Although not a post about everything I’ve learnt (because that would take a very long time to catalogue, and you’d all be bored before I was done), this is a post about cooking mostly.
I was a very precocious child (I have finally looked up what that actually means and yes it does fit me). My mother had a stroke when I was 3, and that’s when I started acting like an adult – well as much as a 3 year old can. By the age of 5 I had 3 younger sisters and I looked out and after them – though I didn’t actually have to clean up after them or cook food for them. My early memories of my mother after her stroke were of a woman who slept a lot of the time, which is understandable really.
I cannot remember exactly how old I was, but it probably was about 8 or 9, I decided I was going to make some biscuits for everyone. Apart from helping mum chop up ingredients (with blunt knives) for Christmas puddings, I had never actually cooked anything all by myself. I thought that making biscuits would be nice for everyone when they came home from where ever they all were. I remember my parents were not in the house, and I’m not sure about my sisters.
So, the chocolate biscuits, you see the recipe said that the biscuits were chocolate, but I had no idea what cocoa was, so I used chocolate Quik instead (I can’t remember them tasting evil, so the Quik must have been ok). I knew I was not allowed to light the oven, or play with it, so I went next door and asked my neighbour if she could come and light the oven for me. She stayed to supervise the rest of the proceedings.
From thereon, I learnt how to cook, mostly teaching myself by following recipes and clearly not daunted by things that looked complicated as long as the recipe was complete and had clear instructions. I also learnt that there were some ingredients where measurements were guides and others that had to be exact. I learnt to cook in Imperial and Metric and translate such wonders as “quick”, “hot”, “moderate” and “slow” ovens into actual temperatures.
It is in relation to the exactness, or not, of ingredients that I found the creativity of cooking. I surprised my father one day when making some spiced biscuits as I measured the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and ginger directly over the mixing bowl, levelling off the teaspoons into the bowl. He asked if I realised I was putting in more than the recipe called for, to which I replied, “yes, trust me, they’ll be good”. And they were.
For a very long time, cooking was my main creative outlet. I’d experiment with tastes and textures (and sounds… have you ever thought about how important sounds are when eating?) and recipes from different parts of the world. I still do these things, but now cooking is not my only creative outlet.
For me, cooking was easy. I grew up in a house where cooking was normal and both my parents did (though mum was always a better cook than dad). I was not discouraged from experimentation and from the age of 15 was expected to cook dinner regularly for the family (as did my sisters once they reached that age also). My cooking was actively enjoyed by family and friends and I had relatively few disasters in the kitchen (and the ones I did have I learnt from and never ever did again – honest).
Another part of not being scared to try new things and new dishes (I’ve now fallen in love with Moroccan cuisine), is that as a child I was told I could do anything, be anything, achieve whatever I wanted and that nothing would hold me back. This translated, in part, to me being ambitious in the kitchen and trying out new (and potentially difficult) things. Growing up believing that shaped me as a person but also has its drawback. I’ll blog more about the ambitious child in another post – including the benefits and drawbacks of that.