One of first cookbooks for which I did publicity was Taste of Challah by Tamar Ansh. What a blast! I worked hard. Tamar worked hard. And the book received great exposure and sold quite well. Tamar and I have been in touch ever since and it was a real honor when she asked her current publisher, The Judaica Press, to bring me on as publicist for her latest book Let My Children Cook! A Passover Cookbook for Kids. Tamar has really done it again, producing a book which both kids and adults love which is also accessible to probably every sort of Jew. I am still a big believer that some books can have a real impact on people and Tamar’s latest book is one of them. This book can bring families together while connecting with Passover in a fun, non threatening way.
I asked Tamar for an interview and despite a hectic pre-Passover schedule, she graciously agreed. I am excited to welcome her!
Tamar, How did you start writing cookbooks?
My first cookbook was a Pesach cookbook and it started off as a bit of a joke. The gluten free/ non gebrochts market was not in existence then and most people tended to look at those who didn’t eat gebrochts as slightly crazy and of course, having ‘nothing to eat on Pesach’. After making Pesach myself from nearly the beginning of my marriage, I had experience with having lots of choices even though we did not eat gebrochts so I began compiling some of my notes. The clincher was when we had some guests (young women who were newly observant) who told us that they heard that people who don’t eat gebrochts on Pesach have nothing to eat. Yet, they were pretty impressed by all I had laid out for them! That exchange is what got me moving on the book for real. In fact, I originally titled my first document as the “What??? He doesn’t gebrocht?” cookbook! That was too wordy though so I called it A Taste of Tradition.
What have you found difficult in writing cookbooks? What has been unexpected?
The only part of the writing in cookbooks that can be difficult is the sheer size of the task at hand. It’s a LOT of typing and can be overwhelming. And the details are very consuming. One has to make sure all the format of the recipes stays the same, that all the amounts are accurate, that the terms used throughout the book are exact, and then the checking over of everything can take weeks.
On the other hand, one of the perks is that you suddenly find creativity inside yourself that you never knew you had before! You invent new recipes, you find different ways to show how to serve the same old things, people stop you to tell you how much your book or your recipes really made a difference in their Pesach – this makes it all worth it.
How long does it usually take you to write a new book?
This varies and depends greatly on how many other projects I am involved in concurrently, how great my motivation is, what time of year the project is aimed at and how much time I have to the ‘finish line’ and other factors. With Let My Children Cook! I came to the publisher with the idea, outline and book already completed so the book’s creation took less time.
Do your books usually turn out as you’d planned?
Since I generally have a very clear vision of what I want my books to look like, and in general I work with the graphic artist very closely, they do come out very close to what I’ve planned and more often, even better!
What have you found are the best ways to promote your books?
Promotion of a book is an all encompassing project. There is no real end to it which can sometimes be draining. For myself as the author and promoter, the most vital aspect is remembering that the work begins 8 months in advance of the book’s projected publication date. If you can remember that and work with this in mind you will be far more successful at getting popular sites, magazines, newspapers and bloggers to say yes to you when you offer them your material. Plain hard work and planning is the best way to promote any book. I have enjoyed working with my publicist Stuart Schnee and his staff – they do great work (how is that for a good plug?)
Your newest book, Let My Children Cook! was written with kids in mind. Why?
I wrote Let My Children Cook! for kids because it was a GREAT idea and has vast potential. It was also a really fun project and since I love working with children and could plug into how kids think about food, I realized there were lots of ideas to share. And a kids’ cookbook that focuses on Passover (not only “Pesach”), a time of year that is so traditional and that Jews of every type will spend together with family just seemed ideal.
It was an enjoyable project, and I feel that Jewish children everywhere, the entire spectrum over will be able to utilize and gain from it. Passover is a family time and I have been cooking with my kids for so many years (we do so all year, not only Passover); it occurred to me that others would enjoy using many of the ideas we do, and that it can even help strengthen other’s family bonding time through time spent in the kitchen – together.
Kids like food that appeals to them, and that use foods with tastes they are used to. When you write a cookbook for kids that you expect them to also be able to use themselves, you need to choose ideas they can execute easily and that have less steps to them. Some recipes are not a full recipe but more a food idea and how to prepare it and make it look nice.
People mistakenly think that letting kids help in the kitchen is, or even should be, a real help. Let me tell you a secret – it’s usually not, especially when they are small! It IS often more mess and time than just ‘doing it yourself.’ HOWEVER, it is something that really creates a beautiful bond and if you realize that you will just have to do less for that hour or two in order to GIVE that fun to your children, it’s very worth it. You only get your kids as kids for a few short years – it’s you to YOU to use these years to create meaningful memories now, before the chance runs away from you.
Kids and memories are built very much around the kitchen, the traditional foods your family uses, the aromas, the tastes, even the build-up to how you made them. You don’t get too many years with your kids; before you know it, they will be teenagers with other people in their lives besides you. You need to grab that opportunity NOW when they are available to you…
At the end of the day it’s “just food.” But the part that lasts are the memories created because of the food…
What 3 tips can you share for making Passover amazing for kids?
When my kids were little we had ten plagues finger puppets and my husband made a whole little show out of them at the table for the kids. They loved it and even though they are teenagers now, they still remember that particular Seder very fondly.
For very little children, the work they do in kindergarten/gan preparing for Pesach is really important to them. It’s vital that you remember to show it off at the table and ask them questions about whatever they have learned. They are eagerly anticipating doing so with you.
I used to prepare a small dish with some special treats in it, Pesach soft candies, chocolate chips and the like, and for every child no matter the age, every time they either asked a question or answered a question, they got to pick one thing from that dish. This worked wonders at getting them to participate, to look forward to the Seder, and to really stay awake and want to say things.
After all, that is the main purpose of the Seder: “To get the children to ask.”
What tips can you give to adults for making Passover amazing?
- As much as possible, don’t leave anything you absolutely don’t have to do for the day of Erev Pesach. Try to get most of everything done beforehand and leave only the essentials for that day.
- Try to get a nap.
- Turning off the phones by a certain time, turning off the computers, emails, handhelds, cell phones, etc by a certain time will also give you a lot more tranquility and not to mention, ability to focus without constant interruptions.
- If you pre-plan a sort of format to what you will do each day of the intermediary days (Chol Hamoed) it will go smoother. Even simple things like this park one day, a different park a different day, will make your little ones and even the older ones happier. Even if they complain, once you’re doing it and you’re all out enjoying, you’ll see that they will relax and enjoy it. Older teenagers can bring along a book or reading material if they really think it is “so boring”.
- When you focus on the good you have around you – your family, a home, good food, tranquility – you will see that you have a lot to be grateful for and all the “hard” work and stress of getting ready will fade away to second place. Not everyone has this privilege and not every generation was able to celebrate Pesach in peace…
- I usually prepare something filling to feed the entire family with on the day of Erev Pesach; this way everyone is more relaxed by not arriving at candle lighting time completely famished. For us it works to have a fresh, piping hot crunchy potato kugel after our nap and some cool water or juice.
What tips do you have to make pre-Passover prep a great experience for families?
- Get decent sleep so you have energy to work without losing your cool.
- Make a list of what you’d like to see done that day or for that week. Be specific with the list and be funny too. Ex: one checkbox can be “Eat up all the chocolate in xx drawer after you’ve cleaned it out.” Tell each member of the family to check off what they’ve done from this master list and put their name next to it. You can choose to reward those who have at least 5 or 10 or whatever number you feel appropriate, checks that week.
- Turn on some music while working.
- Work with them, don’t just assign jobs and walk away. It’s the togetherness that makes it feel fun.
There are tons of ideas if you put your head to it. These are just some of the ones that work for me.
Above all else, don’t expect that “Helping” will be something your kids will do all day, every day. If you get two hours or so, that’s a big deal. Thank them and let them have down time as well.
My friend Chava Dumas put out a really nice book on this subject that Judaica Press is selling right now also, called Prepare for Pesach—b’simcha! which is all about how to prepare for Pesach with a good attitude. She’s got tons of tips and ideas in the book and I suggest reading it.
Have a wonderful Passover!