My mum is quietly obsessed with food. Mostly just the having of it, not particularly the quality, although she is also an artist of simple, amazing home cooking.
I often got home from school and found soup on the wood stove, red from her tomatoes with tiny cut up pieces of sweet carrot and zucchini and round slivers of leek.
Mum’s obsession stems at least partly from her mothers’ experience of food shortages during the second world war in the Netherlands. That anxiety about food has traveled through generations, morphing along the way.
Now it’s something we give her shit about because she always remembers events based on what we ate. She’ll say to dad: “remember, I made the lamb roast and Sandy made the cheesecake,” or “no, it wasn’t that weekend, it was the trip we took when we stopped at the fish and chip place and you had steak,” and he will smile at her blankly.
I have my own host of food memories, not just from childhood, but from the process of coming into myself as a cook.
I’m grateful to all those who cooked for me and with me and made me slowly aware of the power of being able to create good food first for myself [thin salty slivers of toasted sourdough bread with sesame seeds topped with pools of melting butter and chunks of avocado] and then for others.
There were hits, and there were definitely misses. I remember passing bowls of melting vanilla ice cream and stringy, overcooked rhubarb at midnight after the kind of house party where everyone sits around on the carpet drinking beer out of bottles and loudly taking politics.
I ate my first pomegranate around the same era while chatting to a friend on the phone for hours. When I stood up, I saw the white wall around my head was splattered with blood-red juice.
The kidney beans I did not soak, which I later threw up [kidney beans are mildly poisonous until properly cooked]. The dear friend who kindly requested I cut the onions finer for the pea risotto.
The discovery of salt and olive oil glugged in quantity over pumpkin for roasting when I lived in Melbourne and had access to cheap bulk oil.
When I was twelve, a friend’s dad took us out to lunch in Canberra and we had laksa – it was so, so fiery hot to my palate and I loved every painful slurp.
There is so much still to discover and learn. Now, in early spring, I’m watching the first tips of white asparagus emerge from the soil in my first ever asparagus bed. I know the spears will be so sweet we’ll eat them raw at first.
I’m longing to eat from my garden – tiny Lebanese cucumbers tossed with cherry tomatoes, basil, oil, red onion and feta in a quasi Greek salad. After a long winter of cabbage and bitter store bought carrots, it will taste even more amazing!
I spend a lot of time making food and growing food for our family – I want my kids to be passionate about food and able to make themselves good food.
Last night I was calmly making dinner [crispy roast potatoes, salad and three rainbow trout Atticus had caught on the weekend] and suddenly the floor was alive with wet, fighting, screaming children, straight out of the bath.
As I flung wet towels and children out of my way, I thought but did not say:
“Get out of my kitchen, you fuckers! I’m making you food memories.”