COVID cases are rising. People are still dying.
Please stay home this Shabbat.
I know you probably miss a bigger, more communal version of Shabbat. I know I do. I miss Tot Shabbat where all the kids dance and sing and rip hunks of challah and pass it around. That seems unfathomable now. I miss the undeniably terrible cookieswhose only redeeming quality is pink sprinkles.
I miss kiddush with my friends, chatting about parenthood over bagels and coffee and a shot of whiskey provided by a bar mitzvah or aufruf while our children play. After years and years of being dragged to synagogue by my parents and then dragging myself to synagogue in order to be a good parent, now that it’s gone, Synagogue is one of the places I want to go the most.
I miss going to our friends’ homes and I miss people coming to mine.
I miss a house full of company on Shabbat, the rush of adrenaline to get it on the table, the happy faces at our front door, and the joy of sitting down together. I miss sitting at someone else’s table, and the feeling of a close friend cooking you a meal and serving you. A pizza from a friend’s homemade backyard pizza oven. A perfect couscous with summer vegetables. A roast chicken with potatoes. Challah from your favorite place.
We are still living in a pandemic. This is not over. We have to stay at home. 123,000 Americans are dead, and coronavirus cases are rising across the south and west. Too many people I know are taking more and more risks. We have quarantine fatigue and are letting our dreams run away with us. I know it’s hard. I know it feels unbearable sometimes.
In the beginning, we joked a lot about what we would do when this was over. We made extravagant fantasy plans for what we would do to celebrate. Plan a trip to Japan. Fly to California wine country. Rent a house in Vermont with our friends. Swim in the clear waters of the Caribbean and laugh and laugh over pina coladas.
Now the fantasies are mundane: Have a drink in my brother’s backyard while our kids run wild on his enormous swingset. Sit in his comfy Adirondack chairs and laugh about how grown up we are. Pet my sister’s pandemic puppy. Eat literally anything my mother cooks. Go on a date with my husband - nothing too fancy, nothing requiring a tie or high heels, a burger and good beer, and the blissful freedom of a babysitter. Go to synagogue and watch my daughter dance with a plushy Torah. Set a Shabbat table for 12.
The question of what to do when this was over once inspired joy, belly laughs and browsing travel sites. Now it raises difficult questions. When will we see each other again? How long can I hold out without child care? How can we mitigate risks while balancing the very real strain on our mental health and our finances? When will this end and what will our world look like when it does?
The virus doesn’t care if we miss each other. The virus doesn’t care how good it would feel to sing Mah Tov Vu at the top of our lungs together and rip challah with our unwashed hands. The virus doesn’t know that we are tired or sad or miss our families. The virus just wants to grow. To spread. To kill. That’s what viruses do. We must deprive the virus of the chance to kill, even though it means depriving ourselves.
In normal times, Shabbat gives shape to our weeks and our lives. During this time of lockdown, the shape and structure of Shabbat fulfill a deep longing for normalcy and routine. Shabbat brings us joy in a time of uncertainty, grief, and fear.
I try to cook food that’s worth staying home for. I fight to make this difficult, painful, frightening time as warm and loving as I can. I work to soften the sameness and sadness.
Normally, I love a cooking challenge, reading endless articles on how to master a complicated piece of cooking. But lately, I haven’t been reaching for David Chang or Yotam Ottolenghi, but for my homemade cookbooks given to me at my bridal shower. While I love the challenge of conquering a new recipe, this Shabbat I just want to eat anything that makes the people I love feel closer.
My Mom’s oven-fried chicken is an old school recipe, drumsticks dipped in cornflakes would never be considered haute cuisine, but it is my favorite dish in the world. As a child, I asked for it every birthday, and my mom still cooks it for me. It is rich, juicy, crunchy, salty, and deeply satisfying to cook and eat. That first bite always takes me back home. It makes everyone feel closer.
The best part is the hush that comes over my loud and boisterous house when there is really good food on Shabbat. A few moments of total silence as I watch my family enjoy. Even my toddler so singularly focused on eating that she is quiet, save for the occasionally whispered yum yum yum. Who could want to go anywhere when there is good food and your family is safe and happy and smiling?
Shabbat Shalom. Stay home. Stay safe.
When we are all together again, I’ll be so happy to cook for you.
My Mom’s Crispy Oven Fried Chicken
Forgive me Mom, I deviated a little. My mother prefers to buy cornflake crumbs, I prefer to grind them myself, a little thicker and chunkier. The spices in mine are more aggressive. If you don’t have kids, feel free to add cayenne or smoked paprika. This recipe is infinitely adaptable. Serve it like my Mom did, with mashed potatoes and a green salad, or serve it with coleslaw and biscuits, or throw it on top of a waffle with maple syrup and hot sauce - I have done this to rave reviews. Whatever the occasion, whatever sides you choose, this chicken feels like a Mom dish in the best way.
3 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks or whole cut-up chicken if your family enjoys white meat
One box cornflakes
4 tablespoons garlic powder
4 tablespoons onion powder
Salt to taste
2 or 3 Eggs
Olive oil for the sheet pan.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, (my mom would argue 350, but I think 400 makes it crunchier). Grind cornflakes in a Cuisinart for about 30 seconds. You want a mix of very fine dust and also chunkier bites that will provide extra crunch.
Take a sheet pan and pour a thick layer of olive oil over it. Crack the eggs and whisk just a moment or two to combine. Add two tablespoons of seasoning to the cornflakes, and a tablespoon each to the chicken and the eggs. Dip your seasoned chicken in eggs, dredge in seasoned cornflakes, and with your fingers, press the cornflakes onto the chicken.
Lay the chicken onto the sheet pan. My Mom says to let it “sit a little.” She’s right. Let the seasoning and crumbs just hang out on top of the stove for about 20 minutes. Some prefer to oven fry on a wire rack, but honestly, I love the oily, crunchy bottom of cooking it directly in oil.
Place chicken on the center rack and cook for about 45 minutes. You’ll know it’s almost done when the whole house smells like chicken. Flip the largest piece and check the center to ensure it’s done.
This chicken is beautiful, crunchy, and juicy. Reheat at 350 on an oven pan and it makes lovely leftovers. Don’t microwave - show my Mom some respect!