(Photo/Wikimedia-Przemysław Wierzbowski CC BY-SA 4.0)
(Photo/Wikimedia-Przemysław Wierzbowski CC BY-SA 4.0)

My favorite family dishes are an anchor in turbulent times

Cooking for my family has become one of the joys in my life. Being able to express my love for them in this way, well, for me, there’s nothing better.

Over the years, I’ve cooked countless meals. But it’s my family’s favorite dishes that I’m looking forward to making the most this fall. With so much uncertainty, it’s nice to know that some things never change.

I’ve been baking banana chocolate chip muffins for our kids for their first day of school since our oldest started kindergarten. Even though this school year will be an unusual one, I’ll still make them. The oldest is now in college — she’s headed back this fall, and I hope she’ll make it through the semester. Our son will be starting his senior year of high school, virtually, from home.

I’ll miss seeing friends in synagogue during the High Holidays and sharing this special time with our community. But I’ll still make my brisket, round challah and apple cake. At least our house will smell like Rosh Hashanah, the same as it does every year on this holiday, even though everything else will feel different. We’ll dip apples in honey, and we’ll wish each other a sweet new year. It hasn’t been an easy year, but there’s much to be grateful for.

In October, there will be pumpkin pie — a treat I bake as soon as the pumpkins start showing up in the market. We probably won’t be handing out candy on Halloween like we usually do, but we can still carve pumpkins, and my hubby can still make his famous pumpkin seeds.

I often make matzah ball soup when the weather turns rainy and cold, particularly during those long days when we’ve all been on the go too much, and everyone is feeling worn down and tired. This year, we’ll be Zooming from home more than we’ll be running around, but the soup, my grandmother’s recipe, will be a comfort nevertheless, and a break from staring at our screens all day.

My hubby and kids love my roasted chicken over baguette slices (a recipe from Melissa Clark). I bring it back into rotation once school starts because it’s an easy-to-make weeknight meal. We eat more of the bread that’s been soaked in chicken fat than we do the actual chicken, but that’s OK with me. Sitting down for family dinner is the best part of my day and feels even more meaningful now.

We’ll have latkes on Hanukkah — my hubby makes them thin and crispy, just the way we like. I’ll make homemade applesauce and matzah ball soup. We’ll get some doughnuts and light the candles. Most likely we’ll still be Zooming in December. At least there’s eight nights of the holiday, starting Dec. 10 this year, so we can virtually spend it with different family members and friends each evening.

I used to make hard-shell ground beef tacos for our daughter’s birthday because that was the dish that she liked the most. But now that she’s older, her tastes have changed, and it’s my salmon roasted with tomatoes that has become her new favorite. She’ll be home for her birthday because her school is extending winter break due to Covid, so I’ll gladly make this dish for her and we’ll get a cake from her favorite bakery. As much as we love having her home, I wish she was able to celebrate with her friends at school.

In some ways it feels trivial to write about first-day-of-school muffins and birthday celebrations when so many are suffering.

But cooking for my family helps me keep some semblance of normalcy, creates routine for our kids and gives structure to our day. It’s stability in a time when so much feels unstable.

Plus, it feels important right now to do the things that make us feel good. I’ve written about it before — the kitchen is my constant, especially during unsettling times. This is true for me now more than ever.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.