Before Josh and I had kids, when we were in our early and mid-twenties, our Shabbat dinners were an important part of our week. The meal was always home-made (though not always made well), with friends, several of whom were regulars (you know who you are), and challah and wine, and relaxed, we've-got-no-place-to-go good cheer. We weren't shul-goers then, so we had little institutional connection that tied us to religion-at-large. But we had those dinners, which became our own kind of ritual, steeped in tradition but shaped to our own needs (which sometimes included going out late to hear jazz, leaving plates piled all over the kitchen). We had a rotating cast of singles, and even some temporary unions (alas, no lasting shiduchs; it was never our forte). It was like an episode of "Friends," with [slightly less attractive?] Jews, and traditional braided egg bread.
I'm thinking about those dinners today because we still have them. The regulars have changed: now it's our daughters who have their customary seats at the table. We still love having guests: the more the merrier. I've never been intimidated by extra seats at the table. If there's not enough food (has that ever happened?), there's always more rice or more pasta or a salad that can be fixed quickly. We clear the detritus of the week off the table, shut off devices, and say the brachot over the candles, the wine, and the challah. Then, over the meal, we catch up with each other about the week. (As Ruby likes to say, "Ok, Dad, now tell your story about work.") The cooking has certainly improved with time, and the menu has evolved. Although there are old standards that circle back often ("Shabbos chicken," a crowd pleaser, and roasted veggies). When we were in London I taught myself how to bake challah. Now I know the real way to please a crowd.
My first ever challah, 9/2009. A little funny-looking. They look better, now.
But today, for instance, I don't have time for challah baking. Not all weeks are equal in terms of time to prepare, to even think about cooking or shopping [peeps working on the SSSM auction, I know you're feeling me here]. But even on a day like today, no matter how busy any of us may be, we will gather and we will share and we will eat. The challah doesn't matter, the menu doesn't matter. Just the company and the quiet and the ritual of gathering together, at the same time, matters. And that's how easy it is to make Shabbat.
Our challah tonight, freshly smushed from Bella's backpack