Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Comment

Save the schmaltz: cooking and family

by Liam Pieper , June 12, 20121 Comment

Babushka Babushka is my cooking blog, where I hang out with old people from around the world and write down what they do. It’s one part Jamie Oliver–style culinary piracy and one part reverse race baiting. My whole life I’ve made my living either from writing or cooking, so it was only a matter of time before I started writing about cooking.

My parents were shit cooks; they do okay now, but back then they were really, really terrible. They were of the generation stranded by the receding wave of white Australian nationalism, which rolled back and left them floundering in the silted counterculture. They raised me on a mixture of beatnik and hippy idealism, a confused gumbo of half-assed Buddhism, bastardised vegetarianism and psychedelic Leary-era offcuts cobbled together to sustain some kind of inner life in outer suburbia.

Our diet was an extension of this. Without the meat and two veg that modern Australia was built on, they tried to adapt vegetarian dishes they tasted in ashrams. So you’d get a dhal, but without spices. Or curry powder. Or onions. Just boiled lentils, drowned in tomato sauce to make them palatable. Oakleigh in 1988 wasn’t ready for ethical vegetarianism.

Neither was I. The only time I remember enjoying food as a child was in the care of the elderly who were roped in to babysitting me. Our Greek neighbours and their spanakopita; my Malaysian godparents, who taught me to love spice by bribing me with KFC and crumbling Original Recipe through Singapore noodles. And of course, my own grandma, who had the near-mystical Irish ability to tease a symphony out of a potato.

At some point, I started writing down her recipes, appalled at the thought that I would lose them when she was gone, and as she dictated them she would tell me the stories and the memories that went with them, feeding me the sentiment that had baked into the food over the years, as in some terrible magic realist novel. When I wrote them out, those memories went into the recipes, and the recipes went into my blog. I put them online, partially because I was desperately trying to convince the girl I was courting that I was actually very sweet under it all, but mostly because on the internet I figured they would be safe from kitchen mess and forgetfulness – I would always be able to find them, as would anyone else who was interested.

The flaw in the concept is pretty obvious. I ran out of grandmas sharpish – I only had one – and started casing out my friends’ grandmothers, hanging out at their houses as they entered their autumn years like a letch at the end of a disco, helping them knead dough and make stock, using the opportunity to wheedle little secrets out of them in broken Russian, Spanish, Korean.

When the language barriers were too high I started asking friends to write guest posts, filling my blog and kitchen with a miasma of shared life experience. I started to see the bridges in the food’s history, where German food melted into Hungarian into Ashkenazi, and started to understand better how food and history work together. You can take the food – and the people – out of the country, but you can’t take the people out of the food.

Take schmaltz. Schmaltz is Yiddish for the rendered fat that floats to the top of chicken soup. It’s flavoursome and kosher (frying meat in butter or lard is forbidden by Talmudic lore), and when food was scarce throughout history, Jewish households used to hoard schmaltz to flavour and use in everything.

Later, in America, after the exodus, the Yiddish-speaking diaspora didn’t need schmaltz anymore – they had plenty, they had olive oil, they had pizza by the slice – and when their parents lovingly collected the scum off soup it must have seemed ridiculous. Schmaltz became a byword for excessive sentimentality; anything floridly maudlin, sappy, cheesy or over the top was schmaltzy. The word passed from Yiddish to English, and to the world through the osmotic magic of New York intellectuals.

So that’s why I started the blog: to save the schmaltz, figurative and literal, and put it away for later. Because eventually, we all go to the cupboard seeking comfort, hoping there’s a little something in there, like a tune from a childhood we can no longer recall, unless our tastebuds dance it up for us.

@liampieper is a Melbourne writer whose self-esteem swings wildly on the popularity of his Twitter account; he writes fiction, journalism, criticism and schmaltz.




  • http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/ Annabel Smith

    I never knew the origin of the word schmaltz. Thank goodness someone is saving it!

9781408857175

Lou Heinrich

To see each other’s innards: Intimacy in Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress

In Stone Mattress, Atwood’s stories make a remarkable study of intimacy, of seeing each other’s innards, in different partnerships. Through the domestic details she describes, her masterful characterisation and her sharp tone, Atwood crafts the mundane into the profound. Read more »

9781863957120

James Tierney

Dissonance and Tradition: Andrew Ford’s Earth Dances

Earth Dances: Music in Search of the Primitive is a vivid and rarely less than astute history of the debt modern music simultaneously owes to the inheritances of tradition, and the texture of dissonance. Read more »

monroe

James Tierney

Survival and Contradiction: Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times

This book’s most impressive trick is in the way it pulls together seemingly disparate figures. In this fierce, insightful and wide-ranging collection, Jacqueline Rose calls for nothing less than a reformulation of feminism. Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

fx-2015-winter-tcajpeg-069cb_c0-146-3500-2186_s561x327

Rebecca Shaw

Billy, Don’t Be a Homophobe

As a non-heterosexual person who has lived my entire life in a heteronormative world, I have a finely tuned antenna for homophobia. Loaded terms, like those used recently by Billy Crystal, are becoming more common, as it becomes less acceptable to state openly that you get an icky feeling when you see two people of the same sex kiss. Read more »

B5QJwMhIYAAfjxG

Rebecca Shaw

A Tale of Two Penises: Double Dick Dude and the invisibility of male bisexuality

For the past year I have found myself fascinated by penises. If I’d been to the races, I would have created a monstrous dick fascinator to wear as a beautiful physical representation of my mental state. But let me be clear, I have not been captivated with all or even many penises. My fascination has solely been aimed at the two penises owned by the man known only as ‘Diphallic Dude’, or more casually ‘DoubleDickDude’. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

cdn.indiewire

Kate Middleton

On the Trail: Wild and the voyage of the modern woman

Strayed articulates the question that drives so many pilgrimage narratives: ‘What if I forgive myself?’ That same question perhaps suggests why female-driven journeys are resonating with audiences now: self-reliance and the abandonment of a conventional life have long been male-dominated themes. Read more »

Film Review Selma

Anwen Crawford

An Urgent and Motivating Anger: The politics of Selma

How to approach a figure with the reputation of a secular saint? One achievement of Selma – and it is a film of many achievements – is to reanimate King as a living, breathing man; a man of politics, strategy, and absolute, underlying resolve. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

39154_4f8f076801b89b442752af76ac226fc0

Anwen Crawford

Satire and Scandal: Revisiting Frontline

Frontline’s makers could not have anticipated the long, web-based afterlife of their creation, though they might not be surprised that their targets – the rampant egotism and moral hypocrisies of tabloid journalism – remain just as current. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

wowx5-artwork-012-full

Katie Williams

Killing Monsters and Making Memories: How virtual worlds facilitate communication

When I hang out with my brother, we joke, make fun of each other, and swap stories about mutual friends. Sometimes, we’ll each pack a bag of stat-enhancing potions and go out to kill large monsters. It’s been well over a year since I saw my brother in the flesh – but thanks to World of Warcraft, I interact with him on a daily basis. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »

The-Rabbits-2015-1280x470

Jane Howard

Thinking Outside the Box Seats: The future of Australian opera and musical theatre

If we want to see new work and innovation grow in opera and musical theatre, we need to consider how they might develop within our culture. Read more »

MovingMusicAndreCastellucci1

Jane Howard

The (Sometimes) Beauty of Being Alone at the Theatre

I often go to the theatre on my own. One of the great joys of writing reviews is that even when I attend productions solo, I still get to talk (write) about them at length after the fact. Seeing theatre is a wonderful activity to do unaccompanied, because as soon as the performance starts, everyone is alone in some way. Read more »