Families have their troubles, their personality differences and quirks. Mine is no different, but one thing most of the members of my family have in common, is their enjoyment of food and most often also, their delight in the preparation of it.
My mother has always been a good cook. It was something I took for granted growing up. I look back now and see all the connections we had with food, all the knowledge around it and celebration of it, but as a child it was just something that formed part of the fabric of our lives. My mom could cook better then my friend’s moms and my birthday parties outshone theirs, yet still I never gave it too much thought. Only now do I realise how my food knowledge extends past the norm and my ability in the kitchen is not too shabby at all. I consider myself a foodie. I will send my mom photos of whatever creative concoction I have conjured up and my brother leaves long descriptions of dishes he lovingly makes for himself on our phones. Sharing our love of food binds us.
Growing up in an area that looked down upon anyone striving too high for success, or heaven forbid believing too much in themselves, my friends considered my family ‘posh’ for the New Years and birthday parties we held; and perhaps at times even pompous; where really I feel we were just enlightened. My mother enjoyed entertaining, trying new recipes and feeding people - something I now recognise in myself. She attended cookery lessons and would take the opportunity to experiment whenever possible. My family were always more then happy to oblige being the guinea pigs. My father would look forward to his evening meal and one course was seldom enough - testament to both his appetite and the deliciousness of the meal. I was raised by Atheists but where God had failed in their lives, another source of nourishment had prevailed. Food was our religion of choice.
Strangely enough, despite often seeing my mother in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, I never learnt to cook until I was 21. I always felt there was no room for anyone else in the kitchen and was happy to leave her to it. Why bother trying? She had this one down. The story of how I learnt to cook, is perhaps one for another time but before I left home my culinary skills were dismally limited to toast and scrambled egg.
Every Christmas was an event - both a hearty traditional lunch for the whole family at my aunts, followed by a buffet of delights at our own home in the evening for friends. My mother would cook for both of these meals but really pull out the stops at dinner. As the years moved on and my brother and I moved away, instead of downsizing, my parents bought a mansion and their entertaining increased. In time we moved back and I would help my mother create memorable experiences for her guests. My family’s annual New Year’s eve and Fountain Cocktail party became significant events in most people’s calendars and grew considerably in size over the years. Still staying out the way in the kitchen, I would come into my own when the entertaining began and my mom and I after years of doing the same rituals, would slip into a comfortable rhythm, each gracefully going about completing our respective duties. I would fill the beautiful ramekins with butter, smoothing the edges and placing a specially selected snip of parsley or rosemary from the herb garden, in the center. Dishes were lavishly filled and gorgeous ceramic platters arranged with cheeses and savory crackers; dips and antipasto; mini salmon wraps and spicy chicken wings along with other amazing canapés. The food and wine kept coming as their friends gorged themselves on what was on offer.
My role usually also included setting the table and arranging the flowers - creating the centerpiece and smaller versions in the guest bathroom and outside tables. One year I took a beautiful ceramic ornamental urn and filled it with greenery, crisp white Iceberg Roses and fresh lemons, sticking out from the floral display by means of sticks. I would mix King Proteas with red roses and fresh twigs of bay leaves, place them in decorative jugs or gold bowls and at other times create Zen like displays of single Lilies, perfect in their simplicity. Where my mom would experiment with the food, I would experiment with the theme and decor. Thinking about it now I realise what a good team we were, playing together like musicians in an orchestra. Content with the success of the evening, my mother, the kitchen alchemist and I, would finally relax over a glass of good chilled Sauvignon Blanc, until the next chance to create some magic in the kitchen.
I look back now at all the many ways in which food has shaped my life, moulding me subtly into a woman who enjoys to share, nurture and create. Nothing makes me happier then feeding people with words that inspire and nourishing food that fills their tummies and makes them feel cared for and whole. Food is comforting, it is wholesome, it is tangible love. Food is my new medium of choice for self expression and connection with others. Bon Appétit.