This recipe and story first appeared in the May 6, 2013 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine. (On newsstands now!)
Within a few weeks of bringing our infant son home for the first time, I realized that his chinuch had already started. During the months that I was expecting (and even before that), my husband and I had discussed the hashkafot we wanted to instill in our kids one day. But the little things I caught us doing weren’t the product of a serious conversation. They just happened.
I found myself singing Lecha Dodi with the baby on Friday nights when my husband was at shul, and Yedid Nefesh late on Shabbos afternoons. During the week, I sing silly songs, things I make up on the spot. But come Friday night, it just has to be Lecha Dodi.
I found my husband telling the baby about the parsha, once even engaging in an extended explanation of a Rashi. When he cuts the baby’s nails, he does them out of order (as the Shulchan Aruch instructs). And whichever one of us puts the baby to sleep for the night will make sure to say Shema at his crib.
Is there a point to all this? Way before the age of chinuch, long before an age at which he can truly understand or remember anything, why bother? Why not just let babies be babies, and start chinuch in earnest at a more logical point?
But even as I ask these questions, I have my answer: It does matter, even at the youngest ages. Passing on the mesorah can’t only be for the big kids. Babies need mesorah, too. And for our own sake, we need to transmit it to them.
When a twosome becomes a threesome, there’s a learning curve, not just in how to handle the physical care of a tiny, helpless being, but also in how to bring him into the fold of the family and into the established routines that make it yours. And oh, we’ve been learning.
We’re learning how to have a Shabbos seuda with a baby, and how to balance the baby’s needs with hosting guests. We learned how to make Pesach with a baby, and I learned how to participate in the Seder with a fussy baby in my arms. We’re learning how to attend the bris of a friend’s child with our own baby in tow, how to go on Chol HaMoed trips with a stroller, a car seat, and a jam-packed diaper bag (and no car), and how to cook for neighbors who have babies younger than ours.
Involving our son in the things we do in the course of a week has helped nurture the warm and fuzzy feelings of becoming a family. Instead of us doing our thing and him just doing his baby thing, we’re all in it together — whether that means weekday, Shabbos, or yom tov. Experiencing things along with him as he sees them for the first time is also just plain fun. Is there anything cuter than watching your three-month-old lean towards the besamim as you hold them up to his tiny nose? Who knew havdala could be so great?
But it’s not just for the fun, and it’s not even just about feeling like a family. It really is about the chinuch.
Though it may seem silly to discuss the parsha with an infant, I believe that it lays the foundation for discussing the parsha with a toddler, then with an elementary school student, and then with a bar mitzvah boy. And while you could argue that a baby doesn’t know the difference between Lecha Dodi and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, I think that lays a foundation, too – hopefully, a foundation for enjoying davening and for going to minyan with his Abba.
This Shavuos, our son won’t be in shul with my husband (we hope he’ll be sleeping). But we’ll sing to him about Matan Torah, I’ll show him the alfredo I’m making for yom tov, and in a few short years, he’ll be able to participate more actively. You have to start somewhere.
If your kids are old enough for yom tov treats, I highly recommend offering them cheese twists along with the more serious bits of mesorah. Puff pastry paired with cheese is a natural for the kids, and even better, they’re super adaptable — experiment with any shredded cheese and seasoning, and see which combinations your family likes best. Cheese twists can be served as an accompaniment to a milchig soup or as a salad topper, or you can just let the kids snack on them all afternoon.
And if your kids aren’t eating solids yet? Go ahead. You can eat their portions.
One year ago: eggplant parmesan stacks
Yield: 20 cheese twists
- 1 sheet puff pastry dough
- ½ cup shredded cheese, any kind
- Garlic and herb seasoning blend
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
1. Defrost puff pastry in the refrigerator overnight, or on the counter until soft enough to roll out. Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Unroll the puff pastry and cut off a 5″-long strip. Lay the puff pastry out on your work surface. Place the cheese on your work surface, too, and shape it into a rectangle the same size as the piece of puff pastry. Place the puff pastry on top of the cheese. With an unfloured rolling pin, roll the puff pastry directly on top of the cheese until the puff pastry has doubled in length, pressing the cheese into the pastry dough as you go. (That’s really not as hard as spelling it out makes it seem.)
3. Sprinkle the top of the dough with garlic and herb seasoning blend, paprika, and salt to taste. Use the rolling pin to press them into the dough.
4. With a pizza wheel, slice the dough into 20 strips. Thin strips will produce crunchy cheese twists; thick ones will produce soft twists. Carefully lift each strip. Holding one end with each hand, gently twist each end in opposite directions simultaneously.
5. Place the twists on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, flip them over with a spatula, and bake for another 15 minutes. For best results, serve the same day.