I launched onto the corporate scene after a three month stint at Miss Hales Business College where I had learnt to type quite fast and without looking at my fingers. This eventually lead to a prestigious job at Sydney Uni Appointments Board where my dexterity was useful for poking metal skewers through punched cards. Pre-computer, dear grandchildren, that was how data was sorted. Various skills were printed around the edge and if your resume said “I can bottle wash, trim roses, babysit etc” we clipped your perforated card accordingly, just like a bus ticket. Don’t know a bus ticket either?
I got two thirds of an Arts degree during that time, then the rescued kitten substitute came along. I knitted our baby girl Mary Quant-style dresses in gelato colours, and blew bubbles on her lovely tummy to make her giggle. We were living then in Hollywood Street Brighton le Sands with Warren’s mum, with my mum coming over each week to help me with the ironing, and encourage me to get bub on the bottle nice and early. It was helpful to have such loving support, but the unforeseen move to Melbourne meant we could nest as a primary family at last, and keep that decadent nightcap carafe of port by the bed, no see, no tut tut tut.
In the early months of motherhood, and incarcerated at Hollywood Street with only the tinned Carnation milk to mix 1 part to 7 of boiled water for baby’s lunch (since my mum was keeping order in the laundry and Warren’s kindly mum was making us her sodium nitrate enriched What Have You for each meal), I found the motivation to learn to cook. I covered a shoe box with leftover wallpaper then glued cutout magazine recipes onto cards before systematic filing. The careers councillor at school had suggested I was excellent librarian material, even though I hankered to be a journalist. No job for a woman said Grandpa Joe, so that was that, I wasn’t going to be offered a cadetship on the Newcastle Morning Herald on his watch. So I applied my investigative and cataloguing skills to sourcing, saving and eventually preparing recipes like Moussaka, Boeuf Carbonnade and Coq au Vin. I took cook books to bed and read them like thrillers.
Guilty, I have to admit my life has largely revolved around the larder. Try not to salivate as you picture these in your mind’s eye. My mum’s melt in the mouth tangy lemon delicious pudding, her light as thisledown passionfruit flummery, her grilled lamb cutlets crusted with celery salt. A first confrontation with an anchovy as a talented but minor player in a Pythonesque production of Caesar’s Salad, performed tableside and from scratch by a liveried cast in the Sheraton Hotel in Istanbul in 1976. Simple Turkish breakfasts of hard boiled eggs, black olives, hunks of feta, honey, pide bread and thick sweet coffee. Continental breakfasts on the actual Continent – buttery croissants served warm, spread with more butter and that posh jam called confiture. Tiger pies from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels – take a hunger pang, add a run of the mill meat pie then pile on potato mash, mushy peas and spicy gravy. Sea bass baked in salt crust served with a garnish of Adriatic view. Prime rib at the Houston Airport Hotel of all places. The squishy succulence of Giddy’s creamed rice. Saltimbocca alla Romana perfected at Trio Romanos, against which all others are now measured. King Oscar tinned sardines, heavily lemoned, grilled on toast for mornos. Slow roasted garlicky lamb shoulder a la Evan. Chris’s Coconut Chicken, how does he get it so crunchy? Warren’s accurately buttered toast and Vegemite with milky English Breakfast tea served in bed …