ramen noodles and felt spiffy when we scrambled eggs. These last few post-college years, I’ve forced myself to learn a few “staples,” but stopped short of anything adventurous. Recently, however, I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about the whole situation. Everyone else can cook…why can’t I?

Fate struck when we ordered something from Amazon and found a free trial offer for Fresh Box. Fresh Box is a food delivery system where fresh veggies and meat are delivered to your house along with amazing recipes. (There are lots of other services like this — Blue Apron, Home Chef, etc– I’m not promoting one over the other, this is just my personal jumping-off point!) We decided to go for it, and a week later our first box arrived.

I felt a familiar lump in my throat as I began to unpack it and stock my fridge: what if my food is gross? What if I burn the house down? What if I have no idea what a fancy cooking phrase means (not everyone knows what “simmer” means!) and my hands are too covered in flour to access Google?!

Really, the question was … what if I failed this Southern Jewish homemaking test that suddenly feels so important to me?

Eventually, I calmed down and went to try my first meal: Cod Cioppino in Tomato Stew. When Erik got home, we enjoyed the meal together. I was proud of the food, and delighted that we were having a sit-down, hearty meal together instead of rushing food in between this, that, or the other thing.

When we moved into our house a few months ago, I wrote a post about making it a Jewish home, full of warmth and conversation. I did not know that my newfound affection (strong word, but I’m willing to try it out) for cooking would help bolster that. Now, I am finding myself excited at the prospect of preparing a Shabbat meal, or a real dish for next year’s break-fast at Yom Kippur.

Tonight, it’s creamy spaghetti squash noodles, and who knows what it will be next week. Maybe I’ll move beyond the box soon, and head over to The Nosher and try to use recipes from that awesome collection – the Red Velvet Cake Challah that just went up looks pretty awesome. I am thrilled that this new habit, that I could never seem to pick up before, is helping me bring to life my new Southern and Jewish kitchen.

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