Beth Ricanati’s upcoming memoir, Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs, tells the story of one woman’s search for health and spiritual tranquility.
Ricanati, a University of Pennsylvania graduate and physician now living in Los Angeles who specializes in women’s health and wellness, wrote the book to help people realize how transformative and curative baking can be.
“Food is medicine that turns genes on and off in the body; it treats and prevents diseases,” she said.
As a mother and wife with a demanding work schedule, Ricanati understands how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the pressures and expectations of a fast-paced world. For her, the simple joy of baking challah every Friday is a reminder to remain present in the moment and practice self-care.
“I don’t bake challah in a bread mixer; I make it in a bowl from scratch and physically put my hands in the dough,” she said. “Before I began making challah, I was running around trying to do everything and be everyone for everybody else — it was exhausting.”
Without challah, Ricanati was stressed, tired and overworked. Her moments of peaceful reflection were rare. Today, she is dedicated to slowing her pace and taking the time to consciously breathe.
“Now, when I’m cooking, I’m able to take a moment and be mindful of the action I’m carrying out,” she said.
In Braided, Ricanati uses the Jewish ritual of baking challah to explore her religious identity and find inner peace.
“I learned the meaningful history of challah and the tradition behind it,” she said. “Judaism provides me with such a framework for how to live; I have guidelines and wonderful lessons that transcend everything else. My Jewish identity is a journey that I’m still on.”
And challah is much more than a meal, Ricanati said.
“Challah is powerful. It creates community and brings people together in a beautiful, lasting way,” she said. “When you bake challah, you’re bringing something into existence that nurtures, nourishes and comforts individuals.”