Being baal teshuva you often miss (or at least I do) the atmosphere of restaurants, and trying all the different culinary delights. I really believe it’s our role as BTs to bring excitement back into the home and back into the palate of Shabbos and Yom Tovim. We can uplift any chag through our food and create the warm beautiful atmosphere we want with beautiful decorations and of course, candlelight.
All these things should not be the focus of the night though (for that seems like pure gluttony), but act as a mechanism for inspiring and igniting our neshamas and beautiful Torah discussions at the table. We eat in order to thank Hashem for the wonderful array of flavours, colours, textures and nutrition He has so generously provided for us. We could have easily been given everything we need in a pill form, but in His kindness we got so much more. Cooking is therefore the art of taking our gifts and enhancing them in order to count our blessings. Like everything in the Jewish world, the purpose is to grow from what we’re given. To become more than we thought we could be by focusing on giving to others.
Below are some sites that offer great kosher recipes and presentation ideas, as a start to getting your creative juices flowing. This will hopefully inspire you to bring light to your table, your guests and family, through food and presentation.
- Branches – Flowers can cost an arm and a leg so why not use branches? You can easily get it from a garden or park and it looks really earthy in a glass vase. You can also hang items from the branches.
- Candles – A classic favourite, you can get different sizes and shapes for a beautiful display. Put them on a mirror for added effect or in an interesting bowl. You can also try floating candles in a wide glass bowl filled with water.
- Fruit – A cheap and edible alternative. Get interesting fruit with many colours and place in a tall attractive bowl.
- Individual Flowers – Make everyone feel special with a small vase and flower at everyone’s plate. You can make them all the same colour but different variety of flower, or try a louder multi-coloured approach.
- Napkins – the under-stated and under-utilised approach to decorating the table. Napkins (or serviettes) come in all sorts of colours and patterns, why not use them to dress up the table. You can pick up the colour theme of your chosen napkin and carry that theme onto the centerpiece.
- Junk – Yes, junk. Not the dirty type, but the clean interesting things like old colourful bottles, jars, metal toys, frames and more. You can collect a whole range of items in a particular theme and spread them out on the table between the serving dishes or put into a large bowl. Try using different sized objects for interest and don’t throw out your empty wine/alcohol bottles. Think about texture too – metals, glass, wood, ceramics, liquid, etc. As they say, “one man’s junk is another’s man’s treasure.”
- Material – You can get strips of beautiful patterned and textured material for quite cheap at fabric stores. You can cut it into strips and drape across the table, straight or crossing over.
- Serving dishes – You can always brighten up a table with exotic dishes. Keep the rest of the items a simple neutral colour and jazz-up the serving dishes.
- Light – You’d be shocked at how much lighting changes the mood of a room. You may want to look at getting extra lighting on the walls or a large central light feature that hangs just above the table. You can also install dimmers for the more romantic dinners.
- Benchers – Beautiful benchers (meal-time prayer books) go a long way to setting the mood at a table. Do a project (good one for the kids) and cover all your benchers with a coloured contact paper, fabric, buttons, or anything else you like.
- Boxes – Use different size boxes as stands to create height changes in your centerpiece.
- Water & Dye – Use dyes to colour water in clear jars for a point of difference. Make sure the jars are sturdy so no one knocks them over.