My Shabbat Table
I stepped out to return the corkscrew I had borrowed from the neighbor across the hall. Before I waltzed back in to settle into my seat at the table and sip from the inky red wine in my glass, I inched my ear close to the door. I listened to the clinking of forks against plates, the muffled conversation, the winding crescendo of my daughter singing too loudly or was that my baby crying because I disappeared suddenly? The smile spread unreservedly, my heart felt full. This is our Shabbat table.
We live in a world that walks faster than I can run. My weekdays are chaotic and full and messy in every possible way.
“A rest of love and generosity, a rest of truth and faith, a rest of peace and tranquility and quiet and security.” -in the Shabbat Mincha Prayer
Shabbat to me in one word is stillness. It’s the day I, we, can connect to our lofty self without the outside world interfering with their competing messages and misplaced priorities. It’s when we can turn into ourself to see with almost gripping clarity who we are and to Whom we connect. It’s my day to celebrate just being. It’s written that Gd created the world in six days and on the seventh, He rested. Rebbetzin Heller explains that every physical object has six parts with the seventh being the inner part. Shabbat is the inner reality of the world, it’s a day for depth and meaning. And most of all, closeness to Him and each other.
Many people argue that their ideal day of rest involves a picnic at the beach complete with fire-roasted smores. I hear that, except that the rest Gd refers to isn’t purely physical, it’s connected to our highest human virtue: creativity. For one whole day, we stop creating, we stop turning potential into something concrete. For six days we are out in the world, doing, pushing, hustling, inventing, innovating, and expanding. We need that seventh day to recenter, to remember that we are not in control, to remind ourselves of the values we believe in. The ones that get hazy during the week. And mostly to surrender to our inherent imperfection. Our biggest failing as humans is when we put ourselves in the center of the world. Gd gave us Shabbat to remind us that He is the true center and Creator. When I light those two candles every Friday night, their light floods me with a moment of truth and gratitude for such a gift.
Gd also thinks there’s no better way to celebrate than with a table full of the goodness of the earth. Food connects us to Him and to each other. With each meal, we elevate the physical pleasure of food and the beauty and flavors that Gd created. When we eat, we are taking all that in and making Him a part of us. There’s a custom to invite guests because experiencing this collectively creates energy that is far greater than our individual capacity. I can tell you that my most valuable relationships have been nurtured around the Shabbat table. The memories linger long after the last taste of challah. Those delicious, fuzzy feelings are what I aim to recreate for my own family and what I was thankful for that wintry Friday night when I was able to take a step back and see the full picture. A full table with good food, purpose and love.
My Shabbat menu is a reflection of the foods that I grew up with. I have spent many years at my mother’s table, as well as my father-in-law and his wife Debby’s table. These are just pitiful attempts at their masterpieces. They have fed us with such loving, selfless abandon. Even in my early days when all I could offer was an unevenly baked, heavy challah loaf and many times nothing at all. These foods connect me to them and my grandparents and will connect my children and (please Gd) grandchildren to Shabbat. When I imagine tearing a piece of homemade challah and swooping it across a plate of Moroccan fish with some s’chug edging on the side, my heart flutters with excitement and I crave for a starlit Friday night so I can finally feel that gratification.
"Can there be a banquet without preparations?"- Talmud, Shabbat
I realize my menu may seem involved for some. It is. I don’t cook like this every week. I have staples that are non negotiable like said fish and tahini, but I aim to include as much as I can. The preparations are as much a spiritual experience as Shabbat itself. So do your best.
One last thing if you’re still here. And hi! You’re still here!
I might have painted an idyllic picture of us. You’re imagining a home, a table, a family, prepped and dressed immaculately sitting around the table in oblivious joy, with laughter and conversation flowing with ease. Let’s pop that bubble because we’re human and just like with anything of value, it takes patience and effort to create that ambience. But the goal is there. And when it doesn’t happen, which it usually doesn’t, it’s just as perfect. Because let’s face it, with my children being so young, tantrums and spilled drinks are de rigueur. I try to remind myself that on Shabbat, no matter how flawed the day becomes, it’s as it should be in that moment. So I might not be able to fully escape the mess and chaos of the week but I realize that there is joy in that, too. We come to the table as we are, flawed and fragmented, because this is where we spend meaningful, undistracted time together. Where we learn and grow and reach into each other's heart.
I’ll be honest, putting together this collection of recipes was difficult because cooking and photographing on the busiest day of the week is challenging. Some of the recipes I cooked over again (possibly more than once) because I don’t work well in haste. But it had to be done. This is at the heart of what I do here, where my passion lies. When the food takes on a higher dimension, past self-indulgence, and into its intended purpose. Whether you find a new recipe to add to your table or you’re here just because, I appreciate it. Let’s make the most of the Shabbat table.
"and you declare Shabbat as a time for delight, and the holy day of the Eternal as honored." Yeshayahu 58:13
SALADS & DIPS
MOROCCAN FISH WITH CHICKPEAS AND PRESERVED LEMONS
CHESTNUT MINUTE STEAK with THYME ROSEMARY ROASTED POTATOES
ROASTED CHICKEN with SQUASH AND RED ONIONS
SHABBAT DAY- CHAMIN / DAFINA / CHOLENT
BASBOUSA: ORANGE SEMOLINA CAKE WITH ZESTY SYRUP
DATE ROLL COOKIES
TAHINI CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES WITH CACAO NIBS AND SHREDDED HALVA
KA'AK: SYRIAN COOKIES WITH SESAME AND CARAWAY SEEDS
A few more notes:
Many of the ideas and concepts I mentioned here, I learned through Rebbetzin Heller here.
Also this book on Shabbat has been invaluable to me.
I realize my table is unclothed. I always use a tablecloth. These pictures were taken last year when I didn’t have a tablecloth I liked so I preferred the look of the wood. Purely aesthetics. It’s important to dress the table with your most beautiful tablecloth.