After 10 good years, its time to hang up my writing apron

Ten years ago, I was a 30-something woman with three very small children — an infant, a preschooler and a first grader. My husband ran a free medical clinic in San Francisco. I worked part time teaching cooking classes.

One rainy morning, as I sat nursing my baby, Janet Silver Ghent contacted me and asked whether I would be interested in writing for the Jewish Bulletin. So I typed (with one hand) a column about my best friend Karen, also a young mother of preschoolers. Thus I became a food journalist, writing every other week about Jewish food and families.

Ten years later, the Jewish Bulletin is now j. The infant is now a fifth-grader who loves animals but doesn’t eat them. Her eighth-grade brother became a bar mitzvah last summer, juggles and plays the bass clarinet. The first grader is now a junior in high school, living and studying in Spain. The husband no longer runs a free clinic — currently he’s the assistant chief of medicine at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco.

These years have been wonderful, and I have felt very much a part of the Bay Area Jewish community, as executive chef at Camp Tawonga for a few summers, the Jewish cooking teacher at the JCCSF and several synagogues, the “Jewish food expert” on local TV shows, and a columnist for j.

Many things in the world of food have changed in 10 years. The focus today is on eating responsibly, sustainably and seasonally. In my home, we’ve gone from an omnivorous diet to vegetariaism. Some things, however, haven’t changed: Our lives are anchored by our meals, and holidays, birthdays and other lifecycle events are paired with feasts that are shared with family and friends.

But the time has come to stop writing for j. I will continue to write about Jewish food and develop recipes, and will post them on my Web site: I will also continue to teach cooking at the JCCSF and Congregation Emanu-El.

I will end my career with the same recipe I began with: Karen’s Do-It- Ahead Challah. The cornerstone of almost every Jewish holiday and festival, challah is easy to make with a mixer and always delicious.

Karen’s Do-It-Ahead Challah

Makes 2 loaves

5 cups flour

1 Tbs. salt

4 Tbs. sugar

1 Tbs. instant yeast (rapid-rise)

1⁄2 cup melted butter or vegetable oil

11⁄4 cups warm water

3 eggs

1⁄2 cup flour, as needed

1 egg, beaten

Put the flour and salt in a large bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir with a wooden spoon or use the dough hook of the electric mixer. Make a well in the center, and add the sugar and the yeast. Stir for 30 seconds. While continuing to stir or with the machine running, add the melted butter and the warm water. Add the 3 eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is incorporated before adding the next. Knead for 15 minutes by hand or 5 minutes by machine, adding up to 1⁄2 cup more flour as needed.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and allow to rise in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, the dough should be doubled in size.

Punch the dough down, and knead for 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes in the mixer.

Place the dough back in the bowl, and allow to rise for a second time, again until doubled in bulk.

Punch the dough down, and knead by hand for 8 minutes or by mixer for 3 minutes. Put the dough back in the bowl, and let rise for 20 minutes before you begin to shape it.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide in half. Then divide each piece into 3 even balls. Roll out the balls into 6 strands, each about 9 inches long. Make 2 braids and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Beat the remaining egg well. Brush the loaves with the beaten egg. Let rise for 20 minutes, then bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at She can be reached at [email protected].