Kitchen is ideal for social experiments

by Ellie Grossman

With the kitchen table as my laboratory, I like to experiment with my husband and children. Usually the scientific study involves a new recipe that I want to try on my family before I serve anything edible to a “real” guest. No matter how many times I attempt to make marinated flank steak, the meat is never edible and is usually too tough to chew. On the other hand, whenever I get lucky and concoct something particularly tasty, such as a new twist on corn flake chicken, I can’t seem to duplicate the meal the same way again. This drives my taste testers crazy.

I have other tricks up my apron as well. My son Jack, a very picky eater, often prefers the school cafeteria food rather than my own cooking. So when I bake something like three-cheese lasagna, I tell him that I got the recipe from the Rockwood School District. That way, he at least tries the cheesy noodles before he trades in his plate for another peanut butter tortilla.

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I find that the kitchen table, which I refer to as my “altar” in a previous column, is also a great place to wet my family’s appetite for something other than tuna noodle casserole. In fact, my goal is to feed their hunger for knowledge whenever possible, or at least get my kids to think about something more significant than the computer game Backyard Baseball. I had the perfect opportunity to serve some food for thought the other day after I read about a rabbi who taught his students a valuable lesson. In the book, it explains how at the start of each new school year, the Jewish teacher asks the schoolchildren the same question, “What is the most important moment in Jewish history?” His simple answer is so intriguing to me that I couldn’t wait to share it with my family.

To reward my family in advance for their participation in my quiz, I toss another handful of seasoned croutons in the Italian salad. Anything crunchy seems to always lift everyone’s spirits. Here goes the conversation:

Me: “I have an interesting question that I want each one of you to give some thought, and then tell me your honest answer while we sit here together and enjoy this delicious mostaccioli.”

Jack: “Uh oh. Mom must be writing another story because she’s getting weird again.”

Me: “The question is: “What is the most important moment in Jewish history?”

Everyone stops chewing for awhile and digests what I just asked them. Finally, my son offers the first guess.

Jack: “The most important moment in Jewish history is when Israel became a state.”

Sari: “When the Jewish people got Shabbat.”

Scott: “When God parted the Red Sea. (Now pass the Parmesan cheese please).”

Grandma Char: “When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.”

Me: “According to the rabbi, the answer is: THIS is the most important moment in Jewish history.”

At first, there’s silence. Everyone looks confused. Then my daughter speaks up.

Sari: “I don’t get it. How can having dinner right now be the most important moment in Jewish history?

Me: “The rabbi means that being together in this moment is all that counts right now. And that whatever happened yesterday or whatever activity is scheduled for tomorrow is not important today. Because all we have is this moment.”

Sari: “What’s for dessert?”