I’ve written about cooking with my yiayias but it’s time to give some credit to the generation I missed – my mum, inspired by today being mother’s day.
The thing is, I don’t have reams of photos of mum’s food because, well, it’s mum’s food. It’s delicious, reassuring and dependable which is precisely why I rarely think mid meal – ooh, better capture this. It’s not exotic, boundary-pushing or haute cuisine. And thank god for that. I love to chase that stuff when I travel around the world but nothing, but nothing beat’s mum’s cooking.
I don’t think I really appreciated how good mum’s cooking was until I was out in the world tasting other people’s cooking. Then the penny dropped. I’ve definitely taken some of my mum’s staple recipes on board but more than that, I think I’ve taken on a lot of her practical ways when it comes to the kitchen. Once I started thinking about her pearls of wisdom I couldn’t stop. For example:
1. When entertaining, estimate how much food you’ll need. Then double it.
You all know the legend of the Greek hostess who will always ply her guests with food. Well her name is Vicki and she’s my mum. And I have taken on the exact same practice. The upside is a week’s worth of leftovers. Plus when the guests have left, we have a habit of all congregating in the family room, with plates of cake in hand, swapping stories and gossip about what’s happened that day.
2. Make it look effortless
I don’t think my mum intentionally tries to make entertaining look effortless but that’s always the end result. The kitchen and dining room will be overflowing with handmade dishes, mezethes are doing the rounds and everyone will have a drink in hand. Oh and the house is spotless of course. Once I started hosting my own parties I realised just how much work is involved in all that. And my parties are small. Mum’s hosted parties for 100+. I think this is where her eagle eye English teacher skills of forward planning and strategising come into play and I always hope that I’m pulling it off half as well as she does.
3. Kids will believe anything
Like the time mum served us ‘crumbed chicken’ which we wolfed down hungrily. Then my brother made a joke about it kinda looking a bit like brains. Unfortunately mum can’t keep a straight face so the cat was out of the bag. I’m pretty sure my brother still doesn’t eat brains to this day. Moral of the story is, kids won’t know any better unless you tell them. And yes, I still eat brains.
4. When you’re on a good thing, roll with it.
This is what led to the artichoke and avocado salad era of the 80’s, the tiramisu times of the 90’s, the smoked salmon decade and the more recent mango mousse years. And that stretches into seasonal specialties like perfect roast turkey and ice-cream pudding at Christmas. Mum fine tunes a recipe and sticks with it, which means the requests come through thick and fast for said dish at family and friend gatherings.
5. The lunchbox is the key to a happy childhood
Sometimes I think wistfully about lunchbox days. When the most difficult decision of the day was – should I eat my Tiny Teddies for recess or save them lunch? Mum put a lot of effort into our school lunches and we usually had nice salad sandwiches or if she was super busy, devon and tomato sauce (which was our favourite back then – I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole now). Then there was the poppa that had been frozen from the night before so that by lunchtime it had defrosted to the perfect chilled temperature. Plus a piece of fruit and a miscellaneous snack. Lunchtimes have never been so much fun.
6. Cook now, freeze for later
Sounds obvious but it was never really something I took on board until recently (I blame my Smeg fridge, the freezer compartment is only big enough for a four pack of Magnums). There’s nothing more pleasing than pulling off a home cooked meal by simply reaching into the freezer. I watched, learned and now own a second freezer. In fact I might pull out a homemade lasagna for dinner tonight…
7. Full cream milk in tea. Always.
There was a stage there where we got very caught up in the low fat madness of the nineties and I would have a conniption if a drop of full fat milk came close to me. I’m glad to say I’ve gone full circle and am now embracing full fat dairy, especially in tea and coffee. Of course mum knew this all along.
8. The barbeque is king
Dad enters the scene at this stage because the barbeque is his domain. But it’s mum that does the ground work: buying the produce, marinating the meat, selecting the seafood etc. Dad tends to get all the credit for the finished product but it is mum’s prep work in the kitchen that starts the magic chain of events.
9. It’s not a party without punch!
It helps that mum has an awesome king-sized punch bowl, with matching glasses, that can serve an army. I now know that punch will always be the most popular guest at any party. I’ve had instances where it’s run out in the first half hour and I’ve had to assign guests the task of making a new one. And another one after that. There wasn’t much left to my liquor cabinet after that particular soirée!
10. Test it first
Mum will never take the risk of testing a new recipe on a crowd – she’ll test it first on the family before it gets the green light. I can honestly never think of a time when something was a real flop or inedible so that was always a great win for us.
This list is just a starting point, I’m sure one day I will fill a book with mum’s wisdom. In the meantime, happy mother’s day mum!