My Nan, Norma, made the best chow mein south of China. I doubt Nan even knew the origins of her delicious dish and most certainly lovers of Chinese cuisine would have thrown down their chopsticks in protest at the sight of her bastardisation of this Asian classic. But we lived in the country and like most in the country, we did the best with what we had.
Liberal with the lard, shockingly unsparing with the salt, Nan would boil the vegies within an inch of their lives. But I loved them, the way they melted in my mouth, literally. Sitting down to one of her pasties (another speciality) filled with the leftovers from last night’s dinner (nothing was wasted), I would lick the plate clean and never needing to consult my stomach, I’d ask for more. Pop (Larry to his friends) sitting opposite me showed equal enthusiasm and appreciation for the fodder, reaching for the salt to add ‘just a little more’ (Pop eventually died from a heart attack but by God he enjoyed every bite!).
Watching MasterChef, and its many relatives on the telly, I am reminded nothing of my Nan’s cooking. The food, languidly laying across the plate, a voluptuous goddess of delicate morsels draped in expensive and rare finery, aromatic, fragrant, exquisite. I find myself wondering should I buy the dish flowers or eat it? The “interweaving of subtle complexities of aroma and flavour”. The only weaving going on at Nan’s dinner table was the weaving and mending of holy socks once the dinner dishes had been washed and stacked away. No, there was never this confusion in my Nan’s kitchen. At midday, when Ray* made his way into her living room, we made our way into her dining room for lamb chops with soggy veg and slippery roast spuds. For starters, bread and butter and dessert, rice pudding. Oh, and pass the salt please!
“So what on earth is her point?” – I hear you ask. Trust me I’m asking myself the same question. It’s just that these fancy cooking shows make me nostalgic for my childhood, for the simplicity of my Nan’s table, for butter soaked beans that could explode into nothingness if caught by the gentle breeze through the back door, for appreciating what is put before me rather than critiquing the “palate cleansing quality of the vinegar in stark contrast with the spicy heat of the chilli“. Don’t get me wrong, this new era of slow cooking and slow eating, of taking infinite care with the preparation of food, offers so many positives. But please don’t hate me if I “boil” instead of “braise”, “reheat” instead of “reduce”.
I am my grandmother’s granddaughter after all.
Ps….Larry loves Norma x
Guest blog by Leearna Moloney, Melbourne Australia.
Email: larrylovesnorma [at] gmail.com
Note: Ray* mentioned above refers to Ray Martin, who hosted a popular midday talkshow in the 80’s.