Kneading Happiness

challah,Jewish bread,homemade baking,traditional Jewish bread, Jewish pastries

Photo by Andrey Yavorskiy/Shutterstock

This is the story of how a loaf of bread saved my life.

This is a story of a loaf of bread. This is a story of a doctor who makes bread–white bread at that–every week. This is a story of how this white bread potentially saved an overwhelmed mother’s life. My life.

It had been a very long time since I had been present. Between taking care of three young kids and taking care of building my clinical practice, I wouldn’t admit it at the time, but I feared that I had lost the ability to actually stop and be present. Things had spiraled so out of hand that I actually thought running in place in my bathroom late night to get those American Heart Association-recommended 10,000 steps counted for my daily exercise.


After all, I was counseling patients in my clinical practice regarding lifestyle modification, including getting enough exercise. I thought it was hypocritical to prescribe 10,000 steps a day and not aim for that myself. However, clearly “running” in place in my bathroom was not a sustainable method of exercise! Not to mention how ridiculous I looked.

Like my fabulous women patients at the Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Health Center, I juggled myriad responsibilities. Physician, mother, wife, friend, daughter. I was always over there when I should have been over here. But busy was good—or so I thought.  I had managed to act out a rather successful life, so why stop now? I believed unconsciously that I didn’t need to take care of myself to still be able to take care of others, that I was somehow immune from the diseases and sadness I saw in my patients each day. So I kept moving, dashing between patient visits and school-pickups and Target runs in our hideous utilitarian forest-green minivan that I had vowed never to purchase in the first place, just trying to hold it together. It was controlled chaos.

Then I made a two loaves of challah one Friday morning. 

Making them was transformative for me. I had to stop and just be; I couldn’t answer the beeper or fill out a school form or anything else. The challahs looked gorgeous when I took them out of the oven. I was hooked. That night, my kids and husband were amazed; only crumbs remained on the platter.

I made them again the next Friday. Now, after making over a thousand challahs, I realized that I have been on a journey that I didn’t even realize I was on at first. The journey starts and stops every Friday at my kitchen counter. With my hands steeped in the flour-covered dough, I realized just how healing this ritual was for me. The mixing and the kneading and the braiding—they were meditative; they helped me cultivate patience and a sense of presence.

It’s a messy experience, making dough. Life is messy too. That’s ok. My journey has taught me that I can muddle through this messiness of living and working and motherhood and find beauty on the other side. I can do the best that I can do each Friday, and sometimes the challah is simply gorgeous, and sometimes it’s not. I’ve learned to accept this. I’ve learned that making challah is a process.

Adapted from Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs (She Writes Press) by Beth Ricanati, MD.

BETH RICANATI, MD has built her career around bringing wellness into women’s everyday lives, especially busy moms juggling life and children. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completed her internal medicine residency at Columbia Presbyterian in NYC. She spent ten years in practice at the Columbia Presbyterian’s Women’s Health Center, the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Women’s Health, and the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. Her book, Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs was released in September. You can find her at and on Instagram @housecallsforwellness.



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