Last weekend, I was wracking my brain to think of something interesting for my Offspring to have for tea, which didn’t require a lot of work on my part and which used only the ingredients I had in the house. Aha, I thought after a while, I will make mini quiches!
But I didn’t want to use puff pastry, and I didn’t have any shortcrust in the freezer, so I needed to make the pastry myself. And although I have several (hundred?!) recipe books, I couldn’t decide which would be the best to use. So I rang my mum to ask which she used.
I thought, as I dialled my parents’ number, just how many times I’ve done this: ring my mum to ask for a recipe, or for a suggestion for a substitute, or how best to solve a problem I’ve run into while cooking. My mum is an excellent cook, and has been cooking for others for decades, and, like many other country women, spent almost all of that time without the backup of ‘well, we can just get pizza!’. So she knows stuff.
My relationship with my mother–with both of my parents, I guess–has by and large been on the phone. I have lived for many more years away from the family home than I have within it. Since leaving for boarding school at the age of 12, I have spent no more than 12 weeks at any one time with my parents. Some years, it was far less time than that. So I got used to talking to my parents on the phone.
Boarding school teaches some important skills: independence, the ability to get along well with others, to name a couple. But I graduated with very little idea about cooking. I hadn’t really shown much interest in food preparation before I’d left for high school, and for feminist reasons I was vehemently opposed to taking Home Economics (and argued for the opportunity to take woodwork instead, which wasn’t then an option, much to my disgust–but apparently is now, so that’s progress). Once living in share houses while at university, I branched out into baking and cooking for myself, and in my twenties, would often spend weekends experimenting with different dishes and learning along the way. Which also meant frequent phone calls to my mum.
I should note that my mum and I have very different approaches to cooking. Mum is great at following instructions. She will make a recipe for the first time, ensuring she does all the steps in the correct order. I… do not do this. I rarely follow a recipe to the letter. I tend to be flippant with measurements. If I don’t add something when it’s supposed to be added, I’ll simply put it in later. As you can imagine, Mum and I are not necessarily compatible cooking companions. In fact, I always get the impression that my haphazard approach stresses her out!
We even favour different styles of food. The Handsome Sidekick and I tend to eat a lot of Asian food–curries and the like. My parents prefer a meal of meat or fish, such as a roast or baked salmon, and vegetables. So despite the fact that I still rely on my mum for advice, I considered my cooking journey to be one of my own discovery, with little input from my mother. But as I rang my parents’ number last weekend, I realised that while I might have discovered all kinds of different foods by myself, and grown into a relatively accomplished cook on my own, my mum provided the foundations. Because there is so much about food which is unspoken. Sure, we talk about it, we ask what’s for dinner, we discuss what’s being bought at the shop, what’s being grown in the garden. But the everyday routine, the meals on the table, the lunchboxes, the in-between snacks–they are a backdrop to a food philosophy which is lived rather than debated. Complaints about why we can’t have the latest takeaway/snack fad aside, food becomes the routine, the basis for everything, the hub into which everything else connects.
Of course then, my mum’s dedication to unprocessed whole foods comes out in my own approach. While at sport yesterday, I saw some children around the same age as my Offspring, and who were struggling to keep up with the others, due to their weight. These poor children, who are already overweight, and whose food choices are being made for them–food choices which are setting them up for difficulties and disease later in life. I’m a believer that you don’t have to be a particular size to be healthy, but it saddens me that these seven- and eight-year-olds, who aren’t the ones doing the weekly shopping or packing the lunchboxes, or making the evening meal, are nevertheless suffering the consequences of a poor diet (assuming, of course, that this is the reason for their weight–I’m aware that there can be other causes, but I think it’s safe to say that most of the time obesity is due to food).
Food choices are not a simple case of picking something to eat. These decisions are infused with history, memory, emotion. They are influenced by circumstance and finances, time and knowledge, energy and space. One’s diet develops over a lifetime, beginning with the first foods, but the possibilities are so amazing, if only the potential can be realised.
When I ask for the recipe, my mum gives me a list of ingredients over the phone to make pastry. She doesn’t even bother to tell me how to make it; she knows I know. I do remember watching her in the kitchen, even helping sometimes, but most of all, she has been at the other end of the phone, explaining, giving hints on how to make it work, always ready with a suggestion, even if it isn’t something she’s done before herself (see above for our approaches to cooking). Of all the things I do everyday for my family, food preparation possibly takes up the most time, and yet for the most part, it has become second nature, and I’m certain that this is due to a great degree to my mum. She made no secret that some nights, she didn’t feel like cooking, or that she was bored with a particular meal, but the importance of good food was always there in the background, and it still is now. Even after all these years, and even over the phone, she saves the day again.
Happy Mothers Day, Mum ♥