It’s Friday, also known as Erev Shabbos. The whole day is spent preparing for the Shabbos Queen, for the Shabbos Rest. LeeAnn, a reader, asked me about Shabbos prep today . How do we do it? Don’t the salads wilt? What’s the system?
Like everything else, how you prepare for Shabbos largely depends on your personality and life circumstance.
Back in the day, when I was first married, I had no clue how to cook, barely a clue how to shop but I did know how to host. My first challos were meteors; solid rocks packed with sugar, blackened on the bottom from an oven that malfunctioned. My first potato souflee was raw and doughy and was poked at politely by many forks. But my first Shabbos table, where I served all that, it was full of guests.
It really was a monumental task. After that first week, and staying up all Thursday night till the sun rose to clean up, I started to realize that I couldn’t just wing it – I had to learn how to do it. So despite my employee’s snickers when I told them that I needed to be paid on Tuesday so that I could shop for Shabbos, I began to do my Shabbos preps midweek.
I would shop on Tuesday and cook on Wednesday and Thursday.
My husband and I had a goal. Our goal was that our Erev Shabbos would be serene. That all work would be done by Thursday night, right down to the napkins on the table. On Friday, when other families were rushing around, we would be reading stories to our children.
That lasted for about four years. As our family grew and our daily responsibilities grew, it became harder and harder to actualize.
Fast forward seventeen years – what does our Erev Shabbos look like now? How do we, and so many thousands of others host large meals week after week and have it all done before sundown?
The first thing you need to know is that its supernatural. Any Jewish woman will tell you this. When the sunsets at 7, you’re ready by 7. And when the sun sets at 4 in the winter, somehow you’re ready at 4 though you’d think that it was impossible.
The absolute firmness of the Shabbos deadline propels you into action in a way that nothing else can. Once the sun sets, there’s no going back. The lights stay as they are. The oven stays as is it. The phone sits in the cradle. And hopefully you, are sitting in a rocking chair, enjoying.
How does it work? It’s different for everyone. In my house, we’re in a lifespace where both of us are working and our kids are teenagers. There are no empty spaces during the day and many of kids need our attention at night. Because of this, almost all of our Shabbos prep is done on Friday afternoon.
And I love it. Friday, is a day that’s focused, exhilarating, uncomplicated, family oriented, chock full of mitzvos and bustling with action!
I never thought I’d say that. I thought either it’s perfectly serene or you are in chaos. But that’s not true. There’s a happy busy-ness that comes with working for a mitzvah that doesn’t need to be chaotic at all. But it IS busy.
The kids all know, it’s Erev Shabbos, that means they need to come and ask me “Mommy, how can I help?” Because they work so hard, I’m very careful to give them a nice lunch. [Nice lunch=something they enjoy, not something fancy. They almost always have cereal or pizza bagels.] They typically come home from school early on Friday, sit down to eat and decompress and then get to work.
We cook together in the kitchen; chicken, rice, soup, salads, kugels (Jewish casseroles) desserts, challos and dips. We also make a few potato kugels for kids and guests to eat as Shabbos comes closer and they’re hungry again.
It’s not Candyland and there is sometimes stress, but it is wonderful. We sing, we talk, we laugh. Sometimes the kids will turn on music in the background.I give a million orders and we settle in to our comfortable, though hurried pace.
At around 5:00, my husband comes home. He makes the cholent before he even sits down. The kids love when he’s in the kitchen and truthfully, everything is more chilled when he’s around. They catch him up on everything that happened and generally soak up his presence. If I need help, he helps me, otherwise he goes to sit down and learn Torah and prepare for Shabbos.
Because I cook on Friday, keeping food fresh is not an issue. I just cook it and put it in the warming drawer where it will sit until I serve it. Salads (that was what LeeAnn asked me about) I simply won’t dress until right before the meal. Also, we often make salads on Shabbos because no cooking is involved.
Last year I had an era where I really felt that things were spinning out of control. I was too last minute and the busy-ness did become chaos. and chaos brings tension which is just bad. At that point I joined the Chatzos Group. An online Group of 600 women who work on bringing more honor to Shabbos by having everything ready by mid-day. The goal there is not perfection, but to glorify Shabbos, the way the Torah describes by working towards it every day and being calm as you enter it.
I learned so much from these women.And though I don’t have that as my priority now, I’m in awe of the growth and holiness that’s brought about by this effort. I still get the Chatzos emails and I get inspiration from these women who are aiming so high.
As the day winds down and Shabbos approaches our schedule is replete with rituals. Each kid comes down freshly bathed, and dressed and they get a “Shabbos treat.”Usually some chocolate. The potato kugel come s out of the oven, and as the guests arrive, the kids offer them a piece. Then they relax on the couch, often with a Jewish book as they’re making the transition from weekday living to Shabbos living.
My girls often make welcome signs for the guests, or sometimes I do. Our walls look like a kindergarten classroom “Welcome Matt!” “We’re so glad you’re here Jen!” “Yay! Joan is here!” It’s silly, but I love it. There’s just something about knowing you were expected… We don’t always make them, but most weeks we try to.
Another special pre-Shabbos ritual are notes. Many weeks, I’ll write a note to my husband or him to me, thanking him for the week or just an I love you. I’ll sometimes also write a note to a kid who’s worked particularly hard or who needs a little encouragement or praise. I’ll slip it to them just before or after candlelighting when there’s enough tranquility in the house that they can feel the words.
It’ s a long day, and it has it’s rhythm and even though I love it, it’s just the gift wrap of an even greater gift, Shabbos.
Sometimes, on a Friday night, when we’re really tired, sitting at the table, my husband and I will turn to each other and say “A meal like this is what the rest of the world frets about all Thanksgiving season long. And us, we do it every week, no wonder we’re tired!
I’m wishing you all a wonderful Friday. And though it may be busy,may it also be filled with joy and gratitude.
We each have our personal goals and I know that we’re working very hard on them. But Shabbos brings an added dimension. May your day be filled with patience for yourself and for others.
Here are couple of recipes you may want to try.
6 large potatoes (or 8 medium)
1 large onion
2/3 cup oil
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Grind the potatoes and onions in the food processor. (We like it fully ground, but another option is to grate them)
Mix with the other ingredients
Taste for salt ( just give a little lick) Because potatoes come in so many different sizes, you may need a little more or less. The general rule is that it should be a little more on the salty side b/c the potatoes soak up the flavor.
pour into a 9×13 GREASED pan and bake for an hour or more at 400 until brown
One 16 oz can of tomato sauce
One jar or hot banana peppers with the juice
Poured over a large pan of chicken thighs
Cover tightly and bakeat 375 until soft. Yum!