It’s funny how you can be oblivious to your own quirks until somebody helpfully points them out. In this case, that somebody was my boyfriend, and the quirk is my obsession with food. I was having one of my routine whinges about ‘not knowing what to take for lunch’ when he piped up ‘No wonder you have these problems, lunch at your house is always a fiasco.’
The ensuing dialogue involved a bit of shouting from me, a bit of laughing from him and went a little something like this.
“A FIASCO?! What do you mean a FIASCO?”
“Well lunch at your house is always so complicated. You either go out for lunch or have some elaborate meal inviting everyone around. What ever happened to eating a sandwich?”
“A sandwich? I haven’t liked sandwiches since Year 10- the year of the sandwich.”
“My point exactly! Think about it. When it comes to food, you are not normal.”
And so I did - think about it. And I came to the conclusion that he was probably right. I had finally realised that I was/am properly obsessed. Until this time, I had not admitted how intrinsic food is in my life; memories and dreams, past and present. It shouldn’t have come as a huge shock. I mean how many 23 year olds do you know whose favourite movie is Ratatouille?
Songs, smells and photos are common triggers for memories. For me, food is what whisks me away to years gone by and most easily explains how I ended up here, thinking about food, blogging about food, writing about food, thinking about food.
With all this soul searching, it dawned on me that the easiest way to introduce myself to you is through my food print, which just might give you some hints as to how Gastronomy Gal, food tragic, came into existence.
FOODPRINT: The connection to an experience, a person, a place or a time that is felt through food.
My foodprint, was influenced greatly by my parents who were always chasing the next culinary adventure, never satisfied with meat and 3 veg. And so, this obsession was almost bred into me. In any case, my food printed started to take shape when I was very young.
Early on in my school career, I opened my lunchbox to reveal a little container of olives and three neatly wrapped green parcels. I was happy to see the dolmades, one of my favourites, make an appearance. Until I looked around and spotted every other classmate eating plastic cheese and vegemite sandwiches on white bread, cut into four little triangles. I quickly shut away my delicious lunch to save face whilst eyeballing the numerous packets of hazelnut chocolate spread that kids love to eat.
Six years old is the first memory I have eating Yum Cha. For me, this was a life changing experience. I’d only ever seen different countries on T.V., but walking through Chinatown had me convinced that I was already in one. I remember being, thoroughly confused as to how we had arrived at this magic destination .The loud shouts of the markets, mixed with the vivid colour of this magic new country are now a blur but the regal red staircase with the gold railing lining the entrance to the restaurant, are etched into my mind. If my memory serves me correctly, the first time I tasted a prawn and garlic chive dumpling, my eyes widened, I started laughing and reaching towards the basket for more, and (this part may be superimposed, but I felt like it was happening) little fireworks started exploding around my head ala ‘Ratatouille.’
Birthdays were a spectacular event, and accordingly, had a big impact on my food print. Every year, my Gran would bake a delightfully light, fluffy, soft as clouds sponge cake and served it smothered with whipped cream. To aid diplomacy, half was covered with strawberries and half covered with sprinkles or violet crumble. The tables were laden with the weight of hundreds of different meringues, slices, homemade sausage rolls with some of Gran’s famous vol-au-vents and gazpacho thrown in to appease the grownups.
Grandfather is from the school of old. Ironically, everything he passionately argued for, is now back ‘en vogue’. Grandfather makes the sweetest green tomato pickles and the most peppery, creamy mayonnaise. He has always been a strong believer in home grown and now I concur, but this did cause a few problems in the past. When my two sisters and I were young, it was nothing for us to hear some commotion, walk out to the wood shed to see some feathers flying into the air. Grandfather would be sitting next to Granny, plucking freshly killed chickens, laughing at us screaming. Walking into the cool room was never a simple task- if you forgot to turn the light on, chances were you would end up face to face with your next meal - hanging upside down. This was particularly distressing when your best friend’s cow had recently disappeared and you were pretty sure Missy was now resting peacefully in the cool room.
My penchant for Ginger Beer can be directly attributed to my other Nan and Grandfather , Johnny. In their back fridge lay a source of unimaginable pleasure; home made ginger beer that was oh so fizzy, packed with bite and always induced hiccups. In fact, I have spent much of my life searching for the next best thing, only to be thoroughly disappointed. There is nothing quite like the taste of your own family’s home made. It sets a precedent for what you want ‘it’ to taste like in the future
The seasons always played a big part in our cooking and eating. Long, hot endless days were the perfect excuse to relax by the pool and drink slush puppies which, as I got older, became alcoholic versions of a slushy. BBQ’s were frequent and Dad brought out many of the family favourites like bang bang chicken.
With the falling leaves, came annual showtime . The air was crisp with excitement but the dusty dagwood dogs, distant squeals of sideshow alley and passing parade held no appeal as we contentedly tucked into Autumn picnic feast – freshly baked bread rolls served with lashings of moist, baked chicken with sage and onion stuffing. Bags of fairy floss were left untouched, dropped in favour of some award-winning passionfruit slice.
Cold winter nights meant tummy aches after eating too much chicken drizzled with mozzarella, doused with rich marsala sauce. The smell of the dry red wine boeuf bourguignon wafting through the house never seemed to leave in those colder months, and if we were lucky, Mum’s world famous rissoles would make an appearance. The end of winter was marked by a feast at our house, with pigs basted in fennel, red wine aplenty, and 100 of our closest friends celebrating in style. This celebration has now become known as ‘Porchetta Day’, a foodie festival, in my home town.
Spring will forever taste like chargrilled asparagus, snow peas to die for, and not quite ready lychees.
The later teenage years were less pleasurable, yet no less memorable. 16 marked my introduction to slop- aka dining hall food. My food print had never involved anything quite like it. Boarding school seemed like a world away, and it was here that I suffered two years of hideous ‘classic’ dishes that were slaughtered by lack of care, lack of budget and lack of knowledge. At least we had the memories of the weekend. Perhaps a lingering taste of marinara or fresh BBQ’d pork, cooked by some generous, sympathetic day girl’s parents. If I was lucky, I’d feel the comfort of a lunchbox packed full with leftovers poking out of my bag, which often saved me from the clutches of culinary despair. There was a silver lining, If you can call it that. I did learn about being resourceful, which was a specialty of the lunch ladies. One dish five ways- curried sausages and rice, curried sausage salad, curried sausage pie......
21 was a time of decadence. Not a care in the world, a credit card to burn and a year filled with oysters, champagne and my boyfriend taking me for meals at sophisticated restaurants I previously would have only frequented if Dad was paying. Cocktails and Noosa became our regular weekend haunt. It marked a time of a certain culinary maturity. No more bingeing on bags of chicos and my changing palate meant I could finally understand the notion of ‘too sweet.’
21 was also a time when old became new again. After an unfortunate ‘too much pink rock salt’ incident years earlier, scallops re-entered my food print, and I took this re-introduction very seriously. Eager to make up for lost time; I consumed that fresh, plump, salty flesh at no less than 17 establishments over the course of the year. Scallop connoisseur was added to my title.
22 meant I had grown up a little, incurred a lot of debt and started cooking and eating more seriously. 22 was also the year I realised that I wanted to be doing ‘something in food’ so I started blogging and writing, and baking and cooking, and drinking and mixing.
23 has only just begun has so far has included my first fondant iced birthday cake, my new lunchbox and importantly, eating for health as well as pleasure.
By becoming so aware of my own food print, it made me wonder about yours; Australia’s food print. What were and continue to be the main food influences in the average Australian home? I am hopeful that my food print, and your food print, have yet to experience some amazing culinary adventures. With food culture currently exploding in Australia, it seems the possibilities are endless.
To catch up with Gastronomy Gal between editions, visit her blog at www.gastronomygal.com