Learning to cook

I was listening to the radio (3RRR) the other morning.  The Breakfasters were talking about how old they were when they learnt to cook.  Was it as a child or when they moved into their first share house?  It made me think back.  I think the very first thing I learnt to make was cinnamon toast.  Which not surprisingly consisted of toast and lashings of butter, which was then sprinkled liberally with a mix of castor sugar and cinnamon.  I think my parents got this for Mother's or Father's day many times.

A few days later, when looking in the back of a cupboard, I found my very first cookbook...'Cooking for fun: recipes for young cooks'.  It brought back more memories, as I saw the bite marks along the spine, which were put there by one of my curious guinea pigs!  It was published in 1980, so I must have been 10 when I got it.  Even though it's filled with recipes for pizza and macaroni cheese, I lingered mostly on the pages at the back - baking and desserts.  I remember making pancakes which we ate with lemon and sugar.  I can still make pancakes and pikelets at the drop of a hat with no recipe required.

I then began a dessert odyssey which in many ways is still with me today.  I remember making pavlova (using a Pav Magic egg - remember those?) and marvelling at the triumph.  I then moved onto chilled cheesecakes.  Mum had a recipe using Carnation evaporated skim milk from a tin.  I'm sure there was a packet of lemon jelly mixed in it too.  I was probably around twelve when I was commissioned to make two cheesecakes for my cousins backyard 21st.  I made the old faithful lemon cheesecake, and another which required pineapple rings cut in half and coated in chocolate.  These formed the outside wall of the cheesecake.  Pretty sophisticated for 1982.  I had the job of making sunday night dessert for the family, which gave my greed a chance to flourish.

There is something that sets me apart from most people I know.  As you can tell from the skim milk, my Mum was always counting her calories.  I used to look at her rock hard Ryvita's smothered in cottage cheese in curiosity.  Under her influence I learnt that Condensed Milk was evil.  While everyone else was sucking it from the tube or licking out the tin - I was taught it was the devil.  And even to this day I avoid all recipes with this ingredient, like it still has a pox on it.  It's moments like this you realise how those early influences shape your relationship with food.  But more about this another time.

I fell in love with cooking and my folks even began investigating cooking schools in case I hoped to end up with a career in the culinary arts.  I then turned vegetarian at 14 which threw those plans in the bin.  If only we'd realised about Patisserie chefs, my life could be so different now!  I had to learn to make lentil burgers to feed myself.  My Mum and I would make batches to freeze, as this was years before the supermarket abundance of tofu and soysages.  Mum was great and we got cookbooks to learn about my new dietary ethics.  I have to thank her for supporting me, even though I know she was concerned I'd be anemic suffer for my beliefs.

I was timid and reluctant when it came to vegies growing up.  I have a terrible memory of sitting at the dinner table crying, with a piece of cold broccoli on my plate.  Dad wouldn't let me leave until I ate it.  It was a mexican standoff between me and the slightly soggy steamed green.  It took Mum to figure out that I didn't like the feel of it, but if she stir fried the stalk she could get me to eat it.

Cooking has evolved so much since the 70s and 80s and the multicultural influence has changed how and what people cook in their homes.  We have so much choice at our fingertips it saddens me to think that some people still don't really know how to feed themselves.  It really is a life skill I'm glad I picked up early.  Watching TV show's where Jamie Oliver asks a bunch of kids to identify vegetables (which they can't) is so sad.  And also why I think Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden program is so great. The earlier we learn these skills the better off we are.  So, when did you learn to cook?  What was your specialty dish?  Are you on a culinary journey or simply watching celebrity chefs and reality TV cooking programs from the couch while eating take-away?  Do you experiment or just eat the same old favourites every week?  I think so many people have complex and long-standing issues with food.  It's interesting to think of how it all began.

But now I've typed this, my tummy is rumbling and it's time to make dinner.  Hmmm....a stir-fry on brown rice I think...with extra broccli!


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