I grew up with good plain wholesome food. Sunday roast, chops and three veg, rissoles, or sausages and mash. Exotic stir fry’s, curries or laksa’s never entered our kitchen. Not even much rice, apart from creamy baked rice puddings. Rather, we had baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, or potatoes chopped with butter.
When I married at 29 years of age I was still living at home and totally committed to my dream job. I knew nothing about cooking, or much about anything to do with running a household. Consequently, the demands of keeping house, cleaning, shopping, and learning how to cook, as well as continuing with my career, came as rather a shock to my system. This was around 50 years ago, and in those days, as was the norm, my husband, Terry, occasionally lent a hand with the dishes or hung some washing on the line, but largely left me to cope as best I could, despite his pre-wedding reassurances that together we would overcome all these difficulties! I can vividly remember walking into a butcher’s shop, pointing to a piece of meat, and saying, “What is that, and how do I cook it?”
I must confess that cooking was not my greatest joy in life. It was a means for survival, and had to be done, so one just got on with it and did the best they could. But it seemed to me to be an awful lot of work, for something that was gone in less than half an hour, with nothing left to show for all that labour except dirty dishes. So after 20 years of marriage when Terry, who always knew just what herb or spice should be added to my cooking so that it tasted more like his mother’s wonderful meals, sat leafing through recipe books and suggesting some interesting Asian meals I should cook, I went into revolt. He had never made even so much as a vegemite sandwich! “Why don’t you go to cooking classes and learn how to make them yourself,” I declared. “I think I will,” was his surprising response. He began with Indian cooking classes, and then moved on to Asian.
And so began a new era in our life. Our kitchen became infused with all sorts of delectable aromas. Spicy curries blended with that unmistakable aromatic fragrance of coconut milk. The scent of onion, garlic and ginger mingled together to add their touch of magic to Thai Curry Chicken or Sweet and Sour Pork. Tangy yoghurt began to find a place on our table in condiments such as Cucumber or Banana Raita or Tandoori Yoghurt Dressing.
“Why don’t you invite some friends over for dinner, and I will cook for them,” Terry would say. So I did. Nothing was too much trouble if he was cooking. He was happy to spend all day, or even 2 days, in preparation for one meal. Being one for always doing things properly Terry insisted on grinding all his own spices. The bench would be covered with little bowls of ingredients, all methodically chopped into the correct size pieces. When the meal was served he would anxiously await our response, and then bask in our praise. Looking for more affirmation he would often say, “It’s not quite up to my usual standard.” But as long as I didn’t have to cook I thought it was perfect. And what is more, he always left a spotlessly clean kitchen. Why didn’t I suggest this 20 years ago I wondered?
Thankfully it didn’t always go according to plan. He did occasionally have a disaster. One year he decided to cook a Christmas pudding, as I had given up on these after a few disasters of my own. He was muttering to himself about the quantities and I overheard him say – “2 tablespoons of carb soda.” I interrupted him at that moment and said, “Excuse me Terry, but I think it should be 2 teaspoons of carb soda.” His sharp response, “Robyn, I am cooking this pudding. I know what I’m doing. You keep out of it,” put me firmly back in my place. All was quiet for a while, but as the pudding began to cook in its container in the saucepan of boiling water, it took on a life of its own and, like an erupting volcano, it rose up and over the sides of the pan, oozing all over the stove. While Terry frantically scraped up the ever increasing mess, I collapsed in hysterical laughter. Fortunately he also saw the funny side of the situation, and joined in my hilarity. The story of the Christmas pudding that grew, became one of our family jokes to be shared when we reminisced over the years.