An atypical memoir about how one woman learned spiritual lessons through baking bread.
Nearly every Friday for the past decade, debut author Ricanati, a Los Angeles–area doctor specializing in women’s health, has baked challah bread. When she started, she was stressed and overworked, and she discovered that this baking process both rooted her in her Jewish faith and encouraged her to slow down and focus on the depth of her experience: “I could reconnect with myself and with other women,” she writes. “I could find some happiness in this mixed-up, fast-paced world. I could, in other words, be present.” In a sort of whistle-stop tour through her past, she convincingly argues that, for her, “Food is medicine.” Whether she was writing a cookbook for the blind, creating a guide to eating disorders for a local hospital, or taking a cooking class during a lonely summer in Paris, she says that she was always acting on her belief that healthy comfort food was a way to care for herself and others. What’s more, challah “is the ultimate soul food for me,” she writes, as it forms an essential part of the Sabbath ritual. The 11 steps of making challah, as she lays them out here, effectively function as a metaphorical course in professional and spiritual discipline. Ricanati draws intriguing symbolic connections between the bread-baking process, her faith in God, and her busy life as a physician. In both baking and medicine, she notes, “mise en place” (putting everything in its place) is essential, as being organized defuses anxiety. The magical moment when the yeast comes to life, she says, brings to mind the first birth she observed. Waiting for the dough to rise, she writes, teaches her that God is in control; judging how much flour to add encourages flexibility; knowing when the bread is done requires patience. The book is impressively thorough, giving advice on every baking element from oil (canola) to flour (King Arthur brand, all-purpose), and she offers informative sidebars on sugar and the gluten-free craze.
“I knead for my needs,” the author insists—and readers are likely to join her.