The yard was heavily occupied by two and three year olds, climbing up the fence, the walls and pushing doll carriages. It was my turn to watch them. My eyes glazed over as the sun warmed up the last of the chilly morning. And again I thought, what do I really want to do?
I love children, and have even a few of my own, but eight years of working in gans whether they were my own or under someone else’s tutelage was starting to nag at my creativity. I wasn’t even qualified. As a baeli tshuva with no background of children’s songs or even the davening they needed to learn, much less the right tunes, I wasn’t exactly feeling I was using my talents.
I somehow heard of Judy; Judy Bernstein a innovative, creative caterer. She was known for her tasty dishes (especially her cheesecakes) in the neighborhood. I daringly gave her a call. She invited me over for a coffee.
We had been renting our apartment and owned the bare necessities. Judy and her husband, were further along and had bought their apartment, upgraded and designed the kitchen with as many fun appliances, I could have imagined. Yet there was still space for large counters and room for a coffee nook.
Judy on the spot offered me the chance to be her partner in catering. I have no idea why she took such a chance. There were those embarrassing moments from my beginning status. The embarrassing pukis (chicken innards) I grilled thinking they were liver for an OCD ex cook and his party he was throwing in his home. The party where we had the wrong address. Before cell phones were invented; we had to pull all sorts of gymnastics to find the right hall in time for the event to start. Those were my contributions.
She taught me where to shop, how to shop, how to use colors, baskets, toys, tablecloths and skirts. We both put in the same amount of time and eventually I was pulling in as many customers as she was. We became known.
I moved on and worked for another caterer working his parties. It was easier and less responsibility. His style was high class, but I don’t really like doing things OTT (over the top) a hazard of the catering world. I took jobs in yeshivas and seminaries providing me with more work. I had an industrial kitchen to caterer from and started to build a clientele. Finally I was on my own.
And that was the beginning of my writing.
For the first time I decided to only concentrate on my catering without any other side jobs. I was coming home from picking up 6 kilos of grated cheese, when I happened to sit down next to my exercise partner, Rena.
Rena had just been asked to start a new English Magazine from Mishpacha’s Hebrew magazine. I was blown away. It was a homogenous idea; so exciting, and a needed frontier. I was so happy for her to be involved in such an enterprise. I was enthralled listening to her day.
Somehow it was only a week later and again Rena and I were bus partners again. I couldn’t help but ask how the new enterprise was going. She let me know of the different departments they were planning to have, the publisher and editors she needed to please. And then she thought out loud, “and I need to find a cooking columnist”.
“How about your husband?” I suggested since he was a chef and a writer, too.
“No, he is not interested.”
I was surprised. How could anybody turn down the job? I mean I was thinking to myself, it would be such an opportunity for a writer.
“Tziyona, how about you?” Rena offered.
Without thinking, “I would love to.” Then it hit me, I even have a degree in this. Why I have a degree in this I can’t even remember how it evolved. But it was true in college I did learn to write, but not in my journalism classes. There we learned cut and paste, how to recognize propaganda (in everything) and other interesting pieces of information. but I don’t remember writing. One of my professors (coming from the journalism part of the writing world set as rules: A sentence shouldn’t have more than 5 words and a word more than 2 syllables. And he held that Readers Digest and Times magazine were the best journalism available. Why? Because they could condense and still keep the story. In today’s language he meant: tighten, tighten, tighten. In my history class we had to write a report every single week. Turn it on Tuesday, if it wasn’t good, it had to be fixed and turned in again by Friday. I did learn to write.
I started writing the cooking column. I made up recipes, even had to prepare some dishes for pictures, but my favorite part was writing the stories. It coupled with my catering. It became my trademark. People wanted to continue the conversation with me as if we had been talking over coffee as I set up the tables or served them their hot dish offering.
I feel very fortunate that I have been able to use my creativity, in my love of cooking and writing. I hope you enjoy both too.