| LifeTakes |

Potato Kugel Power   

I’m engrossed in the squiggles on my screen when… crash, clatter, thump. I run and halt at a kitchen disaster zone

I’m poring over the computer screen,

intent on making copy happen — it brings me an income. My sister calls me obsessed. “Money ain’t gonna buy you happiness,” she intones. I disagree. With extra cash I can pay the drum teacher, stage a sushi surprise, gift each child and grandchild on their birthday. If that’s not happiness, I don’t know what is.

Something must give to make space for all that income-making, and so be it. One of the fallouts of working 10/6 is that there’s no longer time for things like potato kugel on Friday afternoons. The kids make peace with pizza, and hubby doesn’t like kugel anyway, so it’s all good.

The problem starts when Chesky comes home from his yeshivah dorm for his orthodontist appointment every sixth Friday-Shabbos combo. He wants kugel. I want happiness. Of course, I schmooze with him over farina sprinkled with sugar and cocoa, but then I’m off to my home office and he, to shul. Or so I think.

I’m engrossed in the squiggles on my screen when… crash, clatter, thump. I run and halt at a kitchen disaster zone. Gray mush clinging to cabinets, peels flecking the shined floor, more towering on the just-a-few-minutes-ago gleaming countertop. In the middle of it all, a menacing machine, and a white-shirted visionary with a sheepish grin.

“How do you work this thing?” Chesky asks.

My mouth opens, closes, opens again. “Uh, what in the world are you doing?”

“Making potato kugel.”

That doesn’t answer my question. I can see what he’s doing. I want to know why. What’s driving this serious learner to become a potato peeler? Chesky teaches me using the best Gemara logic he knows: “What’s Fridays without kugel?”

My mind is too dense with work to understand his logic. I question further.

He finally spells out the answer: “Tante Rochel makes potato kugel every week.” Rochel, my sister-in-law, graciously hosts Chesky for his in-town Shabossim.

“And if you eat kugel at Tante, why do you need to do so here?” I ask.

“It feels like home.”


I show Chesky how to clip the chute on the food processor and stand back as my version of happiness gets gobbled up in the grinder. We eat Chesky’s kugel on Friday afternoon. We eat his kugel on Friday night. We eat it again Shabbos afternoon. The kids lick their lips and even hubby applauds the sliver he dared taste. Chesky beams. It’s all good until six weeks later when the kid comes home from yeshivah to tune his braces.

Do I make kugel for him? Do I not? It’s such a chore and Premium needs their copy. But it tastes like home, and what queen of a mother am I if I don’t at least do what Tante Rochel does? If I don’t make my son what he needs to feel loved.

Six cracked eggs and many more grated potatoes later, delectable aromas emanate from the place Chesky calls home. The younger ones dig in, and Chesky scrapes out the pan. And, wonder of wonders: hubby has two slivers.

If I think I’m good for six weeks, I’m wrong. The at-home kids mastermind a big “we want kugel” protest. What choice do I have? Kugel it is, every Friday. I play around with the recipe, study how to develop a white fluff. If I’m in the kitchen already and the oven is hot, why not throw in some muffins?

By the time Chesky troops in six Fridays later, I’ve become the maroon-aproned chef. A smorgasbord of goodies covers every kitchen surface, chairs included.

Ah! The scent of baked goods. Nothing else gets hubby and the kids to gather from their far-flung places for family time on a Friday. Even the marrieds clamor for a munch. I send out a courier to all — daughters, sons, parents, and sisters who live close by. It feels good. It feels satisfying. It’s feels meaningful.

The kitchen is now my Friday domain. Clients? I take on less work. Not only doesn’t my business go under, it actually picks up. Perhaps because, dare I say it, I am happier, so I work more efficiently?

I still believe money can buy happiness (sorry, sis);  I can splurge on ingredients for milchig chocolate turtles. But there are more important things in life: contentment, satisfaction, meaning. They come from doing things that develop warm connections with others, including the self.

My youngest says it best. “Ma,” he exclaims, biting into a fresh cookie, “I like Fridays much better lately.”


“You’re not as busy.”

He’s wrong. I’m busier than ever on Fridays. But I’m more connected, and it’s making him happy.

And that’s what only a potato kugel can do.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 815)

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