A Year of Blogging Shabbat Dinners

Shabbat happens every week. Twenty five hours of it. That means that over the course of a year, there are 1300 hours of Shabbat for relaxing, eating, and sharing with others. At least that’s how I usually spend those hours, and for all of 2011, I decided to document those experiences, especially the eating, in a blog I called 25×52. 2011 was a big year for me; I turned 30, I had a baby, and since I knew my life would never be the same again, I wanted to document the cooking, the hosting, the impending sleeplessness, and the incredible hospitality of my community. Plus, the year started on Shabbat; everything aligned.

My year of blogging came and went. It was fun and rewarding and challenging in many ways, and it felt only right to end the project with as much panache as I started. For most of the blog, I reported on what happened at Shabbat meals without going too far out of my way to find things to write about. But, in honor of the final Shabbat of 2011, I orchestrated two incredible meals (I also decided 2012 is not the time to be bashful). I cooked my heart out, and I encouraged my friends to do the same. The results transcended my expectations. And, while some may say I have a proclivity towards over-ambition when it comes to cooking and entertaining, especially with a baby around, somehow it all came together.

So here was my plan: Invite a huge crowd for Friday night dinner and encourage everyone to make their favorite or most impressive dish for, as my husband said, “the fanciest potluck anyone’s ever been to.”

I started cooking Thursday night. I reserved the evening for baking and made a double batch of round challah — it was the New Year after all! And tried my hand at peppermint meringues. Twenty-one friends from Philly and beyond decided to play along with my vision, and we all sat around one long table, with assigned seats, and enjoyed truly impressive fare including potato fennel soup individually garnished with smoked salmon and fennel before serving, homemade crackers, “Shepherdess Pie” with “25x52” inscribed in the top, my husband’s honey butter salmon, and my oft-requested macaroni and cheese with sweet potatoes.

Before dessert, I took the opportunity to reflect on the year, thank everyone for participating so grandiosely, encourage more Shabbat meal hosting, and explain the next phase in the blog’s life. In 2012, I’ve extended an open invitation for anyone to sign up to blog for a week so there are more voices, new recipes, and a range of experiences shared each week for this year. So far, both my mom and my sister have guest blogged, one of the co-chairs of Limmud Philly wrote about that amazing weekend, and we’ve had posts about Passover seders, Grad Network potlucks, and cozy meals with friends. During this grandstanding digestion break, I also stood in my awe of my amazing friends who are willing to go along with all my crazy schemes. (At the time, that might have come out as “willing to put up with all my crap…”)

It didn’t matter than my meringues were too sticky to eat, or that every plate in our house was dirty, or that the thirteen people who came back for lunch the next day were still full from dinner. This was the most amazing, fulfilling, extravagant, sentimental Shabbat of my life. Or at least of the year.

Mac and Cheese with Sweet Potatoes

Adapted slightly from “Entertaining for a Veggie Planet” by Didi Emmons

Though I occasionally indulge in a box of Wacky Mac, this is the only homemade mac and cheese recipe I ever make, as it is the only one worth making. It was also the most-requested recipe from my blog.

2 medium sweet potatoes
kosher (or regular) salt to taste
16 ounces (3 2/3 cups) grated sharp cheddar cheese (It really is worth using full-fat cheese)
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I always omit this)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups milk
1 garlic clove, minced
16 ounces elbow macaroni (or whatever kind of pasta, including whole wheat)
freshly ground pepper

1) Scrub and pierce the skin of and the sweet potatoes and microwave until tender, about 7 minutes. Cut into bite-size pieces. (I often leave the skin on out of laziness and say it’s to make it healthier)

2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large casserole dish or 13×9 inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3) In a large bowl, combine the cheddar, Parmesan, and flour and toss until well combined. Set aside.

4) In a small, heavy saucepan, melt the cream cheese over low heat, stirring with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the milk and garlic until smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside.

5) Add the pasta to the boiling water and boil for 5 minutes, or until just al dente (if you use a larger pasta or whole wheat pasta, cook for another couple of minutes). Drain the macaroni and immediately return it to the pot. Add the cheddar mixture to the macaroni and stir well. Add the cream cheese mixture and sweet potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well.

6) Transfer the whole thing to the prepared dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until piping hot.

A Year of Blogging Shabbat Dinners

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