Saturday, July 31, 2010

my life in 10 dishes

Jill Dupleix mused about her life in 10 dishes in the Sydney Morning Herald this week.
There are lots of ways of tracing your own personal history. You can go back through family photo archives and trace the hair styles. You can do it with music, by listing the songs that symbolize special times in your life. Or you can do it with food.


How could I resist?

1. Cheese on toast. The standby meal/snack from as far back as I can remember that lasted til my mid-twenties, when I realized my relationship with delicious dairy was a dysfunctional one. On Sundays when we’d been to my Nana’s for a roast lunch, dinner would be Maggi chicken noodle soup and cheese on toast in front of The Wonderful World of Disney. Life didn’t get better than that.

2. Chop suey. Mum would fire up the electric fry pan and toss together onion, garlic, veal, cabbage and soy sauce. A dish that the entire family liked so was in regular rotation with the other staple – chops and veg. Very classy home cooking C1970.

3. Afghans. Opening the biscuit tin after school and finding a fresh batch of afghans, with the obligatory piece of walnut on top of the splodge of chocolate icing, was pure bliss. I’d love to find just such a tin in my grown up life house.

4. Beef stroganoff. At twelve years old I cooked stroganoff, a dish I’d never eaten before, for my mother and aunt one night. Mabel said, “You’ll make someone a good wife”…Perhaps if I’d continued cooking with meat and dairy I would have?

5. Baked chicken breasts. Leaving home at 18 I moved into a soon to be condemned flat with a lovely housemate and his German shepherd. I remember partaking in illegal substances on the stovetop in the cupboard-sized kitchen but for dinner I’d use my shiny new toaster-oven and bake chicken breast slathered with garlic.

6. Quiche. The year was 1983 and my on-the-verge-of-coming-out housemate taught me how to cook quiche. The house was slightly better than my first flat and although the gas stove was suitably antiquated I still knocked up cakes, curries and the odd quiche.

7. Baked potatoes. In London I was vegetarian (I rarely ate seafood due to the Irish sea being radioactive) living with two pregnant/lactating women, an accountant, a witch, two blokes, three small children and a couple of chickens. The house was big, warm and better than anywhere I previously lived. Best of all was the American-style double oven in a huge kitchen with a wooden table that comfortably sat 10. The worst crime was not cooking enough food, so that meant scrubbing at least two dozen potatoes, to serve baked with a big pot of ratatouille .

8. Vegan Mexican feast. Living in Melbourne exposed me to exotic foods from many cultures. There was a short lived Mexican grocery store in Lygon Street in the early ‘90’s and I threw a few dinner parties featuring fresh blue corn tortillas, refried beans, salsa spiked with jalapenos and jugs of margaritas.

9. Whole fish. Apart from scrubbing fewer potatoes, life beyond shared houses meant I cooked and ate more seafood. Growing up fish meant fillets, so exploring the world of cooking the entire beast was virgin territory. From simple, just a few lemon slices or a handful of herbs in the belly, to baked with spices, olives, tomatoes and slices of potatoes, I love this economical way of eating fish.

10.Curries, tagines and the spicy life. Though I cooked my first vegetarian curry from scratch in the quiche house a couple of decades ago, it’s been a long journey to roasting and grinding my own dried spices and growing fragrant green herbs. The last decade has been flavoured with sambals, Sri Lankan curries, fresh harissa paste, tamarind, kecap manis and Vietnamese mint. The herb cupboard overflows and the tagine is a utensil not a decoration. Please don’t make me choose a favourite!

So what dishes characterise your life so far?

P.S. - I'm guessing like many biographical entries, what we did in the past doesn't always represent our present. I can only eat 7-10 (plus a modified #3) these days but it was sweet to remember them none the less.


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11 Comments:

Anonymous Injera said...

Your items 1-4 made me start, as they are so familiar, right down to the Wonderful World of Disney. Occasionally, though, we'd have "Pharoah's Eyes" instead of cheese on toast: bread with the centre pulled out and an egg popped in, fried. Oh, and my mum called "chop suey" "chow mien", which was odd, since it had no noodles... it was exactly as you described.

When I first moved out of home, I was given four Women's Weekly cookbooks and a Margaret Fulton. I discovered how to recreate my mother's vegie soup, but in a way that made it tasty, rather than merely filling!

My London cooking was very much restricted by budget, but my flatmate from Menorca taught me frittata and that became our standby Saturday evening meal.

12:04 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Injera I love a generational connection through food :) I can never remember whether we had noodles in our chop suey, though I can smell the dish, just writing about it. I think my Antipodean experience of London was unique, I managed to dodge the nanny/bar work trap yet lived in a warm, food filled house. We shopped every week at the Dalston market and had huge jars of nuts, grains and beans in the cupboards. And boy, did we eat. What I miss most about London food as an impoverished traveller in the '80s is Southern Indian food, dosas in the back streets behind Euston Station. Happy memories :)

12:33 pm  
Blogger Ann ODyne said...

That London share-house sounds like material for a novel ... or two.

EVERYBODY had soup and toast variations on Sunday night in front of TV, and my 1980's were quiche filled too.
My earliest good-food memories are from pre-teen years living on the foreshore and collecting pippi mussels in a galvanised bucket, then building a fire to cook them in the bucket. No adults even knew we did this. I wouldn't now of course. Even if it was legal I couldn't do it to the pippis!
My constant food of the moment is brown rice and spinach mixed in, lifted with chopped avocado and sauced with Greek yogurt.
am trying to go vegan when I can tear myself away from the yogurt.
bon appetit everybody.

12:53 pm  
Blogger Johanna GGG said...

My childhood was also full of cheese on toast and afghans - when I saw injera saying her chop suey was chow mien I realised exactly what she meant - I loved it and even recreated a veg version when I first went vegetarian.

I love your london household - sounds fascinating - I never really managed the huge travellers share houses though I did get to work in a kibbutz kitchen which I loved.

2:45 pm  
Blogger Wendy said...

Loved this and the link. Thank you. :)

11:14 pm  
Anonymous lisa said...

What a wonderful post! Very different to what my top ten would be... I think I will follow your lead and write a post about this. Sounds like a wonderful journey, thanks for sharing!

11:52 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

I'm feeling the need to write a post about living in London in the mid-80s but it is probably not a food blog one. It was quite unique to not be living in a house of itinerants but rather with 3 osteopaths, a dentist and the aforementioned others. It was a very healthy time, quite the reverse of most kiwis and aussies doing their OE!

Johanna vego chop suey sounds interesting, though I guess we'd just call it a stir fry now. Who'd have thought that chop suey was such a hit?

Wendy would love to see your Scottish 10 biographical dishes. I'm guessing afghans weren't part of it? :)

Lisa - just remember our meat eating past is still part of the story! A bit like a drunken tryst with some boy (or girl) that we mightn't be friends with any more, they all form the biographical journey.

9:16 am  
Blogger Johanna GGG said...

maybe my chow mien is different to your chop suey - it is quite different to stir fries - cabbage, mince meat and chicken noodle soup

12:49 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Definitely no chicken noodles soup in my mum's chop suey. The liquid was soy sauce thickened with a bit of cornflour in water. My mum's memory is totally unreliable these days but will have a go at prompting her memory for recipe next time I see her.

1:28 pm  
Anonymous lisa said...

I've just come back to look at this again! Quiche would be on my list too, I think. It was something my mum cooked well. Also, love the picture you've included - fried tempeh, yum.

8:29 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Lisa - thats my version of a (mostly) vego nasi lemak http://confessionsofafoodnazi.blogspot.com/2009/12/vegetarian-nasi-lemak.html This is the kind of food I crave at this point in my life. I fry the tempeh and then when its nice and crispy squirt some kecap manis on them and let it sizzle a little more. It almost caramelises. Very yum!

7:35 pm  

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