I am not a baker. The world of yeasts and doughs, of icing, flour and exact measurements eludes me. Hand me some garlic and kale, and I’ll make you discover a love you never knew you had for green vegetables. But baking is a different art altogether.
Recently, though, I decided to start baking challah. Challah is the traditional braided bread eaten on Friday evening, when the Jewish day of rest (Shabbos) begins. It is beautiful, delicious, and the best ingredient for French toast that I’ve ever met.
I’ve been observing Shabbos more and more as I get older. The ritual has allowed me to hit the pause button on my life and take a moment without professional commitments, e-mail, or the regular stress of daily living. (I’ve even located the off button for my cell phone! That will be fodder for a different blog.)
So, fresh-baked challah seemed like a great ritual to add to my newly liberated Friday, especially after a friend told me how easy it was to make.
My friend lied.
Baking is hard!
The first week, something happened to make the bread blow up like a balloon, taking on a size twice as large as any respectable challah I’d ever seen before. It completely lost its braided shape. (It still tasted delicious, which was a satisfying consolation.)
I let a bit of time go by, and the next time I tried it, I made sure not to let the yeast bubble for too long. This time, the challah held its shape, but the taste and texture were off. I think it’s because I added too much flour after it had risen.
As I write, the aroma of freshly baked bread permeates the house. This is my third try, and this time, I worked on getting the flour-to-liquid ratio right from the get-go. The dough still doesn’t resemble that of the YouTube bakers teaching me how to make a six-strand loaf. I’m pretty sure I need to research kneading. That will be next week’s trial.
As I continue on my challah-baking Shabbos journey, I inevitably start thinking about interpreting. (No matter how many off switches and pauses I take, my nerdiness remains my inexorable companion.) This is how interpreting is done, I thought! Here I am, trying to bake the same exact thing, week after week. First, I tweak the yeast, then the dough, then the kneading. I will continue to try until I get it right. And not by baking pie, or cupcakes, or lemon meringue! By baking challah. Over and over again.
That’s how interpreting must be studied. It is an art, an art that with time and discipline can improve with age. But repetition is key. You’ll get better by doing the same exercise, first improving your vocabulary, then your grammar and your syntax, then your listening ability, your visualization, your multi-tasking, your notetaking. Approach the same exercise each time from a different angle.
The key is, don’t switch exercises every five seconds. Perfect one exercise first, then move onto the next one. You won’t become a better interpreter/metaphorical baker by practicing with apple tarts one second and blueberry crumble the next.
The moral of the story? Practice interpretation with care and precision, just like baking bread. Once you’re done, reward yourself with a treat. Maybe some Challah Bread French toast. Shabbat shalom!