Chatting With Miriyummy: Toby Curwin

Meet Toby Curwin. Even though I met her only once, and for a few minutes at that, I feel like I’ve known her forever!

Toby, along with her husband David, is one of the founding members of the Israelfood group.  This group was originally created to help those of us here in Israel find that elusive can of Dr Pepper, understand the confusing cuts of meat and to discuss which restaurant is the best one to go to when your rich uncle comes to visit and wants to treat you to a meal.  Along the way the members of the group have gotten to know each other.  Toby is one member with a quirky sense of humor.  She has a blog called A Time of the Signs which always manages to give me a good giggle at the various typos found all over the world.  Toby claims this is her funny photoblog, as opposed to her serious photoblog, I Wish I Were A Photographer.  Either (blog)way, Toby is highly entertaining.

Toby was generous enough to take a few minutes out of her pre-Bar Mitzvah planning schedule to meet up with me one Friday afternoon for a few minutes.  We were at the Bloggers’ Day Out in Gush Etzion and Toby didn’t have time to get to the day’s events, but she and David (and her mom) drove up to the restaurant where we were having lunch for a quick hello.  Hopefully, one day we’ll actually have time to meet over a cup of coffee, or a meal, and actually have a proper face-to-face conversation.

So come and meet Toby… and make sure you read through to the end, because Toby has a recipe that has become a legend on Israelfood, so check it out!

Introduce yourself.  Who are you, what are you, why are you?

My name is Toby, and I’m still trying to figure out who I am. I grew up in Chicago, spent a few years on various one-year programs in Israel, then a few years in Boston, and finally moved to Israel in the summer of 1996. Currently I’m trying to be a good mother, wife, mechanical engineer, volunteer, blogger, photographer and human. I’m always open to new suggestions!

Where do you live, and why?

I live in Efrat, in the Gush Etsion region of Israel, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else! When we first moved to Israel, we lived for four years on Kibbutz Yavne, where things were flat, very tidily landscaped, hot and *extremely* humid. When we first considered moving to Gush Etsion, I remember driving up, opening the car door, and suddenly feeling like: oh! I can breathe! I hadn’t noticed not breathing for the years before that, but the air here is so breezy and cool, even in the summertime – I just love it, and would have a very hard time leaving. And don’t get me started on the breathtaking views in every direction. My only fear is that my kids will take living here for granted!

What is your family like?

I have a brilliant, funny husband (the Balashon) and three fantastic kids, aged almost-11 to almost-15. Almost 15! I don’t feel that much older than 15 myself, hmm, wonder how that works out…

What is your relationship with food?  Do you like to cook?

Yes, I very much enjoy cooking, and wish I had more time to patchkie around in the kitchen. As it is, I don’t have a lot of time (see first question, above), and end up making pretty basic food. I think I’m pretty open minded about it, though – I don’t mind having breakfast food for dinner or the other way around. And I do sometimes find myself spontaneously leaping into some complicated food project when I really should be working hard at something else – shhh, don’t tell 🙂

What is your first food-related memory?

That’s a funny question, I mean, we’ve all been eating since we were born, right? Well, I remember my Zaidy (my mother’s grandfather) letting me feed his dog – he gave her cottage cheese! – and I thought it was just the funniest thing ever. And I recall that as a very young girl, my mother and Bubby (my mom’s mother) always put me in charge of making sure the cheese and crackers were arranged beautifully…

How would you describe yourself in the kitchen?  As a host/hostess?

I banished margarine from our kitchen a few years ago, and after reading a bunch of Michael Pollan’s stuff, I’ve been trying hard to keep our kitchen mostly free of processed foods. I say “mostly” since my kids are not entirely pleased with this new setup, and so I still buy them Cheerios and Telma Cornflakes, and sometimes pretzels for munching on the weekend. But overall, I think we’re in pretty good shape. As a hostess, I try to make everyone to feel relaxed and at home. Oh, and I tend to make too much food! I mean, what if everyone really really likes the quinoa, and wants seconds? We’d better have enough. But what if everyone also really likes the stir fry? We’d better have enough…

What is your favorite comfort food and why?

Wow, that’s a hard one. I guess my very favorite food is one most of you haven’t heard of, my family calls it Lukshen and Milk. My Bubby used to make it for us, way back when, and so when I eat it I feel like I’m five years old again 🙂 It’s just poor-man’s food: skinny skinny noodles with butter and salt, in a broth of hot milk. Yum!! Come on over, I’ll happily make you a pot.

Desert island picks, name three foods you could not live without:

I hate to say this, but I’m not sure I can get it down to three. I just like food too much! How about: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheesy green salad, and sushi? But give me a minute, and I’ll pick three more.

Is there any food you hate?  Why?I’m not a big fan of fish, but I’m getting better about it. And I don’t particularly like raw tomatoes, although I can eat those too, if you give them to me. Basically, I hate leaving food on my plate as much as I hate any food, and I try as best as I can to give things a chance.
What is your favorite Miriyummy post and why?I like them all – they make me laugh, they make me cry! But I think that empirically speaking, I have to vote for Roughing It, where I was taught, step by step, to grill tuna in the can. That one has actually changed my life, and I’ve shared the technique with non-believers all over the globe 🙂
Do you have a food-related story you would like to share?
When my youngest was first born, my father came to visit us in our shiny new house in Efrat. We were so eager to impress him, and decided to make cholent, which we’d recently perfected in the crock pot. I set up the whole thing, and then suddenly needed the outlet for a mixer or something, and (I’m sure you can hear it coming) we forgot to plug the crock pot back in. Yuck! We had a huge, full pot of uncooked cholent the next morning, and we were pretty devastated. So much for good impressions! And to this day, we have a seemingly absurd item on our pre-Shabat checklist: make sure all appliances are plugged in.
Thanks for inviting me to do this, Mirj!  What fun!
Oh, and did you want a recipe? This one is totally foolproof – there were a few years that I made these week after week without a hitch. I’ve been leaning toward desserts with less chocolate chips nowadays, but this is still a great recipe – here you go:
Toby’s Easy, Fast, Always Yummy, Margarine-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mix in a bowl: 3/4 cup canola oil, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup white sugar
Add and mix: 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla
Add and mix: 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda
Add and mix: 2+1/4 cups flour
Add and mix: 1/2 bag chocolate chipsYou can either drop these by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake for 11 minutes, or push it all into a baking pan and bake (like brownies) for 25-30 minutes. If you choose cookies, it usually makes about 5 pans.

Just so you know, I’m a little heavy handed, and I don’t really measure either the salt or the baking soda – I just sprinkle it into the bowl until it looks like a teaspoon to me. Same goes for the vanilla. So it might be a little more of each…

About Miriyummy

All I want to do is live happily ever after.

Posted on 29 January 2012, in Chatting with Miriyummy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I’m famous – yay! Thanks Mirj, you make me look a lot more impressive than I am in real life…


  2. So nice to meet Toby! So your hubby is the Balashon blogger? And you live in Efrat? Please take some photos for JPiX (had to get that plug in there). Glad to hear you banished margarine – smart move.


  3. All the connections are making the wheels spin in my brain. Someone just mentioned Balashon the other day-will recall eventually. I like your cooking style, Toby!


  4. Wow! I already liked Toby (thanks to living in the Gush, and getting to see her more regularly than you do; but I’m not rubbing that in, of course) — but I learned so much more to like from your post, Mirj. I knew about A Time of the Signs; but her photo blog is new to me. I will definitely check it out. (Ah, the advertising power of social media!) And I didn’t know that Balashon — another favorite blog — was her Dearly Beloved. Thanks for providing this excellent community service. 😀


    • Hi Ruti – nice to see you too! Yes, my Dave is Balashon, and he’s the one to blame for me blogging in the first place… I hope you visit and enjoy all three of our blogs! But it’s even more fun to see you in person 🙂


  5. Although Toby and I go back in time with different family connections (her younger brother and my son were school friends, her husband and my husband used to work together, and I’m also part of the IsraelFoods List), I really enjoyed reading a bit more about you!
    A mechanical engineer! Cool…didn’t know that about you! I look forward to trying your easy-to-read-and-do brownie recipe. I also banished margarine from our abode several years ago and am always looking for ways around it.
    But Mirj, you really should follow up by posting her wonderful challah recipe!


  6. Two of my favorite bloggers together! Great interview!


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