Monday, August 2, 2010

A food biography

Last week, The Age featured this article. It's an interesting concept, coming up with the ten dishes that trace your history. So I figured that however humiliating, I'd give it a go. So here, in no particular order, we have my food biography:

1. Kraft macaroni and cheese. More commonly known in our house as Kraft Dinner, this was a childhood staple in Canada. I'm still not sure how often we had it, or if we had it at home or just at friends' houses, but Kraft Dinner still screams childhood to me. At some point in the three and a half years that we lived in Toronto, it became the done thing to add some kind of condiment to your mac and cheese. With us, it was always ketchup, but I seem to recall some of my friends putting barbeque sauce on theirs...

2. Birthday cake. Mum always came up trumps with our birthday cakes. They were always from the old school Australian Women's Weekly book, and they were pretty epic. Whether it was my fourth birthday:
Or my sixth birthday:
Or Cam's eighth birthday:

It was always great fun watching the plain boring butter cake turn into something full of sugar and food colouring, and entirely delicious.
3. Cream cheese and apple sandwiches. This was my staple lunch through most of high school. I can't stand lunch meat, which somewhat limits the options in terms of sandwiches. Mum tried cheese and lettuce sandwiches, but I wouldn't have a bar of it. I love cream cheese, so she tried it with carrot and capsicum before finally hitting on the ultimate sandwich - cream cheese and sliced apple.
4. Chilli con carne. I used to hate Mum's chilli with a fiery passion. Mostly because I couldn't stand rice (probably because I couldn't cook it to save myself. Still can't, really - one of the best days of my life was the day we got a rice cooker!), but partly because I thought it was boring. Until the day Mum got sick of my whinging and dumped some cheese and sour cream on top. It was a complete revelation - they transformed something that always seemed to be a mixture of rice and kidney beans into a creamy Mexican delight. It's still a staple on my cooking schedule.
5. No beef and Yorkshire pudding. I think I mentioned back at Easter that we used to have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding without the beef. From memory, this started as part of the whole mad cow thing when we were living in England. But mostly, it goes back to the time when Dad was commuting from Melbourne to India for work, and Mum was in need of comfort food. I've never really been a fan of roast meat, so I always loved it when we had no beef and Yorkshire pud. Not least because we'd always have the leftover Yorkshire pud drenched in maple syrup for dessert...
6. Chocolate fudge cake. The first cake I ever mastered all on my own. I'd been baking off and on for years - the first cake I ever made was for Mum's birthday when I was six, but it was an 'add water and stir' packet mix, and the box was foil lined to use as a baking tin - but chocolate fudge cake (sadly, not my usual one, which I discovered in Mum's handwritten recipe book) from the kids' cookbook was the first cake that I made - and decorated - consistently by myself.
7. Pasta and random veggies. A Friday night staple when Cam had choir early and the rest of us were eating later. When Cam and I cooked for ourselves, it was always spaghetti with peas, sweet corn, and grated carrot. But when Mum and Dad were home, it was penne with cherry tomatoes, capsicum, and spinach for me, and with mushrooms, bacon and olives added in for Mum and Dad. Something to please everyone without the need for multiple saucepans!
8. Risotto. I came across a basic risotto recipe in the Australian Women's Weekly's Italian Cooking Class cookbook one day when I was about 15, and decided it was worth a try. It was a slightly disturbing recipe that required the use of yellow food colouring (well, technically it called for saffron. But they'd clearly used fake saffron in the recipe, because it was fluorescent yellow...), but it was pretty much the first time I'd actually enjoyed a dish that was served with rice. And it's been a staple ever since!
9. Birdseed. Not nearly as disturbing as it sounds. This was my absolute favourite thing of all the vile crap we got served at boarding school in England. Okay, technically it wasn't boarding school. We were day pupils. But that doesn't sound nearly as hardcore as saying "I went to boarding school in England". Anyway, birdseed was what we got for dessert at the end of term. It was basically all the leftover breakfast cereal dumped into baking sheets and coated in chocolate. So sort of like a flat chocolate crackle. And bizarrely delicious. Maybe it just seemed a million times better given the complete bollocks we got the rest of the time (semolina and jam? *gags repeatedly*), but it was memorable!!
10. Yo-yos. I loved my Gran's yo-yos. They were tooth-achingly sweet, and all I can say for sure is that they contained custard powder, because they had little blobs of orange in the biscuit, but as a kid they were one of my favourite things. Frequently living on the other side of the world from her made them even more special. Sadly, I think the recipe is lost forever, as I'm pretty sure she made it from memory, and none of us thought to get it from Gran before dementia did its horrible business. Sigh. One of these days, I'll dig out a yo-yo recipe and see if I can end up with a result even vaguely resembling Gran's. And maybe go through all of Mum's recipe books to see if there's a handwritten copy of Gran's recipe somewhere. But for the moment, I'll just pine for them............
What are the foods that made or changed your life?
K xx

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