I grew up in South Africa in a home without chicken soup—no Friday-night candles, no sweet challah, no memories of Shabbat dinner at all.

There was Saturday morning though, where I would nag my mother to take me to the local synagogue I must have been about 8 at the time. I remember I had one ShabbatI had one Shabbat dress, of a chiffon fabric that made me feel smart and dressed for the occasion dress, light blue, of a chiffon fabric that made me feel smart and dressed for the occasion. My older sister thought I was really strange for wanting to go; she definitely didn’t come with me. So here and there, I’m really not sure how often, I would be dropped at shul on my own. Even though I was an introverted child, I wasn’t bothered; I felt at home.

Shabbat morning at the Yeoville Shul in Johannesburg had a children’s service, where we would follow the weekly Torah portion and have to find the place when the reading stopped. Those whose fingers were spot on received a delicious, soft, caramel toffee. There were enthusiastic counselors who jumped up and down, joyously waiting to dispense their goodies. I thought they were a little silly, but I was amazed at how seriously they took their job. Something inside me resonated deeply. I remember the holiday of Sukkot and the large wooden-framed sukkah at the shul, the smell of the pine trees pungent in the early Johannesburg summer rains. Sometimes, when I close my eyes and we add pine boughs to our sukkah in Israel, I am there again, inhaling that childhood magic.

Fortunately, I was able to sustain some of these sparks of spirituality through my teenage years in a Jewish, though non-observant, environment. I started observing Shabbat the best way I could when on a three-month stay in Israel in 10th grade.

Eventually, I got married young, lived in Israel, and before I knew it was hosting guests for Friday-night dinners without knowing anything about cooking. I wanted to be religious and loved Shabbat, but hated the kitchen, and resented my new role as cook, shopper and cleaner. I loved learning and anything spiritual, but this was not the Judaism I had bargained for. I remember staying up all night on Shavuot about a month before my first child was born. My hostess for the holiday remarked that this was ridiculous, and that I should be in bed resting.

The kitchen and I had a difficult time, and the tasks of housekeeping and child-rearing were tough. I found them utterly mundane, meaningless and depressing.

We returned to South Africa, where my husband began his outreach career in Jewish education, with me the unlikely helpmate (kind of) at his side. I also began studying at the same time as my family was growing, and thankfully, had wonderful household help.

Slowly, my life felt a bit more integrated and balanced. And somewhere along the line—in between babies and exams—my cooking improved. Although I can’t say I really enjoyed it, it was more about being organized, doing it all as quickly and simply as possible.

Friday nights were always a highlight, with dear friends, students and often regulars enjoying the company, and especially, the chicken soup. I was not one for recipes and had no history to fall back on, but through trial and error, my soup became a hit.

One of my Shabbat guests recently cited a scientific study that stated that people’s cooking with the same ingredients taste different. He was complimenting me, and said that the unique ingredient was love or pleasure thatAfter years of turmoil, I actually enjoy my Shabbat preparations the cook feels while preparing! It dawned on me that it’s true! After years of turmoil, I actually enjoy, even now love, my Shabbat preparations.

Certain conditions remain. I still need to be organized and quick, and out of the kitchen early on Friday. In general, I need time for me in order to feel some harmony—for reading, learning, work, being with friends. I have slowly understood that cooking can be a creative and certainly nurturing endeavor, and thus meaningful and fulfilling. The soup itself is great, but literally only takes about 10 minutes to make.

It has definitely been a journey—one I’m still on. A journey of tuning in to what I’m feeling and needing and respecting, and at the same time, being open to growing, giving and extending to others (but not too far beyond what feels manageable). It’s also a journey of being open to new possibilities, allowing myself to value and enjoy what my old brain deemed beneath me—spending time in the kitchen.