Food Memories

Friday, August 12, 2011

Everyone has memories of the foods that they ate during their childhood – the standout dishes prepared by family members that have disappeared from their diet as they’ve grown up. Well, actually, I’m just assuming that everyone has these memories, because I certainly do. And those memories are shared by various members of my family.

For me, the standout dishes from my childhood were all cooked by my grandmother. My mum’s mum was always the standout cook in our family. She was Greek, although she emigrated to Australia from Egypt; and although she didn’t speak English that well, she spoke volumes through her cooking. Baklava, Rum Baba, Avgolemono Soup, Spanakopita, Dolmades and Galaktoboureko amongst other distinctly Mediterranean fare are the strongest food memories of my childhood. I was never one of those children who refused to eat anything without having tried it – I had an adventurous palate for a kid, and I adored these beautiful Greek foods that were rich in flavour.

Sadly, my Grandmother passed away some years ago, and since then the foods of my childhood have slipped from our diet. Like all the best cooks, most of her recipes were stored only in her mind, and while she was here to cook for us, we never thought to learn these secrets from her.

We tried, sometimes, to help with the cooking. But my grandmother was particular in preparation of her food, and you could easily fail basic food preparation while working with her. I can distinctly remember a time when I was around ten years old, helping her to make baklava. She reluctantly let me take charge of the pastry brush, and watched like a hawk while I brushed the sheets of filo pastry with what I thought were copious amounts of butter.

It wasn’t long before the brush had been removed from my hands so that she could slap on copious amounts more butter as though she’d never heard of cholesterol or calories (which she probably hadn’t); filling the places that in her mind she could see needed more. From then on I stepped aside, letting her work her magic. Once the Baklava was finished, my mother then failed dismally at arranging the baklava on the plate in a satisfactory manner. My mum and I laugh about this now, but I see that same level of particular-ness in myself all the time.

It might seem overly anal, but the results of her cooking spoke for themselves.

It’s been quite a few years since my grandmother passed away, and most of these foods have been just a distant memory for me. Then recently, my mum bought me a Greek cookbook which turned out to be the best cookbook that I have ever owned. I made a few of the recipes, and the flavours therein reminded me so much of my grandmothers cooking that I became inspired. My mum booked us into a Greek cooking class which actually turned out to be run by the same woman who had written the cookbook, and after making some fantastic foods there, I became inspired to try to recreate some of my grandmother’s recipes.

Which brings me to where I’m at now. The first place I had to look was in her battered old cookbook. My mum held on to it after her death, knowing that a lot of her recipes were based around the basic ones in this cookbook.
The problem is that the cookbook is in Greek. And it was written in the 1950’s, so it’s slightly out-dated Greek. Well, at least I think it is. I can’t be sure because I don’t actually speak or read Greek. Which makes the whole idea of using my Grandmother’s cookbook to relive my childhood food memories ever so slightly more difficult.

My first attempt at recreating 'Galaktoboureko'
Luckily for me, it’s the 21st century, so I have many and varied tools at my disposal – most crucially, the ability to switch quickly between a Greek and English keyboard on my iPad, and Google translate.

With these two things, I’ve begun the long and arduous process of reading a book that to me, appears to be nothing but a bunch of squiggly lines.

Despite how slow the going is, it’s not been dull because it’s amazing to see the foreign characters appear on the screen and then miraculously appear on the other side of the screen in English. And it’s also been quite amusing to read the garbled translations.

You can’t help but laugh when you find a chapter in the meat section titled “minds” or a recipe tells you to do things like “Dive your fingers into some water” or “Anoint with butter”.

Or when you mistype some characters and end up with translations like “Boiled Husband Soup”.

Translating the recipes is proving to be a painstaking, but incredibly enjoyable experience. And more than allowing me to rediscover some well-loved foods, I feel as though it’s bringing me a little closer to a grandmother who during her life was always ever so slightly distant to me through the language barrier.

Me vs. The Universe

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

As my lack of posts lately can attest, I have been incredibly busy at work. I have been so busy, in fact, that this weekend I found myself working on Saturday.

I had the building all to myself for most of the day and I had gotten huge amounts of work completed by the time one of my co-workers showed up around 4pm to pick up some stuff he had forgotten on Friday.

He seemed shocked to see me there on a weekend, and when I confessed that I was indeed working, he just shook his head.
You’re crazy! He told me, incredulously .

I’m not crazy, I told him. ‘I’m just a machine. A well-oiled playground designing machine.’

He just shook his head again and walked away. But I was on a roll; even his absence couldn’t still my rant.

‘Nothing can stop me!’ I trumpeted. ‘I’m slowed only by sickness, stopped only by death!’ I declared into the Universe.

The Universe didn’t like this.

‘Right’ it said, ‘I’ll show you.’

And it began to plot.

The universe hatched its dastardly plan early on Sunday afternoon as I headed outside to wash my car. My nose began to tickle a little. I put this down to the vast amounts of pollen in the air and got on with things.
I finished up and headed inside. I sat myself down on the couch and was immediately punched smack bang in the face by a cold. Bam! One moment I was fine, the next I was a wheezy, watery mess. There was no lead up. No feeling of an oncoming illness. One moment I was fine, the next I was like a character out of a cold and flu medication advert.

So now, courtesy of the Universe, I finally find myself with the time to post something. And while having a cold is incredibly annoying, I can only thank God that the universe chose the ‘slowed by sickness’ part of my statement to refute and not the other half. Because I imagine that blogging from the hereafter is probably a hell of a lot harder than blogging while sick.