Challah’s Hands

kneeding.jpgBy  Bill Ramsey

Our hands eagerly drape
a shear cotton cloth,
a delicate canopy
over an unassisted rise,
warm tent of challah.

Underneath, tepid water
raw sugar and new yeast
compose an unheralded
first hint of challah.

Our hands pour
a cup of boiling water
over melting butter,
add sea salt, oil,
honey and raw sugar,
fold in eggs and then
the enlivened yeast water,
yielding an amber blend.
We pause to breathe deep,
the scent of challah.

Our hands retrieve
a wooden spoon
and fold flour into
the liquid mixture,
adding body and texture.
As the gluten takes hold,
hands open to gather and
cradle the round of dough
and take up the push and pull,
to vent the challah.

Our hands rest patiently,
anticipating an abundance
at the far edge of waiting.
Our kneaded round
in a bowl undercover
quietly defies gravity
doubling over the rim,
ascent of challah.

Our hands knuckle-up tight,
to punch down the abundance.
Humbled and flattened
the round is weighed,
cut into three handfuls,
equal portions, each a
segment of challah.

Our hands choreograph the braid,
each portion gently rolled,
fashioning rounded strands,
laid out alongside one another,
where the trio’s weave awaits.
The braid’s grand allemande
laps over and tucks under
until its mutual embrace
runs the strands’ full measure –
woven even and eager, then
each end turns to join the other,
a woven wreath, well leavened,
advent of challah.

Our hands spread a cloth,
swaddling the wreath
as we await its final act,
the second silent ascent.
Each plump braid brushed
with a whisk of beaten egg,
sprinkled with poppy seeds.
So adorned and all ready,
it slides into the oven,
a heated encore, the final
foment of challah.

Our hands fold reverently
over a rack for cooling,
glowing gratitude, the finale,
a golden, braided wreath.
At last, manna’s new fall –
present the challah.

For decades hands,
mine, my children’s,
their children’s, have
braided and shaped,
baked and shared
wreaths of egg bread,
posting them to those afar,
placing them on the tables
of neighbors, friends, family,
colleagues and communities,
soup lines and solstice potlucks,
at menorah lightings, nativity pageants
and covenant celebrations.
Each Advent swelling the
extent of challah.

This is part of a series on cooking and discipleship. Send your recipes and stories to lydiaiwk@gmail.com.

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