Friday, February 12, 2010

Bake me away

When I was a kid, my brother and I would spend the best part of the weekend running amok outside. We lived in a small country town next to the macinery firm dad ran, and had unhindered access to all manner of tractor, plough, ride-on mower and farm thinga-ma-bob. On Sunday afternoons, after a full day of yabbieing, "driving" tractors, and (ahem) aquiring and selling golfers their own golf balls (we were wicked children), we'd scramble inside, grass-stained and sunburnt. And that's when the real fun would begin.
See, Sunday afternoon was baking afternoon, the time when my mother would roll up her sleeves and restock the cupboard with afternoon tea and lunchbox treats, and we got to help. Now, there's nothing too shocking in that, most kids have helped their mum bake cookies at one time or another. The reason I share this is because it was the start of a life-long love, a love that may just rival that I will have for any man. Ever.
When I was six...and ten...and even fifteen, cooking was a time I spent helping my mother with chores. But it was also a time we could spend learning each other, and teaching each other things. My mother is a smart woman. She understood that bakeing wasn't just about flour, sugar, and butter, it was about learning new skills, creating something yourself, and giving something to others that you can't find in any Oreo or Tim Tam.
The great thing about cooking is that, when it's done purely for the love of it, it is an experience well outside the chore we often make it. We cook because we must eat. But we can also cook to give those who eat our food, a little taste of ourselves. My days of climbing tractors and ripping off golfers may be over, and the timing may be less Sunday afternoon and more whenever the urge kicks in, but the excitement at watching a cake rise, or a mayonaise thicken is still the same. And the feeling of satisfaction I get when someone 'Mmmmm's at the taste of my brownies is pure joy.
I spent almost an hour today gasping and thumbing through the cookbooks in my local department store. It felt like a mere ten minutes. Among the treasures I would gladly have sold a limb for was a book by Monica Trapaga that sums up a large chunk of why I love cooking.

She's Leaving Home is a bunch of Monica's family's favourite recipes, stories, and cooking tips, originally created for her daughter when she left home. Luckily, she has also decided to share it with the rest of the world. The recipes that fill the book are accompanied by family annecdotes and some super sweet illustrations, and seem to swell with the love and fulfillment they surely have provided generations of her family. 

Outside of the book, Monica is a seasoned entertainer and a veteran of Australian children's television. For me, this adds to the charm of the book. As I skimmed through the stories and glanced at the pictures I couldn't help but remember sitting a-top a beanbag with a warm anzac, watching Dr Monica and Miss Polly put Jemima Dolly straight to bed.

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