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Thursday, 4 August 2022
Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone is this week’s Poetry Friday host.

Want to learn more about Poetry Friday? Renee LaTulippe explains it all for you at No Water River.

Hi, Poetry Friday friends. My website has been down or wonky for several months. (Was anyone else affected by the Go Daddy hack?) I’m back to blogging at last, though—sadly—some of  my posts from this spring were lost and can’t be recovered.

Did you develop any habits or family traditions during the pandemic that have stuck with you? We played a lot of cards during lockdown. (Casino is our favorite game. It’s easy to learn. Here are the rules.) But my son has moved back out and it feels like everyone is back to being busy.

Except on Fridays. At the beginning of the pandemic, my family and I started celebrating Shabbat—the Jewish Sabbath—on a regular basis. When the pandemic days blended together, celebrating Shabbat every Friday gave shape to our weeks. It’s a tradition we have kept. Most weeks, I bake challah. We light candles and say the traditional prayers over them, the wine, and the bread, before our meal.

I’m a decent baker and have tried a few adventurous recipes…hello, Paul Hollywood’s holiday couronne. But my favorite thing to make is a simple loaf of bread. There is something meditative about kneading dough, a reminder to shift gears and begin slowing down from the work week.

My attempt at Paul Hollywood’s Christmas couronne. I even made the marzipan filling!

Since this week, August 2, was International Jewish Day, here is my challah poem, originally published by The Poet’s Billow. This was written during out 2017 February poetry challenge. The theme that year was “10 Little Words from the News.” Participants chose current events articles, then selected ten words to shape the daily poems.

In this poem, the 10 found words are:

rant
ignore
directly
answering
simple
volume
impossible
impact
respond
communicate

If you’re curious about the source article (“Here’s why you should email, not call, your legislators” from the New York Times), you can find it here.

Baking Challah

I fill our biggest pasta bowl
to full volume — flour, eggs,
oil, and yeast –
ignore the wooden spoon
mix directly with my fingers.
The dough and I communicate.
I ask it to wake up, come alive
as I knead. It answers
with a measure of resistance.
I ignore it for home hours,
let it rest, and it responds
by growing – the impossible magic
of living yeast. A second knead,
a time to rant, to release
the week’s wrongs, to remember
the impact of this simple tradition,
survivor of every tyrant
who’s ever tried to starve us.

Bonus material: I had a really interesting conversation about kid book blogger E Train Talks about the importance of writing and reading Jewish characters. It’s part of a series of interviews E. did about the anthology COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES. Stop by and give a listen! (Mine is the last interview.)

16 responses to “Poetry Friday: Baking Challah”

  1. I had a son living with us during the pandemic too, and I made sourdough — something I’m delighted to have taken with me out of the pandemic. I am mesmerized by “the impossible magic of living yeast” – a beautiful description. Thank you, Laura!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Hi, Patricia. Yes, I’m still making sourdough too, though not as often, and still writing bread baking poems.

  2. Tabatha says:

    You’re so talented! Look at that couronne! “Baking Challah” is wonderful.

  3. Laura, your Couronne and challah are magnificent. I bake too and have made challah from an old recipe I found in one of my Moosewood books. You poem with it’s ten little words captures why people bake when we don’t have to. It’s about more than bread.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Janice. Lately I’ve been making vegan challah, which is a little less cake-like than the traditional eggy loaf. It’s definitely about more than bread.

  4. Shari says:

    I love your poem! And I love that it’s a found-word poem. Fun!

    Keeping sabbath can be such a wonderful and meaningful way to shape our weeks. My husband and I are Christian, but for a time, we chose Friday eve to Saturday eve as our sabbath, because as a minister, the traditional Sunday sabbath was always a “work day.” We lost that practise somewhere along the way, during the crisis time in our family. Reading your post today reminded me of the peace of our “Jewish sabbath” — I need to return to it.

    Thanks for your post, Laura, and your poem.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Shari. I’m so glad to see you here. It’s the peacefulness, no matter how you celebrate Shabbat/sabbath, that is such a gift to us.

  5. That’s so cool that you’ve kept this tradition. A silver lining from difficult years! Dough and I are never on speaking terms, as I don’t like to bake or cook, but your poem almost made me wish I did. And then your last line–wow. Extremely powerful.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Yes, it it one of the positives I can take from this time. I’m so glad you enjoyed the poem, Laura.

  6. Denise Krebs says:

    Celebrating Shabbat must be a meaningful family practice.

    Wow, Laura, that ending in your baking challah poem is so powerful. Yes, survivors of all the tyrants. Peace! I hope there is no more trouble with GoDaddy!

  7. Molly Hogan says:

    I always feel odd when I catch myself saying, “That was a positive from Covid.” Yet, there were some significant ones in my family. I love the picture you paint of almost meditating with the dough at the end of the week, preparing yourself to transition as you prepare the dough to rise. Like Patricia, I was struck by the phrase “the impossible magic of living yeast”. Thanks so much for sharing this lovely poem and its background.

  8. Linda Mitchell says:

    Communicating with the bread–right there is the sacredness. Absolutely beautiful. Covid did make us take stock in so many ways. And, marzipan?! Wow!

  9. Mary Lee says:

    I loved your 2017 challenge and your challah poem. I’m hoping that my current gluten free status will be resolved and I can get back to baking bread. I love the communication with the dough that you describe!

  10. Laura, your handling of the 10 words is masterful, and your last two lines perfect. I’m glad your Shabbat tradition is holding up–is your son close enough to come home? Congrats on your couronne, and happy to have your blog back in action!

  11. Scrumptious looking Challah and breads Laura, yum!!! Love the communication between you and the challah, and it’s spicy attitude. I enjoyed the interview you had on E Train Talks, it’s fun and so informative. So now I’m wondering if a flying character will appear in one of your books… Thanks for all!

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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