Israel-based food stylist Deanna Linder and photographer Danya Weiner run Matkonation, a beautiful, inspiring, and delicious food blog. I recently met up with them in Danya’s photography studio tucked away behind a flea market a few blocks from the Mediterranean Sea in Tel-Aviv/Yafo, Israel. I sat with them as they worked- prepping, styling, photographing and got a little glimpse into their lives…
How old are your kids… names?
I have one child Omri (2, below) and I’m 33 weeks pregnant with my second boy. Danya has 3 boys: Evyatar (5), Zohar (4), and the youngest is Raz (1.3). We’ll have five boys in between the two of us by October.
Where do you live?
I live in a Moshav 25 minutes outside of Tel Aviv. It’s different than a kibbutz, a kibbutz is a communal farm where everybody shares the land, the moshav is a privatized farm so everybody does their own. That’s where my husband is from, I’m not a farmer… but we live in a nectarine orchard.
Danya lives in Yafo, right down the street from the studio. So she walks through the flea market to get to work and she lives and breathes Yafo.
How did you start Matkonation?
Started by myself, a food stylist, and Danya Weiner, a food photographer, we originally wanted to use it as a medium to allow true creative freedom in the field of food photography and styling which we inevitably couldn’t get during our work assignments which were almost always “made to order” as per client needs. We focused on three things, and in order of importance: aesthetics, recipes and stories. Soon after we started getting the ball rolling, we were picked up to provide content to Israel’s leading news portal, YNET. The year later we chosen by another leading website, MAKO as one of Israel’s top 100 websites (5 in the food category). Danya is obviously responsible for all the photography on the website and Deanna for the styling, but the recipe development is a real collaboration by the two of us.
What is the ideal entertaining setup with kids in terms of food, etc?
Not to have to make too much so that there’s one menu for kids and one menu for adults, try to make it so that it’s something that can be together. So, for my son’s first birthday I did a pancake brunch- I did savory pancakes and sweet pancakes. And it was something that kids and adults could totally eat together. My philosophy in general with eating is just try to make something everyone can eat as opposed to making kid food and adult food. And it doesn’t mean it has to be super fancy, you know just try to keep it simple, tasty, and good. Entertaining is the best when food can be ready all at one time so I don’t have to be stuck in the kitchen and watching kids also.
Adult dinner party tricks?
I inherently cook so that things look good– also taste good! But one of my most important things is how they look and how they are presented. It’s hard for me to give tips because even when I’m at home people are like- wow you really cook like a food stylist! But it’s just something that comes naturally to me. I like to cook with dishes that I will serve in as well, because I find that once you move stuff around it doesn’t look good. Just keep it simple. Fresh ingredients that look good when you buy them are going to look good when you cook them.
What is a go-to weekday family meal?
In Israel it’s funny because the meals here are very different. So, breakfast is a light meal- kind of like it is in the States. Lunch is your really heavy meal with meat, carbs, and vegetables (it’s like what Americans would eat as dinner). Dinner is almost like breakfast again- you do like an egg, or pancakes…very much what Americans would eat for breakfast. I still have a hard time getting used to that so I’ll give my son an American style dinner, but only recently have we started eating together the 3 of us because eating for me is one of those things that I do for myself- almost like a meditation, like shopping or getting my nails done. It’s my time for myself. Now that my son can go to sleep later we can all sit down together outside on our balcony and its really nice.
Danya: Hard to say. Basically we try to eat together. My husband arrives around 6:30. Sometimes everything is chaos and we just grab something. A lot of times we have the kids’ friends over so we send the kids to eat and we grab something after they go to sleep. If there aren’t any friends over then we sit together. I’ll just make a kiddie dish like pasta, which is a safe bet for everyone. But actually recently I made cornbread, salad, tuna– and didn’t need to serve my back up pasta- everyone ate it!
What is raising a child like in Israel? Pros/Cons? Maternity/Paternity leave? What is unique to parenting in Israel?
Almost every family here that we know is a two parent working family. Children start to go to daycare here at much younger age than they do in the States. It’s not necessarily known as daycare but as preschool- it just starts a lot earlier like around a year. It’s from 8-4, which is a very big difference than how it is in the States which can be something like 9-1. The maternity leave is always 3 months so then a lot of mothers take a nanny until a year, year and a half. Now, I find that lately almost all my friends share a nanny, that way the kids have some sort of social interaction and it’s cheaper. Men can take paternity leave after the first 6 weeks if the woman goes back to work. They save the job for the woman for 6 months, so she can take that time and won’t lose her job, but its only 3 months paid. Usually work places are pretty lenient here- but that’s when you’re an employee. Both of us are freelance and own our own businesses so both of us go back to work after about 3.5 months.
People live close to their relatives and families in Israel– it’s not a big country so we’re not talking about hours of driving. I live really close to my in-laws. And Danya’s mother-in-law helps her once a week, as does her mother as well. So I think almost everyone I know gets help from their families
Danya: Yes, and if I wanted to move I would consider the distance as I wouldn’t want to move further away from them because it does help a lot when you have 3 kids and working parents. My sister lives on the same street as me so we help each other everyday.
On a separate work/life note, how do you balance work and motherhood? The division of labor? We like to hear how creative moms make it happen. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s all about helping other moms as we are all hanging by a thread most days and could use any inspiration/help we can get!
I just recently read Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In, and it was a really eye opening book for me. I am a bit of a control freak so I like to do everything and I’m learning now, especially as I’m about to have another child, that I can’t do everything. I cook; my husband doesn’t know how to do anything in the kitchen whatsoever. He works really hard and is abroad a lot. Usually I’m able to get home by 4:30 to pick up my son but every so often I have shoots that last long hours and so then he’ll come home earlier. But most of the time I leave earlier in the morning than him and he’ll take our son to school.
Danya: Deanna and I always realize our motherhood at about 3 o’clock. At that time we start getting stressed that our day has to end and there’s no way out of it. And we always say- men never have to get stressed about ending their day before 5:30/6. And for us, its always there. Lingering. That we have to end the day, pick up the kids, etc. Then, we suddenly have to switch the hat and be mothers and not photographers/stylists anymore and its really hard. Our men counterparts in our field don’t have to.
What’s your weeknight family routine?
Usually we’re with friends. The whole friend environment here is different than it is in the states. You don’t have to make play dates- everyday I have a group of 2-6 moms with kids and we all get together at somebody’s house or at the pool. Every time one mom will make food for everyone and the kids all eat together. It’s a very communal and social way to live, and I absolutely love it. Its a wonderful thing most of the time, sometimes you don’t have much personal space, but I definitely see more of the positives in that way of living than I do the negatives. Our lives are always filled with friends- it makes time fly by and its nice. Every so often I’ll take time away for just my son and me and we’ll be in the pool and make dinner together.
Any rules about TV/screens?
We travel a lot- my son is 2 and he’s been to the states 4 times, Mexico, Amsterdam, Italy, India, Sri Lanka- so the iPad has been a really useful tool for us. On trips I have no rules for screens. When he’s outside of his environment it’s something that keeps him busy. At home I don’t really have restriction- he doesn’t like to watch any television at all. So usually after we eat dinner, take a bath, and then he can watch the iPad for a few minutes. I’m really not strict about it whatsoever because I find there’s really positive things about the iPad. There’s an Elmo app and it’s really amazing- my child is 2.5 and he can draw all the letters because of it. I find that he regulates himself. Every mom says this, but I think I have a really special kid. I like to do something physical with him until 6:30/7 then we get home and do the whole dinner/bath routine. I don’t like him to just come home and sit in front of the screen. There was recently an article in The Atlantic called The Touchscreen Generation and I really recommend parents read it.
Danya: My kids are different! I definitely have to regulate them. But they also don’t watch TV- they’re only on the iPad. In the morning they play a little bit, and in the evenings after we do an outside activity. But if I wouldn’t stop them they would play with it forever.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you?
Billing! I have a very creative job and that’s the part I really love about my job- so actually running the business part for me is something that I hate to do. And I’m super busy so almost everyday I have work and if not that then I’m prepping for a shoot, returning dishes, recipe development… so setting apart time to do business administration is something I hate to do.
Proudest moment in parenting?
I feel like it’s hard to say, because I have a very young child. I think it’s knowing that what you’re raising is inherently good, and as long as you continue to install goodness and values into your son then he’ll continue to be that way. I don’t know… it’s a difficult question.
Best parenting advice you ever got?
Deanna: For me, although it’s hard to act on it, I think it’s to ask for help. You can’t do everything on your own so you have to realize when you can divvy out some of the responsibility. Motherhood and career I think is one of the hardest things to do, but it’s the most rewarding things to do- to know that you can be a full time mother and have a full time career. I wouldn’t give up on either one of them.
Danya: When I was pregnant with my second son- the difference between him and the oldest is less than two years, and I was really stressed about it. I went to my parents one day and I told my dad I’m so stressed, how will I deal with everything? And he says to me, Danya, its been done before. That stays with me all the time, especially after 3 kids.