INTERVIEW | Family traditions with Julia Busuttil-Nishimura14 MAY
Photo: Armelle Habib
We caught up with Melbourne based writer, teacher and cook, Julia Busuttil-Nishimura, to talk about family, traditions, being a mother and food of course.
Julia creates amazing food which she shares through her blog OSTRO. Her food has a way of conveying all the emotions real food should - love, comfort, happiness and warmth. Her cooking focuses on simple and traditional methods with seasonal and nourishing ingredients. With food and cooking playing a very central role in her life since studying her mother's cookbooks as a child, Julia continues to build on old family traditions whlie creating new ones with her husband Nori and son Haruki.
What are some of the biggest changes in your life since becoming a mother?
I’ve learned that I am a much stronger person than I ever thought I was. Having Haruki challenged me and continues to do so in more ways than imaginable. Night after night you are woken from your sleep and still your love grows and grows and if anyone had told me what it would be like, or how much your heart would feel, I just wouldn’t have believed them. I think I’m also way more efficient at everything I do. Similarly, appreciating the smaller things, like a minute to yourself with a coffee in silence is so blissful and I think it would have been too regular in the past to appreciate it.
What did traditions like Mother’s Day look like in your family growing up?
We celebrated everything when we were growing up – my mum loved keeping traditions and creating new rituals so when it came to Mother’s day, it was no different. Usually we would make her breakfast in bed and give her plenty of cards and presents that my brother, sister and I would have made ourselves. I can also distinctively remember her saying that all she wanted for Mother’s day was a clean house. I can totally relate now that I’m a mum.
Photo: Julia Busuttil-Nishimura
Are there any particular rituals or traditions you had as a child that you would like for Haruki to experience and perhaps continue in his own life?
As a child we would go berry picking in the Adelaide hills in the summer and springtime and it is still really one of my favourite things to do together as a family. I love taking Haruki on our adventures like these and hope one day he will look back and remember these special moments. These are the kind of experiences that really shaped my own relationship with food.
Have you as a family created any of your own rituals or traditions?
We follow many Japanese and Maltese traditions but our most regular one is simply just going to the market. It’s something we do weekly together as a family and our Saturday is centred around this outing. First we have breakfast at home, usually something special like ricotta pancakes or rice, miso and pickles, then we will head to the market. Before we buy our produce, we’ll have a coffee together and then wander around various shops. This takes most of the morning while we’re on our way home, Haruki will have fallen asleep. Nori and I will have a quiet moment to ourselves at home and cook something simple to eat together before Haruki wakes up. To me, it’s the perfect day.
Photo: Julia Busuttil-Nishimura
Can you talk about the significance of food in your life and the rituals around preparing and sitting down for a meal with loved ones?
Food has always played such a huge role in my life. I always had my head in my mum’s cookbooks and when I had read all of them, I begged for more. At family events, I would find myself watching my aunties make pasta, mesmerised, not only by the food but by them, their hands working and all of the laughter that would swell from the kitchen. Cooking for family and friends feels like an extension of myself. So much love and care goes into preparing meals. I learned very early on how much joy you can bring yourself and others simply by cooking for them and that is something that never leaves you I think. No matter what our days have been like, things seem to be calmer and easier when we’re all together at the table sharing a meal.
What is your favourite way to relax on a weekend (with family or if you have a moment to yourself)?
Being at home and cooking together is just the best. When there are no deadlines or places to be, spending the weekend baking or cooking is really my favourite thing to do. It’s when I feel the most relaxed and fulfilled. Having time to write is wonderful too, and they usually go hand in hand. When there is no hurry, I write my best recipes. I have a clear mind and space to think and create. These are the best weekends.
Photo: Julia Busuttil-Nishimura
What is your best advice to make weekday meal time easier/quicker/less of a chore?
With a little one, having dinner ready at a reasonable hour is so important so I just try and keep things relaxed. Having a well-stocked pantry and fridge is really helpful as I know I’ll always be able to make something quickly when I get home. Often we’ll have a beautiful plate of pasta or some fish and simple cooked greens or sometimes I’ll have more time so can commit to something more complex. I often have a vague plan for the week, but being flexible, depending on what comes up, means I’m not rushing around when really the end goal is just a simple and satisfying meal to share with my family.
What are some of your favourite go-to dinner recipes for a quick/delicious weekday meal?
Pasta is the ultimate weekday meal in my opinion. I love making a simple base of just olive oil, slow cooked onions, chicory and raisins. The pasta is tossed through and then topped with crunchy garlicky breadcrumbs. It is ready as soon as the pasta is and is so full of flavour. Nori will often make ‘Nabe’ (Japanese hot pot) for dinner, which is so comforting in the winter time and can be made with almost any vegetable. The one on high rotation in our house at the moment is prepared by making a broth from kombu, umeboshi, garlic, sake and shiitake mushrooms. He then piles in wombok, more mushrooms, tofu, spring onions and sometimes thinly sliced pork belly. We eat it with steamed rice, grated daikon and ponzu and its on the table in no time and always feels so nourishing.