I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


While standing in the movie theatre ticket line - 3 pre-teen girls behind me:

1: So, how's youre school holidays been?
2: Umm, pretty okay I guess. Kinda boring.
3: Yeah, me too.

2: Although one thing happened. My baby brother was born yesterday.
[ensues a lot of squealing and giggling and "Ohmigod! How cccuuuutttteeee!!" and "Did you get to hold him??" "Babies are SO cool!"]

1: So does he have a name yet?
2: Umm, yeah. [looks uncomfortable]
1: What is it?
2: It's... Zebby.
1 & 3: WHAT? Did you say Zebby?

2: Yeah. I don't know WHAT the hell my parents were thinking. It's short for ZEBULON. There's my name, my brother E.Z., and now this freaky Zebulon business.

1: E.Z.?
2: Yeah, his real name is Ezekiel, which is freaky enough but at least it's biblical. Zebulon? Yeah, Zublon is completely idiotic. Poor Zebby!


...and at this point I had to resist the urge to ask her what her name was. I would have peed in my pants if I found out it was something like "Jane."

Problem Solved

Until I became a chef, I had a serious bug up my bum about people with "food issues." You know, the ones who go out to restaurants but have 'nothing to eat', the ones who ask for four hundred variations to a dish, the ones who can't eat anything but cardboard sprinkled with low-fat fake bacon sprinkles which were manufactured only in Eastern Siberia. Heaven help you if you have the ones manufactured in WESTERN Siberia, those ones are no good.

Then I became a mother, and a chef, and I realised that while there are food issue bullshit artists out there, a vast majority of people really DO have some sort of food issue. For some it's simple - like people who prefer not to eat coconut, or those who (like me) think veal is creepy. For others, their food issues define their life - they're coealiacs, diabetics, people with extreme allergies and so on. Far from being annoying, these people are just trying to live the best life they know how.

People with food concerns make up a small but significant portion of my business clients - and it's a major reason why I chose to keep my work kitchen as nut free as possible (even though it meant, *sniff*, no walnuts in my carrot cake). Almost every week I'm making dairy free, gluten free, or egg free cakes. I get so many grateful people calling and telling me their child has never had a "store bought" birthday cake before, or the bride didn't think she could eat her own wedding cake, or their grandma's 80th was made better by her being able to eat the dessert.

In my own household we are fortunate enough not to have any food issues (unless you count overeating as an issue!) Recently I was given some cans of the new Carnation Soy Creamy Cooking Milk to try ... and I have to be honest, I looked at it and thought, what the HECK am I supposed to do with this stuff? I'm not a huge soy milk fan, and I was worried that if I put it in anything my kids would taste it and think it was off. Plus this stuff is lactose free, dairy free, cholesterol free, gluten free...and too many 'frees' makes me think this stuff is taste free, too.

However as we all know I'm all about nothing ventured, nothing gained and so I started to add the soy milk to everything. Tonight, in fact, it's in the mashed potato on top of our Shepherd's Pie. A couple of days ago it replaced normal milk in porridge, and yesterday I tried it in my classic Devil's Food Chocolate cake.

The good news - nobody could tell the difference in ANY of the above recipes. I tried the milk neat and while it definitely has that nutty soy after taste, it's actually quite pleasant (much to my extreme surprise.) It's surprisingly creamy without being 'thick' and I have to say it wins big points with me. Often when I cater a Friday night dinner I'm at a loss for dessert - since so many of them are dairy based, and we have some family members who keep kosher. I haven't tried the soy in anything other than cake, but my money is that it works pretty well for most things.

The hardest thing about being a person with 'food issues' is how everything needs to be made special for you, which can be annoying to you and everyone else around you. I can really see how a product like this takes that annoyance factor away ... because basically you can just follow a normal recipe and swap out the dairy milk for the canned soy variety. Suddenly instead of being weird food freak girl, you're acceptable in mixed company. Bonus!

.... and since this is sounding like a endorsement for this product (which, let's face it, it is), I do have one teeny tiny minor gripe about the product. The picture on the front (which on my cans is of a 'Creamy Spring Veges and Fettuccine') kinda makes me want to hurl. The meal just does not look appetising AT ALL, and instead of looking creamy and delicious, just looks like someone squirted some horrible Australian mayonnaise over pasta. And we ALL know how I feel about Australian mayonnaise, don't we? (and isn't 'veges' spelled 'veggies'? Enquiring minds want to know.)

Otherwise - this stuff is fab... especially because it makes my food issue friends less annoying to cater for.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Somewhere in My Youth or Childhood

I must've done something good... but I don't really remember it. The crazy thing is that I have very, very few childhood memories. The only very clear memories I have start from somewhere around the fourth grade. Prior to that I've got some vague ideas of things which happened, but I'm not sure if I 'remember' them for real, or because someone told me about them.

The thing is, by all accounts I had a happy childhood. My parents remained married, my siblings and I only fought once in a while (mostly my sister and I), and we lived a very comfortable life. There is no real reason why I should have so few childhood memories, except perhaps that I don't remember it because it wasn't really all that memorable to begin with. I was a kid, and I was happy, and that was it.

However, since M.B. asked for a childhood memory - I'll give you one which has gone down in emzee folklore. When I was a kid, my sense of direction was terrible - and my attention to detail was even worse. So while I was smart, I was also easily distractable. Hence, I spent a large part of my childhood not only losing stuff (notably my sister's new ski jacket, various pairs of gloves and so on), but also getting myself lost. There are two specific times when I got lost - both of which I'm pretty sure my Mom has yet to forgive me for. The first was at Disneyland. The second was in Beverley Hills. I'll share the Disneyland story here because it has a moral to the story.

For some reason I decided to go into the Emporium in Disneyland (most enormous Disney store ever, right at the start of Main Street.) I told my parents (who were finding a seat for the Electric Light Parade) where I was going, and they sternly told me not to get lost, and to come right back to them. Determined, I walked into the store - and I looked for landmarks so that I would know exactly where to come back to when I finished browsing. So in the window on my right was a Peter Pan display, and on my left was a Dumbo display (or whatever.) I wandered through the store for a while, muttering to myself, "Peter Pan on the right, Dumbo on the left. Peter Pan on the right, Dumbo on the left..." ad naseum.

Eventually I decided to go back to my Mom and Dad. So I looked for the windows of the entrance I had come in, and sure enough I found Peter Pan and I found Dumbo. You can imagine my pride - for once, I didn't get lost! I walked out of the store, and started to look for my parents. I couldn't find them - no matter how much I called out, searched, etc.

I started to panic a little, but since I KNEW I had the right door, they HAD to be there somewhere, right? No amount of crying, searching, asking for help and pleading helped. My parents had disappeared into the Disney-themed night.

At this point my memory gets hazy. I think someone felt sorry for me and took me over to the Disney Police Station, to the "lost kids" section. I'm pretty sure my parents found me there, and got royally pissed off at me for getting lost yet AGAIN (although, sheesh, you'd think they would be used to it, I got lost a lot...) They soundly told me off - that I definitely remember, my Mom going totally ape at me.

...and I also remember, later that night, walking past the Emporium again. It was then I realised, heart sinking in my chest, that EVERY SINGLE ENTRANCE to the Emporium had Peter Pan on the right, and Dumbo on the left. I had made the mistake of going in one door, and coming out another - but because I was so focussed on my landmarks, it didn't occur to me to look up beyond those landmarks.

Damn you, Peter Pan...and damn you, Dumbo. Moral of the story? That's the last time I ever trust a man in green tights and a elephant who can fly.

Monday, September 21, 2009

An American in Australia

A recent facebook request for blogging topics brought about some interesting writing prompts. Among the requests were discussion about cooking school (already done), grad school (I'm counting culinary school as this one done). The rest of the list ran the gamut from childhood memories to a second instalment of the "why Australian food is weird" post.

So today's facebook suggested topic is all about what it's like being an American in Australia - or more specifically about the cultural differences which make my life here interesting.

It's fair to say my first bit of Australian culture shock happened within an hour of getting off the plane in Sydney. I came here as part of a one year study abroad program, and the first part of that was to spend about 3 days "acclimatising" in Sydney before we all went off to our new universities across the country. So they got all of us off the plane, herded us onto buses (where out the windows we saw Mickey D's, and KFC, and went, "Wait? Have we actually left the US yet?") and took us down to the Harbour. Sydney Harbour in real life is better than you might expect. We've all seen the image of the Opera House so many times - seeing it in real life, it's surreal. Like you are standing inside a postcard. So they took us on a ferry to Shark Island, for a "Welcome to Australia" BBQ. This should have been my first clue.

So, how Aussie was it?

1. The bloody place is called Shark Island. For real.
2. It required a boat trip to get there.
3. It required a fair amount of complaining before we even arrived.
4. It involved meat.
5. It was a BBQ (or a barbie, to be precise), and Aussies need no excuse to stand outside and cook animals over an open fire,


6. When I said, "Umm, I'm vegetarian..." to the people there, the silence was deafening. You could only hear the distant lapping of the waves. At which point one of the organisers said, "You'll be right, mate. I think there's a bit of salad over there somewhere" and he waved vaguely in the air with his tongs.

So. I wandered over to the salad area, to be greeted with some silver foil containers filled with lettuce. And a tomato wedge which had seen better days. And not much else.

I stood there for a minute or two, Australian sun warming my back, the sound of the waves at t shoreline below, surrounded by a whole gamut of funny accents, with the heavenly smell of cooking meat invading my nostrils.

So I did what any other self-respecting person would have done. I shrugged, went back to the barbecue, helped myself to a big ol' piece of steak, and waved goodbye to several years of vegetarianism. I've never looked back since. And DAMN, but that steak was good.

In the intervening 14 years, a lot has happened - but so much about this wide, wonderful land hasn't changed at all. All the things about that barbie which were so terribly, terribly Australian are all still true. The only possible exception is that these days, vegetarians are not quite the pariahs they once were.

One of the stranger things about living here is the immense influence of other cultures. So, superficially, it looks like an American city. You can find Target and K-Mart and Subway and Starbucks without trying terribly hard. Underneath all the shiny signs of Americana beats the heart of England. The street names are mostly English, many of the attitudes are English, plenty of food and religious traditions are very English, and so on. Somewhere in the middle of the American outer core and English inner core lies something which is distinctly Australian. The twist to the story, if you will.

It wouldn't be odd, for example, to shop at Costco (American), and notice everyone is very patiently, politely waiting in line for their turn (English) and right outside the door is a sausage sizzle raising money for the local life saving club (Australian.) Australia is often described as "America in the 1950's" and I have to say I think that - with the exception of i-phones and email and assorted gadgetry, that description is pretty accurate.

Many families have one parent who does not work. There is no such thing as the American style of summer camp, because people here TAKE TIME OFF to be with their kids during the holidays. Many families still sit down together, every night, to a traditional dinner of meat and 3 veg. I can send my kids to play in the street or walk the dog by themselves and not worry (too much) about them. People still send thank you cards, handwritten. Almost the entire country shuts down for January, so everyone can have some summer sunshine time off. For the most part, people are polite. Nobody is in much of a rush to go anywhere - in fact my family, when they visit, often complain about how slow service is here. There are not 433 types of milk in the supermarket, and it's only recently that you can buy pre-prepared foods there. People here do not start every conversation with, "So what do you DO?" and things like going to sports games on the weekend are still mostly affordable and people will take their kids along. Caravan holidays are still popular, everything (!) is closed on Christmas Day, and people still ask you what "your Christian name" is.

I could keep going. Swimming is like a religion. Tipping is not expected here, because waiters and hairdressers and everyone else gets paid an actual, real salary. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone suing anyone else because they burned their lip on a hot coffee - actually, I've never heard of anyone suing anyone else at all.

As an American living here, the biggest 'cultural shock' is that it's the underlying values which are different - NOT the way it looks or the accents or the cars on the other side of the road or the plastic money. It's the way people behave - how they act, how they react, and how they perceive life in general. On the whole, I have found Australians to be more relaxed than Americans - but they also have a far greater sense of entitlement. Literally every day on the radio you hear about some profession or another walking out on the job because they want better money, better working conditions, better... everything. There is no doubt that the teachers, the paramedics, the garbage men, the whoever, are working hard. And yet, no matter how much they get paid or how good their benefits are, the chances are high that they'll engage in industrial action at some point. Why? Because, for whatever reason, they deserve it.

People often ask me what it's like to live here. Of course I miss my family, and there are things about America I miss (especially access to cheap labour, good Israeli food, and Entemman's donuts)... but on the whole, life in Australia is about a certain quality of life. People here actually think that taking time off is important, that spending time with your kids is essential and that having a life outside of work is vital. I find that people here very rarely sweat the small stuff. Nobody gets offended too easily, it's practically a requirement that everyone laughs at themselves a bit, and people are just nice. Life in Australia is - to me, anyway - quieter. Slower. More relaxed. Where else in the world do you go to a super-fancy concert or show and have people eating ice creams at intermission? Where else in the world do people think that 'black tie' is some sort of offensive dress code, when jeans and thongs (of the shoe variety) will do just fine, thank you very much?

Basically, how I feel about Australia boils down to this:

The sun (mostly) shines, the food is fantastic, people are friendly... and they invented Tim Tams. Really, what's not to like?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Don't Call Me, I'll Call You

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with technology. In the main I'm a communicator, so things like email and text messaging and facebook all seem like a good idea at first. I get all gung-ho about them, I join up a bunch of crap, I learn to text like a bloody ninja (thanks for the practice, Feather Neice) and I am all, "LOOK OUT, world, because I am CONNECTED."

And then my email inbox starts to fill with notices that people I do not know have commented on my comment to a person I only barely know anyway but who I originally friended out of some very thin thread of commonality. Then the phone beeps incessantly with texts, including ones from my DH, who has a strange fascination with texting me updates about his bowel movements... while he's actually sitting in said location. (Confession: I think it was actually me who started that disturbing trend.) And then I start an email conversation with someone, and we're all "OMG! You think so too?" and "LOL" and "ROFLMAO" and a whole bunch of other acryonyms, until we reach the slightly awkward part of emailing. The part where the conversation itself has come to a natural end, but there's this whole "I have to reply to the reply" thing... and I, for one, find myself hiding from my emails. As I sit under the desk and hope they will forget they ever entered into a conversation with me, I find myself wondering what the original conversation thread was about in the first place.

Anyway. All that was a long way of saying that I have, as of this weekend, been without a mobile phone for about 4 weeks. Now to be fair, in LA I did have the use of a mobile phone but I mostly used it to call my Mom, and I didn't advertise the number so nobody really knew they could call me. As a result I often turned it on after several days of forgetting about it only to realise I had 18 missed calls from my Mom, my sister, and my niece. BUT. I have been without my personal mobile for 4 weeks. This is actually monumental, since my personal phone also acts as my business phone. The bloody thing rings no less than about 10 times a day, and it's not unusual for me to pick it up at 8 pm on Sunday to hear about someone wanting a cake quote.

Don't misunderstand me. From a business POV, I wish it never stopped ringing. From a personal POV, every minute without my electronic leash has been a god send. Seriously, you never know how much you hate something until it's finally gone and you find yourself breathing an enormous sigh of relief.

I have also learned quite quickly who my real friends are. They are the ones who not only actually HAVE my home phone number, but they've USED it. Amazing, right? Who knew I only had one friend? (Okay, kidding. I have 2.)

The freedom I have from my phone is just... brilliant. You have no idea how much free time I have now that I am not texting, I am not listening to voice mails, and I am not looking at the damn thing repeatedly to check if I missed a call (because secretly, I think it's possessed or something and when people call me it does not ring- just to fake me out.) I've also noticed that my neck is no longer at 30 degrees since I now actually look up once in a while instead of down at a itty-bitty screen. If all that is not reason enough, I've also realised what thumbs feel like when they are not numb from pressing too many letters to get that stupid predictive text thing to do what I want and say what I mean.

As of this week, I need to take the phone back (poor NN is about to have her own epiphany when she gives it back, I think she is well and truly over phones in general). I'm not looking forward to it. I don't WANT my phone back. I want to stay in blissful peace, away from the noise and the chaos and the always-here-no-matter-what nature of a mobile phone. It's entirely possible that I feel this way because at the moment, I just crave quiet and solitude.

It's also entirely possible that I feel this way because I've seen an iPhone. And I don't want my crappy Nokia back, I want a phone which can be a Magic 8 ball and tell me the weather, too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Still Laughing

I briefly considered giving up on blogging entirely... in a world that seems to have suddenly gone quiet, what could I possibly have to blog about? Then I remembered that my Mom reads my blog almost every day, that it's her "It's 4 pm and I'm restless at work" comedic relief, and I realised that if I stopped blogging, I'd be taking a little sunshine out of her life.

So, Mom, here it is. I can't guarantee I'll always be witty or funny or even entertaining, but I can guarantee I'll be there for you - as a blogger or otherwise.


One of the more amusing aspects of having a loved one pass away is that you get to see human nature at work. All sorts of people really come out of the woodwork - the friends you thought were close suddenly disappear, the ones you thought were far away come closer, and you realise that your world is much bigger than you would have thought. In a situation like this, people often do not know what to say to you. What could they possibly say which might make you feel better?

The truth is that all we really want to hear is that you are thinking of us, and that you're there. A word of advice - don't wait for the person in need to call you. Just DO stuff for them without being asked. They aren't going to find the time to make phone calls asking for stuff. Bring over a meal, call to say hello (and don't expect a reply), send a care package - whatever. Just don't say "call me if you need me"... because the last thing we're thinking about is calling people.

Actually the same was true when the triplets were born. I had my hands full enough without thinking, "I really should call so-and-so and ask them to do XYZ." The people I appreciated the most were the ones who called, sent food, made phone calls, just DID stuff for me. The people who frustrated me were the ones who would call, hear how overwhelmed I was and then say in an insulted voice, "But why didn't you call me?"

Ahem. Exactly WHICH one of us is in need here?

Trust me. You won't be getting in the way, bothering anybody, annoying people, or being a nuisance if you are actually DOING something to help without being asked. Don't know what I like to eat? Bring fruit. Don't want to get in my way? Send a text or leave a message. There are so many ways you can help a friend without annoying them. And if you DO bring over something I don't like? Believe me, I'll appreciate the gesture anyway.

Anyway so one great source of amusement for my family was the horrendously inappropriate comments people would make. Every night we'd sit down together, hashing over the day and just connecting to one another - and we'd nominate the "most inappropriate comment of the day" one of us had received. Several times my sister and Mom told me to blog about it - because some of them were really winners. I realise all these people meant well. I realise people who don't know what to say often say the wrong thing. I realise that none of these comments come from a malicious intent, but I also realise these are the funny as hell moments you need to hang onto when you feel as though your world is crumbling.

Without further ado, here are some of the best comments we, as a family, received during the days following: (in no particular order)

1) "Didn't I see you at the kosher butcher today? I'm sure I saw you there, don't you remember?" [my sister replies that no, she wasn't there...because really, we all go food shopping two days after our Dad's funeral, right?] "But I'm SURE it was you! Really, I saw you there!" [continue argument ad naseum]

2) "Hey, I saw you hugging [my son.] You guys make a great couple! *nudge, nudge*"

3) "You look SO much thinner than the last time I saw you! Grief obviously suits you!" [This one, I just stood there, mouth agape. I could think of no witty response.]

4) "You know, you're all alone now. Your kids will go back to their lives and leave you. You'll be all. on. your. own. Sitting in that big, lonely house, all by yourself...how are you going to cope? You're going to be so lonely..." [and so on and so forth.]

5) "The pain will never, ever go away. You might learn how to cope with it, but the pain will never end."

6) "There will forever be a giant hole in your heart. You'll walk around feeling like there is a part of you missing, forever."

7) [automated phone] "Hello, this is Kaiser Permanente. We're calling to do a short phone survey with {my Dad} to see how he's enjoying the service he's receiving from us. Please press 1 if you are willing to take part in our customer service satisfaction survey." (I wonder if there is there a "press 1" for you assholes killed my father through mis-diagnosis?)

8) "There is nothing worse in life than losing a husband. You'll never recover."

9) "So, tell me! How *are* you?" [My Mom's reply was, "How do you THINK I am?"... which often made the person realise what a dumb thing it was to ask in the first place!]

...and so on and so forth. There were so many of these, it became almost a sport to see which of us had the best ones every night. While it might be that some of the above statements are true, it's not really all that comforting to hear, is it? I know people are well meaning, but...geesh, people! You're not helping. We're Jews, we don't do emotion. We do food. Bring over a poppy seed cake and stuff a piece in your mouth so that you don't say anything stupid, okay?

And consider this blog your Public Service Announcement for the day. Next time you've got a friend in need or grief, don't point out to them that their life from here on in will suck. Newsflash: They already know. Just sayin'.