January 6th, 2016

(no subject)

On the way home today I worked out that I go to three supermarkets, but also to four specialist grocers. I was so convinced that I did all my shopping in the same place, that I didn't realise that I just don't shop as frequently as I used to, that's all. I still buy the food, but not as often.

The four grocers are the interesting bit. One is technically Chinese, but I realised today that more of their stock comes from Taiwan than mainland China. They mostly have instant food and junk food and sauces and drinks, but they also have a very good freezer section. Today I bought myself shallot pancakes and mango icecream. I didn't need them at all, but I really wanted them and I plan to work very hard to deserve them.

The next grocer would be called 'Asian' in other places, but here is Indian sub-continent. The Sri Lankan shop is a few doors away and if ever I desire fresh string hoppers, they have them, but otherwise I tend to avoid them as they stock too much in the way of snack food I will eat but should not. The other (which I drop in on more regularly) is actually a small supermarket and stocks food from all the Indias. Again, it has a truckload of snackfood, but it also has cooking equipment, very fresh spices in large quantities and an exceptional freezer section. I buy lots of vegies there to make curries in winter, for these are not the sort of vegies that are grown locally. Also, when I need a lot of yoghourt, I go there, for their yoghourt is amazing and cheap, but I need to be willing to eat those vast quantities. Which I do, in curry season.

The third shop goes on and off my register depending on the owners. It's just changed hands again so it's back on my list of favourite places. For years it was owned by a psychologist from the Northern Territory who was, like me, umpteenth generation Australian and dealing with being ethnically not mainstream. We swapped stories about life experiences and I got my dolmades there as well as my SE Asian ingredients, for he said "My ancestors were from Chinese Malaysian, but I like eating dolmades." I used to also buy ginger tea there. I had to stop buying ginger tea because of the sugar, which was a pity, for it's a wonderfully warming drink and brilliant to combat tension headaches and muscle aches.

The young blokes who took over from him were fine when we talked Dr Who, but not comfortable for me with politics, for they expressed a delight that I knew the grandfather of kids who had not seen the sun in nine days (that day we spoke, I'd just learned of it) due to bombs raining down on Israel. They actually said that it would be fine if the kids were hurt, because they were Jewish Israeli. I missed my fresh coriander and various other ingredients after that, but I couldn't face the conversation again.

Now it's changed hands again and it's a family business selling mostly Malaysian/Indonesian ingredients, which is perfect. All the fresh vegies I love, plus things like kencur and halo halo.

The fourth is my wonderful Lebanese grocer in Mawson. We're comfortable with each other's religions and I can get the dried fruit of my childhood there, and the finest ginger, and ancestral cucumbers and figs and the freshest cheeses and labneh and, of course, large quantities of my favourite coffee. It's next to one of the best butchers in the city (halal meat, always amazingly fresh, and they have good fruit and vegies, to boot), so I don't go nearly as often as I want to, for I always buy a lot more than I need. Unless I actually need three mangos and a punnet of raspberries when I already have fruit...

When I tally my favourite grocers, I wish I had six people to cook for, because then I could buy the things I want more regularly.

And I forgot one. There's the Thai grocer in Mawson, too. I get quite specific things from there. They have leafy greens that no-one else has, suitable for Thai and Japanese food, and they have that lovely sweet tamarind snack, and (you guessed it) a really good array of frozen foods. One day I'll go there and then go to the halal butcher and then to the Malaysian/Indonesian place near me and I'll buy all the ingredients I need for a giant rijstaffel (Indonesian style) and invite a squillion friends over. I used to do this sort of thing, but life intervened. I'd make a giant pot of beef rendang while I was at it and fill my freezer with rendang and leftovers and eat brilliantly for weeks. And my friends would complain about how fat I made them...

I need to do this. Not til I'm past this mammoth amount of work (so not this January) but maybe when things get a bit quieter. It would be so much fun! I could borrow a foodie friend and we would go to each and every one of these shops. Maybe in April, when the weather gets cold and everyone gets miserable. I could have an amazing feast with friends, and I could stock my freezer through the dreary months from the proceeds. All I need is a volunteer assistant, with car and the need to cook.

(no subject)

I saw the first two episodes of Season 5 of Downton Abbey ages back, when they were first out, but it's taken til now to get hold of the rest. It's proven very timely, even if it puts my regular work in disarray.

My non-work for the week is one of the projects I set myself because I'm going to need it sometime and would rather have thinking space before that becomes immediate. I've got hold of more of the books people recommended on Australian Judaism by YA writers. (Bear with me, this is relevant.) The library today had - as well as Downton Abbey - Eli Glasman's The Boy's Own Manual to being a Proper Jew and Morris Lurie's Whole Life (his autobiography).

I told Mum about my haul and she knows someone in Glasman's family and is joining me in my reading program (these two things are unrelated). As I said the other day, she also knows some people from Lurie's family. She sees his cousin every time she looks in the mirror.

I'm looking forward to having her read his autobiography and finding out what our side of the family makes of it. I read it when it first came out and was very surprised at how differently he saw the family. Mum didn't read it then. I'm really looking forward to this group read.

I have very little in common with the Jewish girl in the very charming ballet book I read last week, even though I walk the same streets she walked whenever I'm in Melbourne and my nephews would have gone to the same school as her male teen characters. The same with Glasman, even though my mother knows who his mishpocha are. I'm becoming very tired of seeing just the Ultra-Orthodox depicted. I need to find novels that spread their wings a bit more: Judaism in Australia is far more interesting than that. The streets of Melbourne are not paved with Chaim Potok's pages, despite the books I'm currently discovering.

And this is where Downton Abbey fits in. Its link to me is not nearly as distant as I expected. My father's mother's family were not of the same social group as the Jewish characters in Downton Abbey. They would, however, have met them and possibly even have shared a synagogue if they were in the same city. The Downton family would have heard my cousin Linda's music and read her criticism if they visited Australia, for instance. No titles and no money in my family, but we are Anglo-Jewish on that side. My great-grandfather (the non-Anglo of his generation - he was originally Polish, which may surprise you, given he gave me my surname) took out British citizenship in the 1870s.

This made me realise that, in fiction terms, my family is that pivotal point where Downton Abbey meets My Name is Asher Lev. In real terms it's that pivotal point where Bruce Ruxton meets the Marxists. The moment in Downton that made me ineffably happy was when Rose didn't think twice but gave Atticus his actual nationality and didn't tangle it with the Judaism. Due to my father's mother's family, I am Australian the way Atticus is English, but from a poor and thinking line rather than from a well-to-do one. Every time someone assumes I'm not Australian, I feel wrong inside. One of the happiest moments of my life was when a Warlpiri elder told me I was Australian, that there is no doubt about it, no reason to question it. I am exceptionally impressed that Julian Fellowes picked this up and nuanced it properly.

All this is why my normal schedule will be disrupted for the rest of the evening. I may hate what comes next, but at least I know it's being told by a writer who understands.

All this is also work. My next novel (coming out sooner rather than later - it's with the editor now, but I haven't been given timings yet) deals with that sense of being Jewish and Australian. There isn't a single Ultra-Orthodox character in it, however. This may mean I continue to be left off lists of Jewish Australian writers (I'm on one list, just one). And now I'm wittering. I shall make a cuppa and return to Downton Abbey.