Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Childhood Meals: A Russian Roulette

When Phil & I first moved in together, we were in that phase of a relationship where you create domestic bliss.  You know, when you are so stoked to be not just leaving a toothbrush at the others house, or have half your stuff in one place and the other half across town.  Finally you get to build a little nest together and make things "ours" not just "mine".  We loved planning our meals and enjoyed the chance to cook 'home' food - the things that make you feel like a grown up because they're what you ate when you were a kid.  It's sounds strange, but I think most of you will know what I mean.  It's what your Mum made, so when you make it, you feel like a Mum, or something like that.  One cold wintery night, we decided that the perfect comfort dinner, destined to be made while wearing fleecy slippers, was fish pie.
Phil and I bought our ingredients for fish pie, we searched the Edmonds recipe book (surely the source of all childhood pie recipes), lovingly created our meal and put it in the oven.  We felt so proud of ourselves and what this pie symbolised in our grown-up life together.  We sat down to eat the pie, dug in with enthusiasm and ate.  Slowly.  We did eat it but it was hardly what you would call "with abandon" and definitely didn't warrant the extra adjective "gay abandon".  The conversation dwindled, our smiles became polite and as our meals were finishing our eyes met across the table in mutual understanding. That pie, that symbolic, nostalgic, fish pie, was disgusting.  A confession burst forth from me.  "I don't even like fish pie!"
Pause.  A wry smile from Phil.  "Neither do I".
Of course the ensuing conversation involved us marveling over why either of us thought making fish pie was a ever going to be a good idea.  And why we'd used tinned fish.  I know, tinned fish.  Disclaimer: since this terrible incident, I have had fish pie made for me by a couple of friends (most notably Mike, and Carolyn) and it was delicious.  They used fresh fish for a start.  I have come to realise that fish pie can actually be good.

When my good friend Harriet was growing up her mum's food fell in to one of two categories: "hot and tasty and nice", or "cold and slippy down" - her mum's words.  When any of the kids complained about the food, she was often heard to say "Come on, it's _____ [insert one of the two descriptions here]", as if that was supposed to be all the reasoning they needed to eat whatever slop was in front of them (on good authority it was slop most of the time, it's not just poetic license).  It's funny how food which was served to us regularly as kids can become either food heaven, or food hell.  Some of the slop we ate as kids has a special place in our memory and we love to recreate it.  If we tried it for the first time today having never eaten it before, it would probably be average at best, but there are those "hot and tasty and nice" memories associated with it.  Conversely, there are things that we hated as kids and even though we concede they're actually ok now, we still hold onto those force fed, just 5 more mouthfuls, no dessert, straight to bed memories (I'll tell you the story of ox tongue one day).  But I think some of the best times are when you eat a re-creation of a childhood meal that you always found a bit ho-hum and you suddenly realise that it's delicious.  There are pitfalls of this obvious -  you eat something in the hope that it's gained some dimension that you simply passed over as a child but lo-and-behold, your 8 year old self was totally onto it - the dish is fetid and you can't believe your parents served it and claimed it as food.  Make no mistake, cooking food from your childhood is a dangerous game.  It could be heart-warmingly fantastic, or bring up some awful repressed memories.

So when I said to Phil on Monday that we were having chops for tea, he was understandably sceptical. Chops.  It's almost onomatopoeia - sounds like what it is: gross.  Especially with a New Zealand accent.  And I don't know about how chops were prepared in your house, but in mine they were cooked in a pan.  I don't know if there's too much more I can say about it as I doubt there was any sort of flavour added to them.  I could add "for a bloody long time".  Cooked for a bloody long time.  I can safely say it was the same in Phil's house except maybe his were cooked for a really bloody long time.  Til the word "bloody" is really not an appropriate one to use.
I found a recipe in the Taste magazine for chops with chickpea mash and a parsley salad and it was so nicely presented I thought it may be the redemption of chops for me.  I am happy to report that it was nothing like the fish pie episode.  We actually really liked our chops.  And before you ask, I didn't take a photo.  I think the art of food photography is mastered by few and it would have to be a master to take an appetising photo of a chop, even a tasty one.  Turns out you should turn the chops on their sides and fry the fat before you cook the meat.  This lessens the glutinous fat I used to have to chew through as a child which can only be a good thing.  Perhaps this is a fact that most people know, but in my family (and Phil's) you just cooked the shit out of it and hoped that rendered it all edible.  The (lack of) logic in this baffles me, but there you have it.
Anyway, a childhood dish has been saved from being relegated to 'Tragic Dishes I Will Never Inflict on My Children' and bumped up to the 'Hot and Tasty and Nice'.  Lucky Edie!

If you feel like adding a bit of zing to your weekly meals, I'd recommend playing Childhood Meal Roulette.  You can have your own wee gamble in an incredibly safe and bourgeois way.  Hopefully your life has room for a few more excitements other than this, but it's a nice place to start.  Perhaps you've written off Tripe & Onions, or Lambs brains?  Throw the dice people and add them to the menu this week!  Don't blame me if it's still totally vomit-inducing, but you could just hit upon a culinary gem.


  1. Somehow I don't think I'll be recreating Dad's "macaroni and cheese with potato chips and pineapple on top" incident. I saw the recipe book afterwards and he'd scrawled "nobody likes it".

    1. Bahaha Shredder, that's awesome on so many levels! That there was even a recipe in existence for macaroni cheese with potato chips and pineapple on top is gold!
      However I think it's your duty as a top Mum to inflict this on your family at some stage, just in case.