My first ever television appearance was live in front of millions of viewers.
I was still getting the hang of my culinary director job at the JCC when I got a call from from a co-worker telling me that the Today Show was looking for a challah expert for their Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) segment.
"Um, yeah, I mean I've made it before and I've even taken a challah bread baking class but I've never TAUGHT it. I don't know...."
I soon discovered that YES was the only answer expected of me.
I had thirty days to become a challah expert. Trying not to panic, I called Judy Matthews, one of the teachers I'd inherited with the program. Someone said her challah recipe was awesome and easy - which it is! I used that recipe for classes and personal events for YEARS.
Thankfully, she agreed to come to my kitchen and teach me all her "pro tips" on how to make the round challah that's traditional for Rosh Hashanah.
I must have made 20+ loaves of challah that month in preparation. Maybe more. I can't remember.
For those of you who don't work in food education, I challenge you to talk while you're cooking at home some time.
Cooking and talking at the same time is a true art form. I used to teach cooking demonstration classes in Seattle but once I discovered hands-on classes, I never went back to demos. I prefer walking around the room while the students do the work. Demos are tough! I've been doing this for many years, I'm super chatty and I STILL find it difficult!
I worked with several of my teachers to develop a menu of food we'd bring for the table - apple cake, Moroccan couscous. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year so we use lots of fruits and special foods to "bring in a sweet year."
I was a wreck.
How in the FUCK am I supposed to make challah on live TV? At Rockefeller Center? Couldn't my first TV gig be a nice, chill local segment in Seattle THAT IS TAPED?
They sent a town car to pick me up! Only months before, I'd been filing documents as an administrative assistant at a hospital job I'd talked myself into and now I was being sent a car to be on national television?
Mind-blowing is an understatement. Only in New York can you go from such lows to such highs in a short amount of time (ok probably in LA too).
This is why I want to share my stories with you! I've had such wild things happen in my life.
I had to get there very early, obviously. And even extra early because I had to prepare the challah dough we'd use during the segment. They sent me someone to assist me.
It was like flying first class the very first time I stepped on a plane....
I felt like such a fraud! NOW, I could make this challah recipe literally with my eyes closed. I can tell you the measurements of every ingredient - because they're stored in my long-term memory that I can still access. I often made 12 loaves at a time to prepare for my kids challah baking class - but at this point in my career, it was not my wheelhouse.
I was freaking out.
After I had my make-up applied and picked up my freshly pressed apron from the older woman who was in charge of the costumes room - just like on 30 Rock - I headed outside above the skating rink.
OMG OMG OMG.
They plopped me next to Al Roker and Matt Lauer who were completely relaxed, of course. I was wide-eyed trying to answer Matt's questions about what to cook for his wife. He wanted something easy.
Inside I'm thinking "OMFInG think Julie think, recipe ideas for Matt Lauer, c'mon recipes, RECIPE IDEAS" ME, the Queen of Words, speechless.
I do remember Al Roker suggesting lasagna and then Matt asking about each layer. Meanwhile, the camera guy is counting off behind me 10, 9, 8...I'm whipping my head around frantically trying to figure out where to look. If you watch the video closely, you'll see me moving my head at the very beginning.
Matt Lauer and Al Roker keep talking about lasagna up until the 3, 2, 1 and then Roker turns and introduces me.
We'd prepared all the questions in advance - which I didn't realize until later was a very, very fortunate thing for a first-timer like me. However, half way through, Roker deviated from the script and asked an extra question. He asked me why we eat apple and honey together for the holiday. I'd already said we want a sweet new year!
Now even on a good day, I'm not able to extract this kind of information from my brain. I didn't pay much attention in Hebrew School. There are certain facts that refuse to stay in my brain - long before chemo. Names of flowers, plants, trees, and these types of facts regarding Jewish tradition. I suck at Trivial Pursuit.
I felt such defeat on the inside. I truly believed I screwed it up when I replied "because they go well together?"
Roker, being the pro that he is, sensed that I felt off. He mentioned the "Challah" as in "Holler!" And then he said it a second time mentioning he's always wanted to say that. It was exactly what I needed in order to loosen up and reply sarcastically "Well, I'm glad you did." I didn't even mean to be funny! I just didn't know what to say!
But everyone laughed and in my eye line, I saw Katie Couris burst out laughing. And I thought "I just made Katie Couric laugh!" Finally I relaxed as we moved over to the baking part which I felt MUCH more comfortable doing.
And, then it was over.
Whew! It was so long ago, I didn't think to bring a camera with me to get photos with them! Can you imagine not taking photos during an experience like that NOW?
So for my photo today, I took a screenshot of the video - which you can watch here (and sign up for my youtube channel too - I will be posting more videos there soon!). And here is the famous challah recipe if you're interested in making it.
The lesson I learned from this experience?
Always say yes! You'll figure it out later....
PHOTO #18. This post is part of a series celebrating my life before I lost four organs to three cancers in 2014. It is an “online memorial” honoring the person I was, in the hopes that I can make peace with the disabled person I’ve become. Every day for 30 days until my birthday, I will challenge myself to write a post inspired by the photo I’m sharing. I will not plan the topic or write ahead of time. I will merely look at the photo and write whatever it inspires. Thanks for reading! #julesfor30 #happyrebirth