By now most of you are probably getting the feeling that I am Irish, of Irish descent, like green, like beer, may have a belly, enjoy Riverdance, Michael Flatley, and Notre Dame football. If you guessed any or all of those traits, you are correct (sorry no prize give aways at this time…)! Tis true that I grew up in a traditional Irish-American Catholic family that was probably closer to the Rudy story line than Angela’s Ashes (and certainly more than My Left Foot and Waking Ned Devine!).
I loved being Catholic, I really did. No, I didn’t enjoy going to Mass every Sunday as a kid, but my folks taught me that not only was there a God but he was up there and forgiveness was yours through grace and sometimes if you listened to the Parish Priest and local Convent of nuns. I would say that we were “fairly” strict Catholics in that we NEVER missed church, my sister and I were involved in drama, choir, athletics, spelling bees and the sort in our Catholic school, and were definitely taught to be reverent. Kneel. Sit. Stand. Repeat.
One thing I don’t remember all that well is the whole “don’t eat fish on Friday” thing. Certainly, during Lent, we gave up something. I usually picked something very serious like “being nice to my sister” or…ok…I don’t remember being that strict but I do remember my mom trying her best, probably more to please my Dad’s ultra-Catholic ways, than her own chastity, to serve fish on Fridays, at least during Lent. As I got older, and although I started going to more of a Protestant-type church, the reverence for ancient religion, the tradition, the respect, and the connection to it, always seemed to stay with me. While others around me were doing their best to “bash” and otherwise undermine the Catholic church, I was a fervent, non-practicing defender. You see, one of the most important things I took away from that upbringing, in addition to basic Faith in God, was tradition. I love it, I think it is important, and I think we Americans do a $%*&#* job of remembering to honor certain traditions, religious, secular, and everything in between.
One such tradition that was NOT a part of my upbringing that was introduced to our family through my sister, was challah. My sister is a part of a fabulous organization called Gateways Beyond, and you probably remember that my oldest son and I were recently visiting her along with my mom on the ancient island of Cyprus. The group that she has been both a student and a leader is Christian, but observes all of the Jewish (Old Testament) traditions, holidays, and customs. Without going into great detail, they have chosen to bring the Old Testament into their “New” Testament beliefs, unlike so many of the Western Christian expressions. One of the coolest, and most meaningful traditions I have been fortunate to be a part of is Shabbat.
Shabbat, in this Irish Catholic’s translation, is essentially the pre-Sabbath dinner. Since the Sabbath is on Saturdays in the Jewish faith, and since they observe the Sabbath as close to the way Moses brought it down from the mountain, the Shabbat is designed to “party with your family,” pray for them, honor them, include friends, and of course…have one last round with yeast before the fast.
Challah is the bread that is served at EVERY Shabbat throughout the Jewish community. It is that twisty, braided bread you may have seen in the grocery store, or maybe better at a local bakery near a Jewish neighborhood. Sometimes served plain, other times with poppy or sesame seeds, this beautiful, eggy bread is both appetizer, main course, and dessert. The rich, feathery, strands of baked dough, after pulling it off the braid, is both fun to eat, and probably the most delicious, “regular” bread around. Since I am not Jewish, I won’t go into all the deets, but during Shabbat, the dad/husband takes the lead in prayers, turns it over to mom/daughters, whose heads are covered and prayers are said, songs are song, and the feast is on!
I am including Challah in the 101 Recipes Every Good Boy Should Know schtick because, well, frankly, I think it is important. I am not saying you have to do all the prayers or even celebrate Shabbat the way the Jews do, but I will say this, you will not only love the bread that night, have a cool story to tell, but also, if there is any left, the absolute BEST FRENCH TOAST EVER!