Julia Busuttil Nishimura is an author and cook. She turned her love of food into a career, slowly and thoughtfully over the course of many years. Julia doesn’t rush things. She’ll spend months perfecting a loaf of Shokupan (Japanese milk bread) before presenting it on Instagram. It was a different story when she met her husband Nori. They only dated for a few weeks before committing to each other. Because when you know, you know.
Julia is warm and genuine and wears floaty gingham dresses. She embodies the light-hearted, approachable style of cooking that has become her brand. But that’s the thing about good brands, they’re usually just people who are good at being themselves.
There are elements of Julia’s life that are not so breezy. It’s not all fragrant herbs and gingham and absurdly cute children. It is mostly those things, but like so many parents out there, Julia has struggled with postnatal anxiety. She was generous enough to share some of her experience with me during our chat, in the hope that it would help to normalise it.
Disclaimer: she loves being mum. A lot.
Do you plan your menu ahead of food shopping? Or do you play it by ear?
Usually I have no idea what I’m going to buy. I give myself to the market! (laughs) I see what’s there and what looks the best. Maybe the prawns look really good that day so I grab some of those, then I might get some coriander to go with the prawns, maybe some tomatoes. I can make something fun with that. I spend a lot of time chatting to the vendors, too. A lot of them are like friends.
It sounds like such a wholesome part of the process. I don’t love cooking, but I like people. I feel like I’m missing out now.
Shopping is such a big part of my life and work and my sense of community. It was especially important just after I had Haru. Sometimes chatting with people while I was out shopping was my only contact with adults during the day.
Yeah it can be a lonely time. How did you find the early days of motherhood?
I was so happy and excited to have Haruki, but completely unprepared. I didn’t have a huge support network. I was 26 and didn’t have any friends with kids. Nori was working super long hours and I only had my mum around, which was great, but can also be complicated! I started worrying about all the things that could go wrong. I was too afraid to go to my Parents’ Group, I couldn’t breastfeed. I was so scared of people judging me. I lost a lot of confidence.
How have you found it the second time around?
I thought it was going to be so different! I’m older now, I’ve got lots of friends with kids, but then I started getting anxious about being anxious. And then it happened again. And it hit me harder this time. I felt like I’d let myself down. I know I hadn’t, but I couldn’t help feeling that. In some ways I was better prepared for it, as I already had a relationship with my psychologist and my GP was incredible. I went straight on medication, which I think we should talk about more openly.
Agreed. I had PND and wish I admitted it sooner than I did. I was scared that it meant I was failing, too. When asking for help if the opposite of that!
Yuki is 1 now and I still have days when the anxiety is heightened. It can be really tough, but I feel like I’m coming out the other side, which is nice. I went to my mother’s group this time though, even though he was my second. I made this big effort to go and was really involved – but then lockdown happened! In some ways it was good because Nori could be at home. I was anxious about covid, but that was a shared anxiety. It didn’t feel so overwhelming.
I was late to this interview because my three-year-old was having a face melting freak out. We deal with a lot of intensity, us parents. It’s full on.
It can feel relentless. The other day I was at a store and Yuki was screaming at the top of his lungs. Usually he’s really chill, but for whatever reason he just wasn’t happy. So I managed to find what I needed and asked someone working on the floor if I could pay, and she just gave me this look. She was completely unempathetic. And then of course my phone froze when I was trying to pay! It was such a stressful moment and this person was almost rolling their eyes at me. The world can be an unwelcoming place for people with babies. The mum shame is real.
How good would it be if she’d asked if she could help?
Or just, tell me it’s okay! To take my time, or whatever. Just offer a shred of humanity.
Can you think of a moment since becoming a mum when it all made sense? Either by yourself or with the kids, when it just felt right?
We just went on a family holiday, which was so good. We’ve traveled a lot with Haru, to Japan quite a few times. but he’s 5 and has big feelings! He’s of course still learning to regulate his emotions, but has a lot of intense outbursts. But when we were down at the beach on this holiday, all in the water together… It was actually the beach where I grew up, south of Adelaide. And it felt full circle. There I was, as a mum, standing in the same water where I played as a child. It just felt perfect and light and special. Seeing the boys play in the water… It makes me emotional, because I think the reason I’m so drawn to Nori and why I love our little family is because my upbringing was so disjointed. My parents split up when I was seven. There was a lot of trauma. Having that feeling of togetherness in the place where I grew up was beautiful.
Do you have any Maltese or Japanese traditions in your house? Or do you just write your own?
Getting coffee and pastries and going to the park is one of our traditions. That’s something that’s really special to me. But we have others. We just had Yuki’s 1st birthday and did this Maltese tradition called Quċċija, where you put out objects representing different career paths and see which one they crawl towards.
What did he pick?
The wooden spoon!
Rainy day activity?
Baking! Usually something like biscuits or an oaty slice
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Sunday morning breakfast ritual?
Crepes with creamed honey and whatever fruit is in season.
Somewhere where there is water. Anglesea or down to the Peninsula.
Last kids’ movie you all enjoyed?
My Neighbour Totoro