Minnesota Mamaleh: Yin Yang

What? You *don't* let your children sit ON the counter while cooking?!

If there’s one thing that we Jews have down, it’s the food bit. You can always count on something, and most often many things, to nibble on at our holidays. Every. Single. One.

So while my kitchen is in a constant state of dissaray and all of our waistlines are ahem challenged at times, our connection to our Judaism is strong– our noses and tummys will always lead us back for more.

More latkes. More matzoh balls. More challah. More Jewish-ness.

And while I would never claim to be anything but a recipe-following-kind of girl, cooking for the holidays? That I can do. And almost always, I can count on just a little bit of “help” from my children.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you, I do get frustrated and impatient at times. Who wouldn’t with so many little hands helping, tasting and mess making. One of my favorite Israeli food bloggers called cooking with children an un-holy flour-y mess. Indeed. Another favorite and wise Mama noticed how egg-shell-full egg-cracking can really be. Indeed, yet again.

So why do *you* think that the words "unholy mess" are followed by pictures of Chloe?

The chaos. The imperfect product. The tasting, so very much tasting, along the way. It’s not flawless or smooth. Easy or linear. It’s messy. And loud. And you get what you get and you try oh-so-very-hard to not get upset.

The tasting

Because as Jason and I constantly look for ways to connect with our children Jewish-ly, for better or for worse, we often find ourselves in the kitchen. And that fun and frustrating, gratifying and helter-skelter mess that we make defines so very much of our Judaism. It’s a picture perfect example of yin yang. Complementary opposites within a greater whole. That’s us. In the kitchen. With our children. Being Jewish.

Let’s just face it, in Judaism there’s always something baking, stewing, roasting or freezing somewhere. So the opportunity to connect and to learn through scrumptious food arises often. And every one of those wonderful foods? They come with a shared memory, a story and an explanation of why we do what we do, bake what we bake and eat what we eat. The symbolism is deep and rich. And  is generally easy to explain and to teach.

Oh so very much tasting

Our kids see with their own eyes the triangular hamantashen cookies at Purim. They feel with their own fingers the apples grated for charoset at Passover. They smell with their own noses the fall-ish aroma of honey cake baking at Rosh HaShannah. They hear with their own ears the latkes sizzling in the pan at Chanukah. And they taste with their own watering mouths…well, pretty much everything. Cooking for holidays screams authentic to me. And fun. And yummy. And the total yin to every single yang.

In the past two weeks not one but two little known, but hugely thought-provoking, holidays went by. Tisha B’Av is a reflective holiday that commemorates many tragedies of the Jewish people. Tu B’Av is a romantic holiday that used to serve as a matchmaking day for unmarried women.

One focuses on sadness and the other on joy. Parting and joining. Fasting and dancing. The Jewish people as a whole and couples as a unit.

It strikes me that they too exhibit the yin yang that are part of most aspects of life. Aging. Motherhood. Children growing up. That chocolate cake that’s in the fridge rightnow! No matter which part of our journey we’re on, it comes with it’s own set of complimentary opposites. Contrary. Different. Dual. Necessary. Like my children. Cooking.

My Judaism comes with it’s own yin yang. The sheer amount of special days on my calendar is a total dream for the teacher, shmaltzy part of me and a complete nightmare for that other part of me. The one that likes, you know, order. And down time.

But the part that balances the hectic-ness out? The yang, I guess? That’s powerful too. Or I wouldn’t be here, right? Our holiday celebrations hold a part of my soul within each food prepared, song sang and tradition tradition-ed. I’ve made, and eaten, these foods for as long as I can remember. There’s warmth, comfort and familiarity embedded within this calendar-ruling routine that’s hard to find just about anywhere else.

Challah braiding

Challah Drama

The good stuff

So when Tisha B’Av passed closely followed by Tu B’Av, we didn’t do the same things as you might have. No fasting or dancing in white dresses for this family. Although come to think of it, that dancing part? My kids would have been all over that. We also didn’t make any special foods this year. I couldn’t quite think of what to make, bake, smoosh and goosh. But we did turn to an old stand-by. Dips. Because didn’t you know? Absolutely everything (and I do mean everything) can be dipped in ranch dressing. Or catsup. I know, shudder.

In this case, happy kids, happy life.

But this time we had a goal with our dipping. Different from say, getting vegetables into our children’s mouths. We were aiming for yin yang. Equally yummy and important. But different. So no worries, there wasn’t any ranch or catsup in sight. Instead we had chocolate and hummus. I told you it was yummy. And important. And as for what was actually dipped? Besides fingers when it came to the chocolate, that is? Challah of course!

Our mini-talk about the days of communal sadness and love, about the good and the bad, the sweet and the salty were perfectly accompanied by the dip-dips.

So now you know what was discussed at our dinner table during Shabbat last week. And you also know, full-disclosure style, that we welcome our children into the kitchen whenever possible. So if you’re coming over for dinner anytime soon (yes you) don’t flinch if you stumble upon an egg shell. And don’t  judge if something tastes too sweet, too salty or too ahem lumpy. Just think of it as yin yang and you’ll be fine. Just fine! Maybe, just maybe we’ll even have dip-dips for you to try out.


About Galit Breen

Galit Breen was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. She has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. Her book, Kindness Wins, is a simple no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. You can learn more about Galit by visiting TheseLittleWaves.com.

Comments. Add Yours!


  1. I just LOVE the way you talk about all these different foods—many of which hold childhood memories for me….So much activity was going on in our Kitchen. Both my mother anbd my grandmother were these WONDERFUL cooks, and everything was made “from scratch”….I love that you share all these Holidays with your children and are teaching them the true warmth of a Kitchen…..
    Great Post, my dear.

  2. You got it right in one word. Okay, yin yang is two words, but you know what I mean. When I think I my Jewishness the first thing that comes to mind is the food (duh). And my best memories of my mom is patchkenen in the kitchen with her. It looks like you’re on the way to creating some great memories yourself!

  3. Oh yeah, and thanks for the links to my blog, and for giving me something to think about, yin yang, hmmmm, watch this space…

  4. Your post reminds me of an email i once got summing up most Jewish holiday. The wanted to kill us, we won, Let’s eat.

  5. Rich and tasty post. It’s amazing how gig a part of life food is. There’s a book called Eating ad Tikkun. The thesis is that the first big mistake that humans made was with food, so it makes sense that the rectification comes through food.

    I think you capture this – the idea that food (preparing and eating) is life in these words, which could be broken and edited into a poem: “It’s not flawless or smooth. Easy or linear. It’s messy. And loud. And you get what you get and you try oh-so-very-hard to not get upset.”

  6. Galit,
    I especially love the part about the ranch dressing, having seen that in action firsthand!

    I would love to learn how to make some of these Jewish holiday foods, or at least taste them sometime.

  7. Yet another beautiful post!

    Like Miriyummy, my favorite memories from growing up involve working in the kitchen next to my grandmother a”h and my mother, and I hope and pray that my children will look back on the time we spend together in the kitchen with the same fondness.

    Thanks for the link, and have a wonderful week!

  8. Some of my fondest memories have occurred in the kitchen and at the dining room table. I hope that’s the case for my children as well.
    Such a simple pleasure and, yet, most rewarding. Yes?

  9. Great photos of your kids cooking with you. You are giving them moments they will remember fondly; this is wonderful.

  10. naomi, hi! thanks so much lady! i really (really!) love the words that you used “the true warmth of a kitchen.” they’re perfect and, for sure, the goal!

    mirj, hi! i’m watching, i’m watching. i can’t wait to see what you come up with! if it has anything at all to do with patchkenen or your recipes, then i’m in– whatever it might be! 🙂

    susie, hello! so, so very perfect! love that!

    neil, hello! that book sounds absolutely fascinating & such a perfect fit! and, can i just say, that i’m honored to see my words in one of your poems!

    lisa, hi there! thanks for vouching for the love-of-ranch. it’s really…something, isn’t it?! and as for the making and/or tasting (lol!) of the foods– anytime, friend! anytime! 🙂

    mrs. s, hi! thanks for the visit and the note! it’s amazing to me how we all hope that our kids will cherish these memories as much as we do! humbling, actually. and you’re so welcome for the link. must. make. surprise. cookies! 🙂

    christine, indeed lady. indeed. sometimes those two (simple and rewarding) go together hand-in-hand much more than we give them credit for! i’ve been keeping up with your new digs! exciting!!

    ilana-davita, hi! i’m thinking that’s the highest of compliments from you oh cooking & photo guru! 🙂 thanks so, so much!

  11. http://www.amazon.com/Never-Eat-Your-Heart-Out/dp/0865475180/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1280981433&sr=8-1

    The above is the amazon page for that book. The poem is yours! It’s all your words (unless you’re refer to another one where I used your words that I’m not aware of).

  12. thanks so much for the book recommendation and link, neil! and, totally, we’re on the same page– my words, reframed as a poem, ala you! 🙂

  13. “Yummy mummy” — best term for you, Galit.

    Yes, food is a definite link throughout our history as Jews. And it always should be entwined with humor and homeyness. You’ve got it all in your kitchen!

  14. pearl, you’re back!! hooray! excellent to hear from you and i think i like the sound of yummy mummy– thanks lady!! 🙂

  15. So true about our food and tummies.

  16. indeed! thanks so much for the visit! so fun to hear from you! 🙂