Stories of a Stained Cookbook
It’s a memory thing for me, food. At least that’s what it’s become.
It didn’t start that way.
At university, I lived off packet Mi Goreng (2 minute noodles), microwaved baked potatoes and single serve frozen lasagna. Even though I’d grown up in a family of exceptional cooks, none of their skills seemed to have been genetically passed on.
In one of my more famous cooking disasters, a high school home economics class, I used icing sugar instead of flour in my cupcake batter, resulting in a giant puddle of gooey sweetness not at all resembling the rest of the class’ fluffy, golden brown, take-home afternoon tea accompaniments. Not long after that, a friend and I baked melting moments in the oven that already had icing on them.
It seemed cooking was not for me.
At some point in early adulthood, Masterchef was introduced to the Australian television-watching public. My Kitchen Rules soon followed. Somehow, I got hooked. Watching cooking shows became an addiction. In fact, even when I went to live in Spain in 2012, I was watching the series online from my Madrid bedroom. And lo and behold, after a few years of this, some things started to sink in.
Instead of trying to make carbonara sauce by adding flour to milk (that failure experience made me cry), I started to see that with a few staples and good flavour combinations, a whole world of delicious food possibilities opened up to me. And some of these recipes didn’t even seem that difficult! I’m a visual learner, so when I watched someone cook something on TV that looked do-able, I’d try to replicate it.
At this point, some innate knowledge did start to appear between the cracks of my conglomeration of cooking catastrophes. I remembered how to make salad dressing – I’d helped mum with this hundreds of times. I knew how the layering worked in lasagne. I knew how to do certain things in the kitchen, just from having watched and helped prepare dinners growing up. So I practiced. I asked mum. I read recipes. I began to spend money on ingredients I couldn’t afford as a student.
Then I met Katja. Katja was really into cooking. I met her at my job in Madrid; she was a 26-year-old German who spoke 6 languages and knew how to make butter from scratch. Katja spent all her money on thick cookbooks and fancy Himalayan salts. She would bring food to work for us to try – cakes, breads, sushi… One day, she invited me over for a dinner party and blew me away with the incredible food she’d created from her tiny apartment kitchen. I think she had a big influence on me.
The other thing that has boosted my interest in cooking is my travels. I’ve always loved travelling and both Tyson and I travel largely because we are fascinated by different food cultures.
Now, I associate many happy memories with food: The days after our wedding, in Thailand, eating green curry and tom kha gai in the restaurant with the impatient waitress down the road from our hotel; salmon fillet with lobster sauce (I could have died that day and been happy) on New Year’s Eve in Stockholm; oily, delicious moussaka on a rainy night in Tinos, Greece’s tiny pilgrim island and the first of the Greek islands I ever visited on my 7 month solo trip around Europe; confit de canard (duck confit) cooked by an old lady in a little village, 3km walking distance from our holiday house built into the cliff along the Dordogne River in Southern France.
These are the memories which have made my life beautiful – times at which I’ve felt free; alive.
And these are the memories I want to recreate with my cooking.
The stories of my stained cookbook.