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It’s OK to need your mom ( and her lemon squares)

#tweetyourshabbat is a global movement founded by Carly Pildis, celebrating the struggle and joy of getting Shabbat on the table every week. This is a place for real dinners and real conversations about Jewish life. Join us at Forward in sharing what you’ll be eating and how your feeling this week at #TweetYourShabbat

After seven long months with no childcare, I finally moved back in with my parents for a little while. Families across America are loading up the kids in the car and moving in with Bubbie and Zayde (after a negative COVID-19 test and proper quarantine of course!).

Like millions of Americans, I was suffering from surge depletion. I was starting to fall apart. After months of weathering crisis, making due, and drinking iced coffee by the gallon, I had no adrenaline left. I had no energy, no spark, no joy. My husband had been declared an essential worker from the start, and I couldn’t continue working multiple jobs while home with an energetic three-year-old. I simply couldn’t rally anymore.

I stopped sleeping. I could never quite catch my breath. I started snapping at my family, screaming at them for no good reason. I began having panic attacks and nightmares. I felt sick every day. I have always been fiercely independent, and I don’t like asking for help, but I am so grateful I did. These are difficult times and you should ask for help too. You should accept it faster than I did.

I am starting to feel like myself again, and I am really lucky. It has restored my sanity, my sleep and I feel calmer than I have in months. I am tremendously grateful. My young daughter is blissfully entertained, riding bikes and gardening and loving the full-time attention of two grownups. I can get through a meeting without anyone jumping on me or demanding a nectarine.

I am extremely lucky to have parents that are willing and able to help out. During a Zoom meeting my Dad handed me a note reading: Please select tuna melt or salad for lunch. I nearly cried with joy, I felt such overwhelming relief to be taken care of and given a chance to focus on work. He even gave me his office, with a real desk, a leather chair and an antique crystal ashtray that makes me laugh.

It’s a relief to have a break from cooking non-stop, there were days during quarantine I felt like a short-order cook. Macaroni now! Fried rice with curry on the double! Where is the peanut butter! Treats for Table 4! Non-stop company in the kitchen, especially the kind that spills flour everywhere or has to be reminded not to grab a hot pot, quickly wore on my patience. Walking off a conference call and finding salmon and salad waiting for me on the patio feels like heaven on earth.

But I have lost the kitchen. Back home, the kitchen is my domain. In my house, I am the queen and overlord of the kitchen. I am the head chef, I make the rules and feed the troops. I drink wine and test recipes. I chat with friends while I sweep the floor and do the dishes. The kitchen is where I live. It’s a happy place and it feels like my place.

Except I am not in my house —- and this is not my kitchen.

My Mom is now in charge. I have been downgraded to sous chef. My mother’s kitchen is beautiful, extremely clean, and organized, with a lovely view of the garden and a huge center island. It’s a joy to cook here. Still, it isn’t mine— I am a guest there.

Like all mothers and daughters, we have our disagreements (sliced bread DOES belong in the fridge Mom, it stays FRESHER), but I must graciously defer to the chef of the house. Shabbat dinner is now my Mom’s territory. This is a bit of a problem when I write about Shabbat, because I won’t be cooking it.

I miss being the cook of the house, but I am grateful for the rest. We should ask for help and give help freely, especially as we turn the corner into the High Holiday season and ask ourselves how we can be better. Sometimes admitting we can’t do it by ourselves is the way towards teshuvah.

Mom is an excellent cook. The kind of cook whose meals make memories. My childhood friends still reach out asking about how to make her brisket, her chicken with figs, her apple cake, and most of all her lemon squares. Tart and sweet, bright and sugary, they are irresistibly cheerful. A good lemon square should not just taste of sugar but of fresh lemon juice.

Today, my Mom will teach my daughter and me how to make her amazing Lemon Squares. Three generations of women will gather together to cook Shabbat together in her kitchen. My mother will measure and my daughter will dump and whisk and beg to taste every ingredient. There will be flour on the floor and lemon rinds everywhere, but we won’t care. We will be together, safe for now from the world raging outside, focused solely on Friday night and on each other. Shabbat will come and I will rest.

How was your week? How are you spending Shabbat? Let us know at #tweetyourshabbat! Everyone is welcome at this table! Come hungry.

Rabbi Ellen Pildis’s Shabbat Lemon Squares

This is one of my mother’s best Shabbat recipes. It has been eaten by generations of happy children and Shabbat guests. It is tart and sweet and bright and beautiful. It has been adapted from” Soup to Nosh, the Solomon Schechter Day School cookbook — a beloved text in her kitchen that is well stained like all the best cookbooks are. This recipe comes together quickly and with minimal mess unless you let your preschooler help.

1 cup pareve margarine
½ cup confectioners sugar plus more for dusting
2 cups flour and 6 additional Tablespoons flour to be used in the filling
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
Rind and juice of 2 lemons (3 if your lemons are smaller)

In an electric mixer, cream the margarine and ½ cup of powdered sugar. Add 2 cups of flour. Spread evenly into a greased 9 x 12 baking pan. This is a good job for little fingers. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove and let cool completely— this is a good time to do a different Shabbat task, or clean the floor if you have little helpers.

Whisk 4 eggs with 2 cups of regular sugar and 6 tablespoons of flour. Once completely integrated add lemon juice and rind. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 – 40 minutes until the bars are set. Cool completely. Cut into squares and sprinkle with powder sugar.

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