Wednesday, February 15, 2012
I have been truly blessed :)
I was recently chosen by "Russian Chicago Magazine" as their cover girl!
They did a cover story on me and asked me to submit an article based on my life experience. You can find the article here in all it's glory! Below is the story as submitted by me:
Mila Furman “I am not a superwoman; I am the first aid to every woman, precisely what the doctor ordered”
Translated and Adapted byVictoria Bulakhov
Our heroine Mila Furman, an excellent cook, an expert on cooking healthy meals and private organizer of various events, sits down and speaks with us about her the three main passions in life. She loves to cook. She loves to share his knowledge from the sphere of cooking with others. And she loves her husband, Mark. As this issue goes to press, she is basking in the sun on the coast of Mexico's Mayan Riviera, and cannot wait to go back home, where she will continue to grow her business and her website skyeventplanner.com. In the new website format she will include all her cooking classes, cooking tips and stories through her blog, “In the Skytchen” and continue to share not only the secrets of cooking healthy meals, but also recipes from Grandma's piggy bank. As to how Madame Furman came to her love for cooking? Here is her story in her own words.
Cook from your heart and your food will always taste good. If your heart isn’t in it then it’s not worth the effort.” My mom used to say to me as I stood by her side when she made our family meals, peering into every boiling and bubbling pot on the stove. At a young age I would stand by my mother and watch her knowing hands put a little touch of this in one pot, a sprinkle of that in another and finish with a splash of something in a third pan…and with that method she would create the most delicious, soul-warming foods for the family. It was at this early age that I knew I wanted to be like my mother, to be the soul of the home and the family…to provide warmth with my spirit, love and my food. I have sweet memories of my grandmother and mother slaving in the kitchen all days for various holidays…hand making 100’s of little Russian dumplings, rolling out paper thin napoleon cake layers, grinding pounds of chicken liver through the meat grinder. My mom had shared the kitchen with her mom for years, it was the way of life; she learned how to cook from her mom, who learned it from her mom, who learned it from her mom through generations and generations…this was the way we connected from one generation to the next…through tragedy and happiness, through laughter and tears, through sickness and health, the smells and sounds rising from the kitchen lifted our spirits just a bit and reminded us of a sweeter place in life.
Ironically, my love for cooking did not translate into a love of food. I refused to eat as a child, food was simply not a priority in my life and my scrawny body showed it. My mom stopped trying to force feed me as a very young child…she knew when her child was hungry she would eventually ask... and I did ask. But the only food I ever wanted was classic Jewish Bouillion, with a piece of chicken from the soup with the skin on. I hate to admit it…but my mother hand fed me this meal and many others until the age of 16…everyone would probably agree that food tastes better from your mom’s hands. My mother and maternal grandmother would constantly have to be cooking up something fresh for me…I did not do leftovers…my meals had to be made fresh…and I knew when they weren’t. Generally speaking I was an extremely picky eater with multiple special requests…considering that most Russian children obeyed their parents and ate whatever was put in front of them…I was the minority in this instance and ate to my own likings…regardless of the multiple screams and threats from my mother, brother, grandmother and doctors. I was set in my eating ways and no one was going to change it.
At the age of ,7 I was ripped from the home I knew and my parents and I set out on our 4 month voyage to America. We were moving from my hometown of Kishineiv Moldova to Chicago…America a land far away with many opportunities, a completely different culture and worst of all new cuisine. My parents packed all they could…a lifetime was now packed into a huge wooden crate…we said good-bye to our family and friends and set out on this strange trip on September 1st 1989…the day of my 7th birthday. For me the entire trip seems dream-like…occurring many life times ago, in a different time and land...proving its reality and existence occasionally in pictures from photo albums and glimpses of memories mainly from the foods I consumed along the way.
Austria was our first destination.
In Austria, we lived in an incredible hotel outside of Vienna. A unique little village that reminded me of every fairy tale my grandmother ever read to me, complete with cobble stone roads, smiling pedestrians and colorful little houses that served as homes and businesses to the town. My brother and I helped the work staff clean tables and in return we were given a couple of coins to get ourselves some ice cream. Each afternoon my brother and I would run and get our milky ice cream and share it with our grandmother and parents. Still, I have never found an ice cream that tastes as delicious as that ice cream had…a simple popsicle enveloped in a colorful wrapper with a picture of a smiling cow…it was creamy and sweet…just what our little tummies needed to help us feel like ourselves in a new and strange world. One of the quant houses was a chocolate confectionary…Mine and my brother’s candy of choice was a unique little chocolate egg called “Kinder Surprise”. Inside hid a toy... a little Pink Panther toy. We used to collect the little Pink Panthers and would save them to remind us of the special time we had in Austria…Unfortunately, our unique collection of chocolate stained pink panthers was left behind in Austria…forgotten at the last moment.
On our train ride from Austria to Italy my parents bought us sandwiches to nibble on in the train…I still taste that sandwich…It was made on fresh brioche…a bread that was a tad bit sweet and a bit salty…with plenty of freshly made Mortadella sausage on top. It was a simple inexpensive pleasure that we relished in our train cabin…we all commented how delicious this sandwich was and even today my whole family remembers those sandwiches. This moment seemed to be a way we connected with each other going forward…sharing a simple pleasure in life…engaging in a conversation that reminded us of a happier and less threatening time…an escape to something old and familiar…a warm meal in a cold and stiff belly.
Passoscuro Italy was a town close to the Mediterranean Sea in between Rome and Ladispoli. My first experience with Italian food was pasta. Our first dinner in Italy consisted of tiny pinwheel pasta dressed simply in a freshly made marinara sauce. Knowing what a poor eater I normally was, my mother was shocked to see that I ate my whole plate and was sneakily picking off my brother’s plate. Almost every other day my father made the 6 hour tedious trip to the market to buy us fresh produce so my mother could cook us a meal. Never have I tasted poultry as fresh as I did in Italy. With the limited ingredients my mom had, she created the most amazing soups and stews…it was in Italy at the age of 7 that I learned the most simple of ingredients of the best qualities combine to make the most memorable meals. The food aside, Italy was breathtaking! Beautiful views, passionate people and incredible history were forever engraved into my memories.
After 3.5 months our Italian Siesta was over and we were finally headed to our new home : Chicago. We arrived to Chicago on a particularly freezing day only days before Thanksgiving. My aunt greeted us with a feast that reminded us exactly how far we were from home. A table full of “Russian treats, to help us feel more at home. I ingested my food quietly, afraid to interrupt this perfect moment of chewing and chatting. We had not seen my aunt in 2 years and I had never met my older cousin and uncle. My uncle, I later found out would be my guide to the American cuisine. Later that week he had taken me and my family to “Omni” a large grocery store chain similar to “Jewel” or “Dominick’s”. My eyes lit up as I saw all the colorful packages, vegetables and fruits. My mother was alarmed by the fact that there were tomatoes in the winter! I walked around the store with my mother, wide eyed and confused at the ridiculous amount of food on display…while my mother tried to figure out how we would afford all this variety. My uncle then decided that I needed to live the “American Food Dream”. We took one trip after another to McDonald’s, hot dog stands and more grocery stores. I was introduced to chips, chocolate candy bars and other fattening foods that I would later regret meeting.
Before I knew it, I had to go to school. Never having been to school before, I was terrified. Equipped with a backpack, a boy’s haircut and one word of English I was sent to my first day in the first grade. I hated it. My teacher was amazing but the kids were cruel. I never understood why they were so mean to me. I came home in tears on a daily basis. I ran to the nurses’ office and begged them to call my mom to come pick me up. My mom would come shaking and in tears only to be greeted by the same terrified look on her daughter’s face. The culture shock was jolting to me…and for six months I went mute. I did not speak Russian or Yiddish let alone English. I cried every day and I sat in the lunch room alone…as my tears fell on my cold pastrami sandwich. It was miserable…I think about it now and still feel like the same scared little girl worried to speak the wrong word. All through this, I ran home at the end of each day and turned to my mom’s cooking for comfort. Home for me still meant where my mom was…it was by my mother’s side that I felt the safest. And so after school on my mom’s days off we would learn English together. We would turn on Channel 11 and watch “Great Chef’s of the World”. While other children were watching Bugs Bunny and Friends I was watching Julia Child and her friends. And so with each sautee and each whisk my mom and I were brought together by our desire to fit in with this culture and our love for food.
I learned what it meant to be a “haziyaka” ( the Russian word for home maker) from my mom. She was everything and everywhere in our family. She was the true matriarch of our family…she enriched our lives with her laughter, her love and her food. I knew this was what I wanted to be when I grew up. My mom was my hero and I set out to be exactly like her.
I went through all the stages that most children go through…I wanted to be a doctor because I loved making my family feel better when they had the flu. I wanted to be a lawyer because I liked arguing with everyone. I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved fluffy animals. But when I went to high school I realized the only thing I wanted to do in school was cook. In high school, I took every available cooking class. By my junior year, I had completed all the cooking classes that were offered and the teacher created a special curriculum based on 3 cooking classes for me. I came home each day and told my mom about the amazing techniques I had learned and tried to teach HER something new in the kitchen. I was always astonished at how little I could teach my mom…she was mostly self taught, her skills coming only from years of cooking for her family and a natural instinct for food that she fortunately passed on to me. We always talked about opening up a café together. One where we would serve our homemade food and fulfill other people’s bellies with her cooking like she had done with for our family for years.
In my senior year of high school I finally got the opportunity to visit my dream college, Kendall College in Evanston, at the time the number 2 culinary school in the country. Upon entering the school I was astonished to see the military like discipline each student seemed to possess. They were like little white-clad armies…stirring to the same rhythm…chopping to a similar beat…performing a symphony that would later create the perfect meal. I was terrified. This was too much to take in! So much responsibility! And of course being the rebel that I was…I could never conform to this military type of education. My mother was disappointed but nonetheless she said I needed to do what would make me happy. And so upon graduating high school, I abandoned my dream of becoming a chef and went to business school.
A year later, I was introduced to the man, Mark who would become my husband. A Ukrainian Jew, who loved food and family as much as I did. My over protective mother approved of my handsome new prince and wished us well as we rode away on one of our first dates on his metal horse, his motorcycle. We bonded almost immediately and for some reason our conversations frequently turned to food, reminiscing our favorite Russian foods. Many a nights we would run to his house and he would make us an omelet at 3am, carefully choosing his ingredients out of his fridge, knowing that I would quietly pick out anything I did not like in the omelet. To this day, those are some of the happiest times that we shared together. The foundation of our relationship was built on the simple pleasure of sharing a warm meal together over a quiet conversation.
Sadly, with so much happiness, sadness had to strike. Shortly after meeting Mark, my mother passed away. A chill was sent through our family that no blanket could ever cover. The warmness and love that had once been so freely given out to us by our mother was taken away, with only our memories left to hold on to. With tears in his eyes, my father came up to me the day of the funeral and said that my mom’s dying words for me, were that I had to go to culinary school. As if she knew my innermost thoughts…she told my dad that I had follow my dream it was the only way to my happiness and eventual success. As soon as the mourning period was over, I put on my chef whites, rolled up my sleeves and enrolled in my first semester at Kendall College.
Kendall was a dream and a nightmare all in one. The hardest part was living my dream without being able to turn to my mother with all the exciting new stories. My now husband however was more than willing to listen and to eat all of my new findings. A perfect combination: I loved to cook and he loved to eat; my husband gained 15 pounds my first year in culinary school. I came home every day with a new cut or a new burn; I was only too happy to show off the battle wounds I received in my kitchen adventures. While the first quarter in school was full of excitement my second quarter in school was anything but. Due to the course work we were to be in class at 4:30am in order to prepare breakfast for the school. After a 15 minute break we were to go back into class and start cooking lunch for the class. After an exhausting day in the kitchen I had to sit in a regular classroom and take basic classes for 3 more hours. I would come home at 7pm watch an hour of television and go to sleep in order to wake up at 4am. It was brutal. My body could not get used to the schedule and my heart was fighting the loss of my mother. It was tough…to this day I say those 3 months were the hardest times of my life.
My first summer in culinary school I worked full time at the biggest catering company on the North Shore. At any given time there were 65 male non-English speaking Hispanics in the over sized kitchen. My only hope to communicate with them was to speak their language. So I rambled off all the broken Spanish I knew and over 6 months I was speaking Spanish fluently, a skill I later found out was indispensible in this field. It was at this catering company that I learned how to prepare meals for hundreds. It was then that I discovered I wanted to go into event planning and coordinate large functions. With my goal in hand I graduated culinary school. And 2 years later I graduated with a Bachlor’s Degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management. For the next 4 years I worked at numerous jobs that paid close to nothing. In return however, I got the amazing opportunity to plan lavish affairs up to a million dollars. I planned weddings at the luxurious Drake Hotel, corporate meetings at the Sheraton, private dinner functions for the VP of Ferrari and a huge Men’s Health Urbanathalon Race at Grant Park for over 10,000 attendees. Through this all my heart strings still pulled at me and my need to get back in the kitchen grew stronger and stronger. On occasion I would throw private dinner parties at some of my clients’ homes and would create bountiful bites for them and their friends to devour. Some of the housewives would ask me to teach them tips and tricks on how to cook meals faster and through this I suddenly found my urge to share my knowledge and my passion for food and entertaining with the world. With this idea I created Sky Events. I needed to share my food stories and tip with the world. And so I started to write. On a cold winter night, right before my first Thanksgiving dinner, I opened up my blog and never stopped writing.
During the day I would work my crazy corporate job where I planned events, at night I would come home and cook my heart out and write all about it on my blog. My weekends were full of weddings and private functions that I got to design and execute. Through it all my dying goal was to be the woman my mother was. My mom always wanted me to be the perfect wife and mother but to always have the ability to stand on my own two feet in this world.
Today, my life has finally taken a turn into the direction that I have willed it to go. I took all the tools that my mother and my education gave me and I paved my own way. My career and my family mean everything to me. I consider myself a modern day homemaker and my goal is to be able to share with the world what my mother has shared with me- to teach other little girls what my mother taught me: that the feeling of sharing a warm soup with your child will never leave them; that memories are made in the kitchen where pots boil over and messes are frequent. Young women who emigrated to this country like me were so quick to adapt to their environment in America they forgot what it really means to come from the culture we came from. To me it has always been a combination of food and laughter, of an old story shared with a close friend over a warm meal, of a house breaking at the seams from laughter and love. Every woman can do what I do…A common house wife has more will in her then they believe…and I am there to show them precisely how easy that is to harness. A way to bring a little something special into a woman’s heart, a place that a woman escapes to her own being and creates something straight from the heart. A way to taking something women are afraid of and making it something they control. Food healed me in the most primitive of ways. When I felt lonely or depressed, I invited friends over for some gossip and some food. Through those nights I found my voice…I found my calling and I finally found my mom within me. My friends call me a “superwoman” but I think that I am the first aid to any woman, precisely what the doctor ordered…