my life in 10 dishes
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.