Down South

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You know you are a foodista when your 18 year old leans across the table and solicitously tells you:

“ Don’t worry Mum, one day we’ll eat the degustation menu at the Fat Duck”. My heart swells with pride. My child was never fodder for Masterchef Kids; she cannot make a soufflé and I’m not sure she has ever eaten one. But when asked whether she’d like a few days of feasting in Margaret River with Mum, to my shock she leapt at the chance.

So here are the highlights of our week in Margaret River – no weigh-ins permitted.

Margaret River is glorious in summer, and pretty damn fine in winter, think log fires, fine wine. We stayed at Margaret’s Beach Resort at Gnarabup (The “G” is silent, as they say!)

I’m not sure what constitutes a resort, Ketut serving cocktails? Not here though the cocktails on offer did keep the 18 year-old happy. Certainly MBR was fine (no breakfast service) but too cold for the spa and pool anyway.

But the view!

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What can beat watching the sun set into the ocean? No need to speak of sunrise, I am not a morning person.

Day one saw us visit the cheekily named Knee Deep winery with restaurant for their degustation menu.

My 18 year old’s first ever “dego”. Did I say I was a foodista? Surely I should have introduced her to the joys of “sand” and foams by the age of five. Surely by 10 she should have mastered confit? We left ourselves entirely in the chef’s hands – not something this particular control freak is known for. So we kicked off with a sous-vide egg with shaved truffle.

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I haven’t made up my mind about sous-vide though I’d best hurry as this cooking technique is probably reaching its use-by date that, is if we consider food as fashion. And don’t we?

Next we were served Bunny two ways.

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(Why does that sound so rude?) I greedily chomped a mouthful of the rolled loin only to find I’d also eaten the bunny’s liver. Shameful me, not an offal fan, moment of drama till I swallowed it, knowing an offal enthusiast would be purring. By this time a waitress had appeared, registered shock and whipped our plates away. How did she know I don’t much care for offal? She didn’t. Apparently the rolled loin still had its plastic round it so we were then represented with this dish I wasn’t so keen on. But things happen and I feel mean mentioning it.

So mortified were they we got a complementary course – 3 fat scallops with Jerusalem artichoke and truffle.

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Followed by a perfectly cooked serving of Barramundi and a pea puree.

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This was elegant, simple presentation of fine produce, seriously good, possibly my favourite course. Of course by now we were less than peckish.

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But when the warm imported brie arrived with gorgeous bread I was left to battle alone. I struggled and would have it found it easier to consume with crackers – a second negative thought – why am I eating French cheese in dairy country? Margaret River is known for its use of locally sourced produce.

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A palate cleansing sorbet is delightful and then dessert – described as a panna cotta it is more dense than I would have expected and for me, too large a serving after such a meal. My young companion disagreed and wolfed hers, but then she didn’t eat the brie did she?

Day 2 thankfully we have no lunch booking. So buoyed with a serious breakfast in town, Zenna has now eaten her first Croque Monsieur (toasted ham and gruyere or béchamel sandwich), – it won’t be her last, then we head for the aptly named Gabriel chocolate. And really this is chocolate to make an archangel sin.

Their chocolate is made from single sourced beans, fair trade produce. I am still working my way through my selection. Zenna is hoarding her last hot chocolate mixer.

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just heat the milk and melt the chocolate, yup, that’s hot choc! Rocky Road to die for and the chocolate brownies we devoured for super? I’m grateful Gabriel is so far from my home, though their chocolate can be bought at The Boatshed.

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The Venison Shop is a carnivore’s oasis as you can see from their board:

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I like to think of myself as a conscientious omnivore – seeing deer wandering through fields is reassuring. We returned home with some “low fat” venison snags. Low fat they were – this was guilt free sausage eating, note the virtuous beans please.

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We had saved ourselves for the next day’s lunch at Cullen’s Winery. This wasn’t my first visit; this is my favourite venue in Margaret River.

What’s not to love? Organic, biodynamic wine producers who promote sustainable farming and viticulture. Cullen wines have been certified organic since 1998 and then they introduced biodynamic practices in 2004. Cullens have done a great deal to defuse the idea of biodynamic growing being a hippy practice.

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I’d enjoyed the scallops at Knee Deep but these two fat scallops presented 2 ways provided the standout dish for the week followed by a perfect slab of barramundi with a burnt butter sauce and hefty spuds and snow peas from their garden. Zenna had the special – beef pie with a massive, fragrant, crunchy (also from their) garden salad I was happy to polish off.

I’d seen their garden on a food tour year’s ago and asked if we could wonder through after lunch. The waitress told us we couldn’t just wander through, tours may be booked by arrangement, however the waitress told us she would see if someone could take us. Really? Yes, really. Cellarman and food enthusiast William appeared and took us through the garden. This was fabulous. We saw the lot and had the organic/biodynamic process explained to us, from worm wee through to fresh salad on the plate.

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Cullen's Winery, Margaret River, Western Australia

What about the wine I hear you shrieking. Sadly dear reader – I’m a far better eater than drinker. However I did enjoy a glass of 2013 Rosé of Wilyabrup, the perfect complement to my meal.

Our final big lunch was at Flutes and sadly this was a very rainy day so this most if idyllic of settings was a little grey. We also made the mistake of having the set menu – though at $50 per head for 3 courses why wouldn’t you?

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My entrée of venison spring rolls was indeed divine as was the dessert selection. The mains (a chicken ragout with couscous and a pork fillet) were unexceptional. I’d return here though and give the a la carte menu a workout.

We’d stayed on so we could check out the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Cambray cheeses sell an amazing line up of hand made sheep’s milk cheeses, so good I found myself again wondering about Knee-Deep’s use of imports.

Sensational bread from the Margaret River Bread shop, a Cambray cheese and a decent bottle of wine, that’s a lunch.

We had other adventures in MR and so will you – Olio Bello, The Good Olive – great selection of oils to taste and apricot jam like the old days, Blue Ginger Fine Foods.

Bon appetite!

All pics by Zenna Newman-Santos

Sydney, I’ll Be Back

Can’t really go overboard with food stories from Sydney as I had little opportunity to eat out. I was there to cook. However I did score a meal at Luke Nguyen’s Red Lantern on Reilly (Street that is).

Took my bro who can be somewhat ambivalent about food, in other words the non-foodie brother, okay the thin one.

First dish was tofu with enoki and inari mushroom in a mild, silky sauce.

That tofu just rocked and we ate it in seconds, followed by lemongrass chicken and crispy chilli prawns. At this stage I have to confess I was sick  with some exotic Sydney virus and tasted very little. So why was the less highly spiced tofu the standout dish for me?

I will return with taste buds intact to find out..

The big news was my mother’s 90th birthday – and isn’t that an achievement?

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So we had invited her remaining friends and the children of those passed as well as the rest of the Newman clan.

It was held the day after her birthday– on my daughter’s birthday.

So my foodie brother and his long-suffering wife, were the ones hosting the event.

However there remained Mum’s actual birthday – where to take her for lunch but her favourite – Rob’s Rugby Club. Clubs fascinate me – they are hanging on, relics of the past. Mum’s generation love the cheap food, almost regardless of quality. She was a member of the Jewish Community Club in Sydney for years – the Hakoah club and loved the cheap food there, cafeteria style. You got it , my Mum loves sizzler, in fact quantity over quality has always been her mantra. I’m my father’s daughter apparently. At least at this time of life (will own to over 50, go no further) I want quality – perhaps I’ve finally found my inner Jewish princess.

We’d already had a meal there. My sister-in-law was not happy with the salmon, my daughter had the fisherman’s basket – where was the basket? Rob had oysters kilpatrick followed by a steak with an egg on top. I felt my arteries clog just watching him.

The dreaded seafood basket, sans basket
The dreaded seafood basket, sans basket

On my second visit I did a foolish thing, ordering the 41,300th lobster mornay.

A kekka as we say in the west – sure it would have been on the 440 g mark but isn’t that too small, really? And as for half? The mornay was, well mornay, Perhaps I ordered it as a homage to the prawn cocktail served at Mum’s Xmas lunch. You just don’t expect retro food in Sydney.

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Then to the party.

I love this kind of thing and going shopping and all that and loved doing it with Rob. Sure he objected to many of my plans and told me I was crazy. Yes we argued over junk food. And no we couldn’t do anything about the weather. A hot day was predicted – I would not be heating the sausage rolls in the oven.

So Rob made egg salad, smoked salmon and cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches. We were aspiring to high tea of course. I made humous to prevent Rob buying some ghastly dips from the super market. I also made chopped herring – just like my Mum. In fact Rob interrogated me on this insisting I didn’t know how to make it – an old game. He did have the grace on tasting it to say it was “quite good” in Rob-speak that means excellent.

I also made her sausage rolls – for which I had no recipe other than the pastry so we’re talking cooking from memory and intelligence. And lo, they were good.

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Zenna, my beautiful daughter, was responsible for finger sandwiches, also Mum’s recipe – also subject to Robin ‘s interrogation and complaint. No-one complained about the sandwiches which were excellent.

My final thoughts of Sydney the next day at the airport we eat at a noodle bar. I eat a laksa as good as most served in Perth. Here in Perth we have 2 outlets at  the domestic airport once you clear security. Both are truly dreadful and of course overpriced. Sigh – Perth get it together!!

Main pic: Ate the best cake of my life at the wonderful Black Star Pastry in Newtown. The confit watermelon base was inspirational!

Smart Food Mama

I’m a mother, I’m an academic and I’m a food writer – am I smart enough to call myself “smartfoodmama”? You be the judge of that. What I want is to share what I learn with you. Yes I teach food studies, but it seems I learn much more than I can ever teach. Food is so ordinary, so mundane so everyday that it is something we had taken for granted. Then that all changed.

Two important things happened and they happened during my childhood.  Feminism happened and women gradually began to undo those apron strings and get themselves a life. This happened at the same time as industrial food arrived: convenience food, fast food.

I’m not going to waste time crying over this – I’m not calling for a return to the fifties. However cooking was the loser as so many women struggled to work and to provide good meals for their families. Should the burden fall on women alone? No prizes for guessing my answer to that. I’m simply observing what has taken place.

Now that global fast food has all but eradicated the coffee lounges and burger bars of my youth; we are nostalgic for what we have lost. Hence the return of the “gourmet burger” and the fish and chip shop. The cupcake rage was an example of this. Friands, macarons… thesedays many of us cook to entertain ourselves.

I live in a world of food and not surprisingly my friends and family eat well, too well. And yet we are living in an age of increasing levels of obesity and its consequences. Some of us are eating very well and some of us are eating calorie dense, nutrition-light meals. What are we going to do about it?

Wasting Away

I’ve lost 18 kilos since March; no wonder I’m less averse to climbing stairs. Clearly it’s a good thing but it has provided me with two conundra. The first is how to answer that question: “Aren’t you amazing, how did you do that”? In all honesty I don’t know how, but it leads to another question: if I’m now amazing, what was I before? Lazy? Indulgent and out of control? That is the message I’ve received for years.

However it’s the weight loss itself I’d like to address here. It is something of a mystery. I have lost weight slowly and without the aid of technologies such as gym membership, designer jogging shoes, weight loss programs, a dietician or even a diet. For all I know I may be seriously ill.

I’ve begun to dread that question, but it has made me think about it. There are the usual suspects: stress, overwork etcetera but there are other factors. Most notable amongst these is the fact that I spent most of those months teaching a course in “Food Studies”, an interdisciplinary course that teaches first year Uni students where our food comes from.

So here’s my theory: immersing myself in thinking what went into various foods, how they were grown and by whom, I have simply absorbed these lessons. These days, by the time I read what is in a product and where it comes from, I am increasingly less likely to buy it.

If it is imported I hesitate to buy, if it is a processed product I am unlikely to buy it (except for tea bags and the occasional tim-tam). I buy meat from my local butcher and only eat free-range chicken and eggs (preferably organic). These are more expensive, so I buy less, thus adhering to Michael Pollan’s dictum: Eat food. Not too much, mostly plants. And it appears to be working.

Having grown up a yo-yo dieter who took her first weight loss drugs at thirteen, and survived on a water diet for eight days aged eighteen, I found myself a type-2 diabetic at forty-five. No surprises there or in my determination NEVER to diet again.

And in truth I did not diet, I discovered that small and slow do work. Not every obese person can teach Food Studies, but we can all take small steps. If guidelines now recommend 1 hour of exercise per day but you can only find time for 20 – take those 20 minutes. I have stopped taking the lift. If you can afford to, buy smaller dinner plates. Don’t tell yourself I can never eat chips again, just fewer and not so often.

The other trick to weight loss appears to be to lose some. Once you begin to lose weight and get those comments it gets easier. Forget the Biggest Loser fantasy – slow and steady does win the race.

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University

Slow Shopping

I recently sat on a panel dedicated to the discussion of food sovereignty – a fancy title for a discussion of the ways we Australians might have more say in deciding what we eat, where our food comes from and how it is produced. Yes, it was a slow food event.

What stuck in this member of the chattering class’s mind was a comment from a senior National Party MP on the panel. Though he was a charming and sincere gentleman, we certainly parted ways on a couple of issues. My suggestion that we take responsibility for those less fortunate, that is, those who don’t have enough to eat, being dismissed with the comment that “We’ll always have the haves and have not’s”. Should we accept malnutrition because it has had such a long and distinguished tradition?

Then there’s the role of women. The gentleman referred to a phenomenon I must confess I hadn’t heard of, he talked of the “Wednesday” shop, which he compared with the weekend shop. It went something like this:

“Well it’s been well documented the way in which women do a hasty shop on Wednesdays and then do their ‘proper’ shopping on the weekends”.

He then went on to explain the bleeding obvious – that harassed Mum’s on their way home from work will tend to buy rather more prepared foods than on the weekend, when they are more likely to shop and cook from scratch. Should we overlook his clear understanding that shopping and cooking is the women’s domain – no matter if she also works fulltime? Perhaps we’ll deal with that one later.

I’m more interested in his acknowledgement of the distinction between the fast shopping that takes place on weekdays and the slow shopping we women do on the weekends. While I’m the first to acknowledge that I’m more willing to do the food shopping than my male partner, and better at it, I’m less thrilled with the notion of shopping as leisure.

Shopping for clothes, shoes and accessories, at least for myself, is something I consider to be a leisure activity because I do it during the time which I consider to be leisure time. I’m sure you women know what I mean here, the weekend, that time when we are supposed to enjoy not being at work. This leisure time we spend driving our children everywhere, cleaning our houses, cooking, shopping and doing the laundry.

So what should I do with the remaining hours of the weekend? Would I rather go shopping or sit in the sun reading that weekend paper that takes a week to get through?

It’s quite a simple task, rescuing a few slow moments from my weekend. Slow shopping? Maybe this happens on holidays, but doesn’t that leave an awful lot of slow activity for those two-week breaks? So when did holidays suddenly become so fast?

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University

Eating the Coat of Arms

Travelling out of my latte-luvvy comfort zone for a Saturday night BBQ was never going to simple, though we love the old friend wishing to re ignite the friendship by inviting us to meet his fiancée.

Their flagpole was visible before we saw the house, in fact it could be seen for miles. As our friend opened the door I managed not to express my joy that he was marrying Quentin Bryce, after all, who else hangs out a flag as big as WA?

Am I snob? A food snob for sure, I thought, as I watched her put out an assortment of processed, high salt, high fat, low-fibre snacks from their individual (read unsustainable) packages. I saw these snacks as symbolic of the evening ahead. Where were the olives?

Multiculturalism has not made great inroads in this locale. The bride-to-be, evidently thinking a spot of refugee bashing would go down a treat with her two migrant guests, provided a diatribe about all these refugees getting everything including new cars apparently, while we (read white) Australians suffer.

I will not repeat her comments about Indigenous Australians. At some point I managed to steer the conversation towards food and innocently inquired whether they ate kangaroo. Well you would think I’d suggested she cook her puppy dog. How dare anyone eat the coat of arms?

I have always blamed Skippy for the paltry amount of roo we consume in this country but she absolutely insisted on the coat of arms defence and was strident that no one else eats theirs, why should we?

I did point out that there are good reasons for this: the bald eagle (US) wouldn’t taste so good and I’d hate to guess when a lion or a unicorn, were last seen in the UK. The French apparently also have a lion and an eagle. Indeed lions, dragons, large birds and assorted strange mythical creatures abound in the heraldic world.

As usual Australia is blessed. We have our own assorted very strange creatures but they really do exist, here. We’re just really lucky ours are so plentiful, sustainable and delicious.

I would have put all this behind me until I found myself enjoying the culinary magic of Mark (the black) Olive – our own Indigenous celebrity chef, who was, unsurprisingly doing great things with roo and emu. It was when the Black Olive suggested we don’t like the idea of eating our coat arms I recalled my new friend. How shocked would she be to have anything in common with an Indigenous Australian?

Only the Olive was suggesting that we get over it, enjoy our good fortune and slap another emu fillet on the barbie.

Want to express your Australian identity? Might I suggest that eating animals, which are native to this land, is a better way than hanging a flag, a quarter of which sports the Union Jack?

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University

Unsung Dads

Having previously written about the daily struggles of Mums it’s seems only fair to address deserving dads; unsung everyday heroes who have not been rendered impotent, violent or otherwise enraged by the gains of feminism.

Travelling usually indicates luck itself and while travelling last year, I felt so very lucky. But good luck is often followed by bad. Excessive security checks and my own stupidity ensured I missed my flight from Gatwick, a word I hope never to hear again. All I remember is that endless queue and then running from one wrong gate to the next. Finally arriving in Sicily I was lucky. But sunny Sicilia and its divine food can wait for another time.

I had to return via Gatewick and get myself to Heathrow and then home sweet home. It was a Friday and the bus driver, faced with terrible traffic snarls had decided to take an alternate route. This would have alarmed me if not for the very big wait for the flight home.

So I was able to sit back and enjoy the view. Yes, there was a view because he left the motorway. It was school holidays in the UK, the sun was actually shining and I was on a slow bus to Heathrow.

The driver had his young son sitting right behind him and I was behind them. As he drove he pointed out sites of interest to his son, things like “your Granny worked in the Great House there”, or “Great-Granddad worked in the factory there before the War”. We even passed Hampton Court Palace where another ancestor had been a gardener.

I’m not sure who enjoyed this most, his son or I? It was such a wonderful, random unfolding of England’s social history, an informed commentary, told with such understated pride. This man will probably never write his family story, certainly never be asked, “ Who do you think you are”; yet he knew where he came from and so will his son.

Home again, in the dreaded supermarket, when my shopping reverie is shattered by a middle-aged guy asking me where he can find curry powder. My eyes narrow seeking more information and he tells me he wants to make curried egg sandwiches for his kids. They’re sick of cheese and tomato. So we need something mild, a powder not a paste and apply with caution, don’t forget the dash of mayo.

He’s asked the right person, again I wonder why I’m so often asked for advice in supermarkets. I didn’t ask the Dad whether he ever gave them lunch money, or indeed whether this was his week with the kids or whether he was their sole carer or how he was able to do the school pickup. I got the impression he was sole carer and doing it tough. It’s only a sandwich, but minor acts of love have lifetime consequences.

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University

Slow and Local

Last weekend I was fortunate to find myself in a somewhat more upmarket shopping precinct than I usually frequent. Finding our destination closed, I steered my friend into a nearby, legendary food provedore.

Barely had we found the extra-virgin olive oil, then we were offered a complimentary cup of coffee. That the extra ten minutes spent in the store would, of course, give me more time to look on the shelves and more temptation to buy.

Perusing the shelves I was struck by how far this food had travelled. Sure, a massive blackboard proudly proclaimed just one local ingredient: “Manjimup truffles $2,500 per kg”. Well I guess we’d all write that on our blackboard if we had the chance.

The shelves displayed beautifully packaged pastes and potions from Christine Manfield but everything else seemed to be from very far away, as in organic “ketchup” from Spain, organic biscuits from the UK, bottled pears from Italy and so it went.

So for days now I’ve been pondering this slow dilemma: can we justify our desire for high quality food, especially organic, when it is shipped from afar? Organic food may be better for one’s health, it certainly makes consumers feel better about themselves, but what about the carbon foot print?

The obvious response is “Oh but it isn’t available here” and that is often the case. “Boutique” products cannot be mass-produced. However, if as it appears, there is a market for such foods, why isn’t more of it produced here in Australia?

Having struggled for accreditation, with the additional workload and costs and a marketplace  demanding cheap food, organic farmers  are finally in a position where their products are in demand. However, being smaller producers they may not have the resources needed to add value to their produce.

So who will give small, sustainable farmers support? Clearly not our authorities.  Australia’s Risk Assessment Appeals Panel thinks we should be importing apples from China, and now New Zealand too. Here in WA we’ve seen the go ahead given for GM canola trials, though as yet we still can’t prevent GM crops contaminating non-GM crops.

On the other hand we could consider the words of Joel Salatin, who features so prominently in Food Inc. Salatin’s farm aims to provide clean food and educate consumers and food producers.  Visitors are invited to:

Experience the satisfaction of knowing your food and your farmer, building community.  We are your clean meat connection.

When asked what he will do when demand exceeds supply, Salatin is unequivocal – he cannot do what he does on a large scale. He can only provide for his immediate area while encouraging and assisting farmers elsewhere to give it a go.

Salatin will be running workshops in Australia later this year, November for the ACT. A good chance to hear a universal message – slow down, smell the roses and eat local.

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University

We Are All Jewish Mothers

Last week I gave a talk for a group of senior Jewish women on the topic of Jewish food and Jewish mothers. I like to think we can consider the Jewish mother as a symbolic mother, not because Jewish mothers are any better, or any worse, than any other group of mothers. It’s a question of perception – Jewish mothers have had more publicity, not all of it good.

People often ask me why Jews take their faith from their mother’s not their fathers. I used to think it was suspicion of women’s fidelity then I discovered it had more to do with the way Jewish women provide their children with the cultural and spiritual tools to be Jewish, in other words, their identity.

Surely this can also be extended to women in general? For example when it comes to speaking a second language children will learn their mother’s language but not the father’s – unless both parents have the same language of course.

The ladies wanted to hear me eulogising the uber-nurturing Jewish mother. They wanted talk of chicken soup and dedication. Certainly this is the image we know to be the “yiddishe mother”. However what I wanted to talk to them about the way that image changed over time.

The Jewish mother emerged at the end of the 19th century. In the Jewish villages of Europe men’s lives revolved around the Synagogue and study while women took care of all the worldly details, small matters like money, education and feeding the family. If we examine other “traditional” cultures we come to understand that this behaviour is common.

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University

The Jewish women of Eastern Europe became the bridge between Jewish and host communities and these everyday skills meant that they adapted to life in the New World better than men whose religious education was no longer valued.

 

And somewhere between Minsk and Manhatten (or Melbourne) she went from being an angelic, long suffering mother always offering food of course, always leaving the lamp lit in case her wayward son might return, to some sort of obsessive force–feeding banshee. The Yiddish films of the early 20th century show them as dear old ladies obsessively loved by their bad boy sons.

 

By the time we get to the 60s and 70s writers like Phillip Roth and filmmakers like Woody Allen in particular, provided hideous portraits loosely based on their own mothers. What went wrong?

 

Were these women the victims of their own success? American Jewish women were well educated but expected to remain at home once married, providing the source of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique. The result was feminism and perhaps her sons resented the shift in focus.

 

Universal indeed – today we women go freely into the workforce, but when it comes to chicken soup and compassion, not much has changed, we’re always on call. Yes, we are all Jewish mothers.