Saturday, October 07, 2006

Smells that remind me of childhood #1

I was cooking meatballs for the Fiance and me a couple of days ago. I love making meatballs, because it involves smashing a load of herbs and spices up in the pestle and mortar and then squidging it all together with the meat – something that I find hugely satisfying. So, there I am, crushing the crap out of the homegrown garlic given to me by K’s dad (thanks, Mr K!), with tears pouring down my face because the organic onions from over the road sting like nothing else on earth, singing at the top of my voice to the Lost Boys soundtrack (yes, again. Shut up) and seasoning the hell out of the lamb mince with cumin; when suddenly I get a sniff of said cumin and I’m ten years old again helping my dad cook dinner on a Saturday night. Perhaps ‘helping’ is not the correct word, though.

Dad always cooked on Saturday nights. I think it was his way of relaxing after a tedious week spent in a government office dealing with a Home & Away obsessed PA and people like John Redwood. And also a nice break for Mum, who had generally spent five days trying to force vegetables into me and my brother and who thoroughly deserved a night off to sit in a hot bath and not be disturbed with inane questions about long division or being asked to referee a fight over whose turn it was on the Nintendo.

Dad would start the cooking process a good few hours before the food would be on the table. My bro and I would have already eaten (also cooked by Dad – the main element of the meal would be anything from sausages to chicken kiev, but I remember he’d always serve it with boiled potatoes, which even then I could not see the point of if you weren’t going to either sling them in a pan of oil or mash the hell out of them.) He’d then shut himself away in the kitchen to crack onto whatever meal he was whipping up, but would inevitably be interrupted by some outrageous whining from one or the other of us (“DAD! It’s MY turn to sit nearest the TV! She sat there yesterday! S’not fair!” I know Mum and Dad were very much all for meals at the table instead of off laps, but considering the amount of arguments the sat-on-the-same-side-of-the-table-so-one-of-you-is-always-nearer-the-telly situation caused, I’m surprised they didn’t relax the laws on Saturday nights at least. Or tell us to shut the hell up and go back in the kitchen to let us finish slicing up each others’ femoral arteries with knives and Lego bricks.)

So, kiev snarfed and boiled potatoes forced down, Bro would potter off to try and further his understanding of the mysterious force that was Zelda, and I’d wander into the kitchen where Dad would have a sauce-stained cookery book propped open on the stand, slicing up onions and doing a gleeful stocktake of the spice rack.

I am sure that Dad didn’t cook chilli con carne every Saturday. He’s a great cook who likes trying out new stuff, and so there’s no way he’d have stuck to the same thing every week; but it’s all I can remember him making. As a result I can cook chilli con carne from memory. I can’t remember my own age at times, but thanks to Dad I can whip up a chilli with no worries and no cookbook, which for me is amazing because cookbooks are like sacred texts to me and I follow recipes to the letter.

I’m not sure exactly what I used to do while he was cooking. I recall being put in charge of browning the mince a few times, and pushing the button on the food processor to blend the herbs and spices (with Dad holding the lid on tight as he knew I was a hopeless scatterbrain who would forget to hold it down and then get my face sliced to fuck with the processing blade and covered in spicy paste to boot). I think most of the time I’d just get in his way and talk to him about school. I know there was always music on, and this is probably where my love of “dad music” comes from. We’d play Simon and Garfunkel, or Fleetwood Mac, or my favourite compilation tape of all time, which Dad made for Mum full of “her songs” and which I am still hanging to get put on CD for me as I don’t own a tape player anymore and don’t have a copy of it anyway.

I know sometimes I was a pain in the ass to have loitering about in the kitchen – the occasion when I didn’t believe him about how hot cayenne pepper was and stuck my tongue in the jar to prove a point being a prime example. I like to think that when he was holding my head under the cold tap and making me stick my tongue out he was desperately trying not to piss himself laughing and making Joey Deacon faces behind my back.

We moved house when I was 13 and I don’t remember helping him to cook again. This was probably because we moved to a different part of the town where all my friends lived and, more importantly, I’d discovered boys and was about to embark on a duff pubescent journey that involved lots of bike races and sitting in parks in the rain.

I’m not quite sure what the point of this post is. I think it’s because in recent months it’s kind of hit me that I’m a fully grown adult who has a mortgage, is getting married and is hopefully going to have children soon. Weekends aren’t for sitting on my arse watching cartoons and playing hockey and being allowed to brown the mince anymore. They’re for doing all the stuff I don’t have time to do during the week, for running errands, for hoovering and scrubbing and spraying Fairy Power spray onto everything in sight in my kitchen. They’re also for catching up with friends, for afternoons sat in the pub with piles of newspapers or watching football or going for dinner. Stuff that proper grown ups do. This is great, and I love how I live my life, how it’s all worked out, when at times over the last ten years I never thought anything would go right. However, I think sometimes it feels like it’s all going past too quickly, and sometimes all you want to do is be back at ten years old, trying to stab your little brother in the head with a fork and not having anything to worry about at all apart from what spice jar you’re going to try and stick your tongue into next.

I’m back with Mum and Dad next weekend for a wedding dress fitting. I might stick around on the Saturday night and see if Dad’s cooking. If he is, I bet I deal with that cayenne pepper a hell of a lot better than I did sixteen years ago.


zoe said...

smells that remind me of childhood : imperial leather soap. that was my grandpa's house.

Dave Hill said...

What a very charming post.

Must get that Vesta meal on.

Anonymous said...

Actually I love this too. I learned to cook by hanging around my dad in the kitchen, with the result that I now make the best meat loaf in the Western hemisphere (if I do say so!) and I also love reading about food. Your post really captures how food weaves its aroma through these other things that are happening to us - and you're on a cusp! How exciting.

Miss Hacksaw said...

Thanks for the comments! Always exciting to see that someone's had a look at one's blog when you've only been doing it a month.

I didn't around at the parents' gaff to inhale various spices, but only because we all went out at lunchtime and had so much food and booze that any cooking that evening was out of the question.