I have been asked several times how I prepare for the weekly Sabbath, so thought I should add it here, so I have an easy link to send people!
First of all, I have to say what a blessing it is to have Shabbat to give us a rhythm to our weeks, especially with the locksdowns/quarantines now going on in 2020. Others keep commenting that they are losing track of the days of the week, but no matter what else is going on for us (or NOT), Shabbat is always coming to lend structure to our week.
I used to leave all the prep for Fridays, but have evolved the routine over the years to fit our family schedule and attention span. And I have to qualify this and say what I will list here is an ideal/goal scenario that is not always met perfectly. I will also plan to address seasonal variations below, as those can be very extreme. I will also add some shortcut tips, for those times of stress or divided attention.
In our house, we try to do the once-a-week “good” cleaning (as opposed to the quick pick-up) on the upstairs on Wednesday, then the downstairs on Thursday. This includes bathroom deep cleaning and vacuuming, as well as dusting and putting away messes that have accumulated during the week. It’s not realistic to expect this to stay immaculate through Saturday, but it sets us up to do the quick pick-up on Friday.
I know some people prefer to get their cooking done ahead of time and put things in the fridge/freezer so they can have their good cleaning time on Friday. We prefer fresh baked goods to thawed ones, so this is what works for us.
I also try to get my Shabbat menu planned and shopped for on Thursday. Realistically, the shopping sometimes has to wait for Friday morning. (There is room for procrastination in the spring and summer months, when there is a late sunset.)
On Friday morning, as early as possible, I get out my Expo markers and in one color, write the list of cooking projects for the day on the whiteboard. Then I ask for volunteers to sign up for the projects they want (ideally, putting their names in another color, if we can find another marker!). When my kids were little, they would choose what they wanted to “help” with, and the current littles do the same now, but we have come to a wondrous point now, where we have a pretty well-trained power force in the kitchen, and the big kids can take on entire responsibility for projects, as well as have the little apprentices under them.
This week, for example, we had 17 yo daughter making cupcakes for dessert with the help of 8 yo son, and 15 yo son making cookies for lunch dessert with help from 6 yo daughter. My 19 yo son made sourdough crackers. We reached a new milestone when my 10 yo son, who has been my challah apprentice for months, was able to successfully braid the six strand challah by himself while I was shopping! 12 yo son shaped monkey bread for breakfast.
Yes, I realize it sounds like we’re doing nothing but baking sweets, but this is our celebration day of the week, so we allow more sweets that usual. I should add that we use fresh home-ground flour and natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, etc. as much as possible, and reduce the sugar as well, in most of these. There’s a fantastic cookbook we had from the library a couple of years ago, called “Baking With Less Sugar: Recipes for Desserts Unsing Natural Sweeteners and Little-to-No White Sugar” by Joanne Chang that I highly recommend. The sweet projects also attract the most helpers, I must admit. But that frees me up to concentrate on making dinner for 2 nights, and lunch and breakfast.
Backing up for a minute, to the beginning of the day … as soon as I put the list on the whiteboard, the assigned helper and I usually start my challah dough. (I might put the recipe up here, if there is interest.) I have been making this challah since I was 15 and living with my parents, so it’s a pretty automatic thing at this point. If you prefer to use sourdough, or let your grains/dough soak, simply start it Thursday afternoon/evening and let it sit overnight – refrigerated or not. It’s a pretty smug feeling to wake up Friday morning when the dough is already made. In that case, I would get the dough out of my fridge early in the day and let it warm up some before shaping. Then, if we are having something like roast for dinner, I will start it on the stovetop or in the crockpot next. Then we have time to work on the baked goods that are not yeasted, while the yeast dough rises a couple of times. I have a rule that I try not to make two yeasted breads in the same day, because the timing is too important. (Like everything else, my personal rules are flexible. I made bagels too, yesterday, with the help of my 3 yo son as “hole poker.”) In most of our houses, we have been blessed with 2 ovens, so it has been a challenge to adjust to only having one again, in our current house. It just takes forethought to plan. I can’t really roast a turkey for Shabbat if I need the oven for breads, cakes, cookies, or pies. I usually make use of the crock pot, instant pot or stovetop for meats, these days. I have friends who use turkey roasters for more than just Thanksgiving, too. And in the summer, there’s always the barbecue!
A couple of tips that make things easier:
1. On a day when I have so many cooking projects going, it helps to plan easy breakfast and lunch. Our go-tos are granola and yogurt for Friday breakfast (I will often make a batch of granola with my helpers on Thursday night, then leave it to cool in the oven overnight. If making homemade yogurt, I have to think of that by Wednesday for the timing to work, with culturing and chilling times.) Lunches are equally easy, with nachos and/or smoothies.
2. Parchment paper is your friend! We reused the same parchment for bagels, challah and crackers yesterday, and never had to wash those pans! Use your judgement on reusing. Pizzas are one and done before the paper starts to crumble, because of the high temps. (My poet daughter actually wrote me an “Ode to Parchment Paper,” since I rave about it so often!)
3. Whoever takes on a project is responsible to clean up that project, including ingredients, dishes used, and countertop messes.
4. The standard Shabbat breakfast at our house is cinnamon rolls, made out of the same dough as our big batch of challah. Two for one!
I realize this sounds like a lot of work. Keep in mind that you don’t have to do it like this. I have a large number of assistants, and do a LOT of homemade stuff, for health reasons and … I don’t know, maybe we just watch too many cooking shows!?!
A shortcut menu (all of which we have employed at different times) might look like picking up a natural chicken or two at Sprouts, already roasted, for $7 apiece, and cooking some rice and frozen veggies or grabbing a boxed salad for sides. Trader Joe’s–and many other bakeries–offer challah that is soft and delicious warmed up at 350 degrees for 12-20 minutes. Dessert can be a pie from Costco and/or a dish of ice cream. You could do the yogurt and granola routine for Shabbat breakfast, or get a box of pastries and slice up fresh fruit. Or maybe cold cereal is a treat at your house. The point is to make it special and set-apart–a day to look forward to. For Shabbat lunches, we often do veggies and dip with smoked salmon and crackers, and/or pasta salad. Sometimes we make sandwiches from leftover challah and a plate of cold cuts, cheese, or pb&j. This week, we’re having bagels and cream cheese with carrot sticks and cucumbers, followed by cookies.
Dinnertime is where the time of year comes into play. If it’s fall/winter and getting dark early, I will usually make stew or soup of some kind for dinner and get it going early, in the crockpot. Then the second day dinner is easy too, because nobody wants to eat that early in the day, so as long as there’s a plan and there are ingredients for something quick in place, we can start cooking after sundown. Our go-to this year has been homemade pizza after Shabbat is over, for which the dough is already sitting in the fridge. However, when the sun doesn’t go down until after 8, we have been known to flip-flop the order and do pizza before sundown and have something already arranged in the crockpot in the fridge so we can plug it in on Shabbat morning and not have to think about it all day. (Depending on your level of observance, you might need this to precook. For me, I have decided that this approach is in keeping with the spirit of the law, if not the letter.) Another good plan is precooking chicken to throw in an Asian or Caesar salad, and eating that with leftover challah. You can pull together anything your family likes, or that works for your diet.
Now, on to the biblical/philosophical reasons that Shabbat prep is so important to me. I have heard arguments from folks in the Hebrew Roots movement, claiming that cooking on Shabbat is not work, and therefore it’s ok to leave cooking to do on the day itself, so you don’t burn yourself out on Fridays and learn to hate Shabbat, or some such reasoning. I disagree. In Exodus 16–BEFORE the 10 commandments are given–at the beginning of the miracle of the manna, the children of Israel are told by G-d, through Moses,
“Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’ ””
Exodus 16:23 NKJV
Looks to me like THE essential way to prepare for the Sabbath is by cooking!
In addition, my own experience tells me that as a home-keeping mom, cooking is a huge part of MY work, and if I don’t do it ahead of time, I don’t have the time for resting as prescribed. People are still hungry, and I’m the one they come to.
It is worth it to me to discipline myself to plan ahead, and to pour myself into preparing for one entire day, in order to enjoy the sublime feeling of having all my work finally DONE on the next, and having time to sit down and read a book or play a board game and have some unhurried conversation. Honestly, I think it’s almost MORE important for moms than for others, to have that break. Otherwise, there is never a point when our work is done. There is always another meal to make, and more laundry being made. No wonder so many moms burn out and look forward to an empty nest. This approach solves more problems than it creates, as I see it!
Again, the practicalities are up to you, your family’s tastes, schedule and available “personnel.” I decided a long time ago to rule out scheduling big events or homeschooling activities on Fridays, but if you plan ahead, you might find it works for you. Now that my big kids are driving, I am more open to bending that rule, depending on the opportunity.
Have any questions, or tips to share, that work for you? Share with the rest of us!