My Mum is on a particular diet which makes eating out more challenging than for other people. As a result, I don’t remember often going out to restaurants or even cafes as a child. Restaurants were only for special occasions like birthdays. I don’t think we ever got take-away. Now that I am a mother, I know what that’s like – that incessant pressure to produce an edible meal every single night. It almost feels like there’s just those couple of hours between finishing dinner and going to bed that you can consciously forget about preparing meals. So I don’t know how my Mum did it all those years with so few nights off.
Mum is a really good cook so we ate well. She would tell you that her aim was simplicity, I think (especially when we were kids). We frequently ate lamb chops with three kinds of vegetable and she used to make a yummy tuna mornay dish that I loved. Sometimes she would cook up a roll of silverside and we’d have a white mustard sauce with it and steamed vegies. I remember helping her to prod the cloves into the silverside (you had to poke a little slit with a sharp knife first) and thinking it was great fun.
I also remember savoury mince with rice. Growing up in Indonesia, rice is pretty much my staple. I adore the stuff and I don’t care what colour or shape it comes in. The smell of rice cooking still makes my mouth water.
From our cook in Indonesia (an amazing woman who Mum and Dad are still friends with), Mum learned a lot about cooking Indonesian food and she makes a fabulous rendang (beef curry) as well as sambal – a spicy paste which we usually eat served on hard boiled eggs sliced in half length-ways. Years ago I remember the occasional amazing platter of gado gado (a variety of steamed vegies served with spicy peanut sauce). We haven’t had that for a while – maybe because some members of the extended family don’t react well to peanuts.
Some other favourites were Mum’s pavlovas (loaded with whipped cream and fresh fruit) and her special mint bavarais dessert (not sure if that second word is right). It’s like this light, gelatinous mousse in which the main ingredients are milk and fresh mint from the garden. Mum serves it with a rich chocolate sauce and it is absolutely heavenly.
I like to tell people that there were two reasons I had any friends at school. One was that our house was on A Country Practice (so there were occasional opportunities for autographs) and the other was Mum’s delicious caramel slice. Sometimes I still think it’s the main reason P married me. Honestly, any caramel slice you buy at a cafe is lucky to be a fraction as good as this stuff. Well, when I say that, I stopped trying commercially made caramel slice years ago because it was always so disappointing. So if you think you’ve tried amazing caramel slice, I’d love to hear about it.
And Mum does the classics well too. I often do roasts because they’re easy and the whole family likes them. But I still don’t think they’re a patch on Mum’s roasts. Somehow she gets her vegetables all mixed in so that the flavours blend and the potatoes are slightly crusty on the outside and the sweet potato and pumpkin are this sweet, almost floral burst on the tongue. On special occasions, she makes mint sauce too (again, from the fresh mint in the garden) but only if we’re having lamb.
But it’s Dad who is the gravy expert. His gravy is thick and sweet with a mysterious recipe only he knows (and he only seems to know it at the time of concoction). I know he throws in red wine, Worcestershire Sauce, a bit of mustard and he definitely starts with the fatty juices from the meat. More than that I am unable to give away.
What are some of your favourite food memories from childhood?
Written for Fandango's One Word Challenge - Gravy Nov 26, 2020