As Jews around the world herald in the Hebrew Year 5784, I am celebrating Rosh Hashanah with the release of my fourth book, Keep Calm and Bake Challah: How I Survived the Pandemic, Politics, Pratfalls, and Other of Life’s Problems.
Before you start getting out your baking pans, please be warned: This is NOT a cookbook!
In March 2020, as the reality of COVID-19 hit home, I started baking challah, the delicious, braided egg bread that is typically eaten on the Sabbath and other important Jewish holidays. More importantly, I started WRITING about baking challah. Getting inspiration from England’s World War II rallying cry, I searched the internet and found Keep Calm Maker on Zazzle, an American on-line marketplace, could create an apron with a Keep Calm and Bake Challah logo embroidered on the top half. The yellow cotton pinafore arrived in June and my wearing it while baking the loaves became as necessary to the process as kneading the flour, sugar, salt, oil, and yeast. I knew that the mantra would be the title of my book.
Over the next two and half years, I wrote about baking challah. I also wrote about adjusting to the “new normal.” Wearing masks. Zooming with family and friends. Missing in-person birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, weddings, and funerals. Following the news as the country was split apart. Emerging slowly back into life more closely resembling the pre-COVID years. Finally meeting my San Francisco grandson who was born days before California began its shelter-in-place orders. Resuming our summers at 9100 feet in Colorado. And dealing with our own COVID illnesses.
In April 2023, my editor Mia Crews and I were putting the final touches on Keep Calm and Bake Challah before publication. We were going back and forth with necessary changes to the fifty-three stories as well as the cover, which featured a picture of me wearing my apron and holding a huge, braided loaf. Finally, Mia uploaded the first draft copy of the book. That Friday afternoon, I greeted the deliveryman as he handed me the brown envelope that held my new “baby.”
“Thank you so much!” I told him. “It’s my book!”
“That’s nice,” he said, as he turned around and started heading for his truck.
“No, it’s not any book,” I said. “It’s my book! I wrote it. Do you want to see it?”
Before he could answer, I tore open the envelope and showed him the proof copy.
“That’s nice,” he said. “You wrote a cookbook.”
“No, it’s NOT a cookbook,” I said. “It’s a collection of stories about my life during the pandemic.”
As he left, however, I took a closer look at the cover. It DID look like a cookbook. That opinion was confirmed by several other people to whom I showed the proof.
Over that weekend, I agonised over my dilemma. Did I need a new cover? A new title? Or did I need to throw out hundreds of hours of writing and editing, keep the cover and title, and just write a cookbook? I seriously considered a title change—Thankful? Finding a Silver Lining?—until a conversation with five of my cousins on our weekly Tuesday Zoom call.
“Don’t change the title,” they said. “Just put a banner proclaiming, ‘No! This is NOT a cookbook!’”
I gladly followed their advice. I had been working on this book since March 2020, and I knew that the chosen title best reflected all those months of dealing with the pandemic. More importantly, I loved the title. No matter how many people passed up on my book because it looks like a cookbook, at least the title and cover would be what I dreamt it would be from the beginning of this journey.
So I proudly present Keep Calm and Bake Challah: How I Survived the Pandemic, Politics, Pratfalls, and Other of Life’s Problems. For all of you who hoped it was a cookbook, I hope you enjoy it anyway. And to make everyone happy, my challah recipe is included at the end of the book. Happy baking!