Busy in Brooklyn. While not all of us live in Kings County, just the name of Chani Apfelbaum’s popular blog conjures up images of what life is like for so many of us: busy, hectic, filled with to-do lists, responsibilities and more. Yet, when it comes to meals, we crave food that is tasty, beautiful and doesn’t take hours to prepare – realistically, time is one commodity we don’t have a lot of.
It was after the birth of her third child, when Chani gave up her career in web design to become a stay-at-home mom to her kids, that Busy in Brooklyn came to be. Chani found herself looking for an outlet for her creative energy and it was her husband Joe of Ajax Union Marketing who suggested she channel her love of cooking, her knowledge of computers and her writing skills into a cooking blog. Four years later, Busy in Brooklyn has readers all over the world and Chani is still shocked when people recognize her on the street.
Unlike so many others who grew up with a spatula in their hands, Chani’s cooking evolved over time.
“My mother and my bubby were great cooks but I wasn’t the best cook when I got married,” Chani told The Jewish Press. “Growing up, when my mother asked who wanted to help in the kitchen, I never wanted to help. My job was to dress the salad and somehow I always messed it up.”
As time went by, Chani found that her dormant cooking gene began to kick in.
“It took me time to understand things and practice makes perfect,” said Chani. “I was an okay cook then, but more than cooking I had a knack for presentation. We eat with our eyes first, before we taste the food, so looks are equally important. In the beginning I used my mother’s recipes but over time I became brave about trying new things and, as I explored in the kitchen, I learned to appreciate different flavors and textures and now I develop my own recipes.”
Some of Chani’s favorite recipes are modified versions of tried-and-true favorites.
“I like to deconstruct classic recipes and build on that, especially the traditional Jewish foods that we grew up with, like tzimmes,” explained Chani. “We grew up with things that were loaded with margarine and honey and I like to take them apart and come up with fun twists and healthier versions.”
Many of the recipes featured on Busy in Brooklyn are holiday related.
“I work around the Jewish calendar, always trying to think of creative spins,” noted Chani. “What can I do with a latke or a hamantash? That is where it starts. I look around on the web for the way things are made and then I play around with them in my kitchen.”
While certain recipes are painstaking researched, others are more like gifts from up above.
“I can wake up in the morning or be nursing the baby in the middle of the night and things just pop into my head,” said Chani.
For her 30th birthday, Chani’s husband surprised her with a gift; he enrolled her in a class at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts on Coney Island Avenue in Flatbush.
“At that point, all my kids were in schools and I was there every day for about two months,” recalled Chani. “I definitely learned to perfect my skills. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Four years after she logged her first post on Busy in Brooklyn, Chani is now the mother of four and like any other mother she is faced with the challenge of finding foods that appeal to her brood.