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Things I have learnt – kitchen edition

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.

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A background story

There is a town I grew up in, well spent some of my formative years in, that I never ever want to return to.  I am envious of those people who have school friends who they spend time with, share history with and have connections that span the years.  I just don’t have that and some of the reasons are valid, and some relate to me being a slack teenager.  Let me explain.

I spent a bit over half of my formative years (traditionally from birth to 18), in Alice Springs… this is not the town I never want to return to.  Alice Springs, to this day, remains my spiritual home for want of a better phrase.  Alice Springs was a fantastic place to grow up in the 1980s.  I made friends with indigenous school children, local school children, blow-in school children (those whose parents had taken a 12 month contract and then were going to move onto the next place) and children whose parents had migrated from other countries.  I had the privilege of going to kindergarten with a group of people who I then went to school with.  I went to ballet school and did well, I was allowed to take what was then known as an “extension” program for gifted children at school and I fit in.

The fitting in part was the biggest and most important part for me, because of what happened when we left Alice Springs.  The people I went to school with in Alice Springs and those I was friends with accepted me, my quirks, my interests and the fact that I enjoyed school.  It wasn’t an ideal paradise, I did fight with girls and boys about stuff, but that wasn’t about who I was deep in my core that was just school yard politics in a very mild form.

We moved to a large country town in Victoria because my parents were concerned about their parents and wanted to be halfway between them (Melbourne and Corowa respectively).  It was a former gold mining town full of history, beautiful buildings and things to do.  On a purely aesthetic level it was a lovely place to be.  On a personal level, for me, it was hell.

My parents thought, at the time, that the best school to send me to was the Catholic High School because a) they were Catholic and b) Catholic Schools provide good education (apparently).  This school, compared to my Catholic High School in Alice Springs was MASSIVE.  I went from a school of 250 students in total to a school where there were 300 people in my year level, and as the school was divided over two campuses, years 7 to 9 and years 10 to 12, my campus had 900 students.

Despite charging fees (I ended up on a music scholarship, which is good because my parents would not have been able to afford the fees for long), the facilities at this school were quite poor compared to new shiny Catholic High School I attended in Alice Springs.  The campus coordinator thought that education in the Northern Territory was at a lower standard that Victoria (HA!) and wanted to put me back a year, but my mother put her foot down (thank god) and I remained in year 8.

As a smart and inquisitive student, I was suddenly bored.  I was a long way ahead of my fellow students, in all the core subjects and due to the move and my mother’s inability to find work, there were no extra curricular activities for me except choir – which I took up the year after we moved.  No home work, or at least no homework at the level I was used to in Alice Springs (combined with all the extra stuff I used to do) and suddenly my knowledge was a liability instead of an asset.

For the first time in my life I was picked on by others for knowing things.  My good vocabulary was laughed at.  When I told someone I was sceptical that X liked me, the boys went around for the next couple of days going, “ooh, I feel very sceptical today”, because they had no idea what it really meant.  In Alice Springs, I was one of the ones my fellow students went to when they wanted help with something.  In this town, I was shunned.

And not just shunned, I was bullied.  I was kicked, had my hair pulled and my school uniform skirt lifted.  I was picked on by girls for being different and determined to remain different.  I liked books and science and learning and enjoyed school – with the exception of the bullying.  I argued with mum about returning to school, spent time flatly refusing to go to school due to the way I was treated and eventually just got on with it as much as I could.

In my first year in this town I had one friend, who was someone very few people liked (including some of the teachers), but I thought was sweet.  Her family moved away from the town a bit over half-way through the year and I was then friendless until the following year.  Then I started making friends – who were mostly all outcasts like me and oddly were all people who had moved to the town later, they weren’t born there.

The bullying by the other girls continued throughout my entire school years.  This has resulted in me having a lot of trouble trusting women who I suspect are likely to play any sort of “game” beyond certain limits.  As a bisexual woman, this has added an extra layer of complexity that it’d be nice to do without.

Later in my school life in this town I was sexually assaulted by a boy who lived down the road, and nothing was done by anyone I told.  My mother has since apologised, explaining that her own sexual abuse as a child (though not the details) taught her that children lie – because that is what she was regularly told during her childhood.

Later again I was raped by my boyfriend, and since no one was going to act as they didn’t the first time, I didn’t bother telling anyone – having learnt that I had to deal with stuff on my own.

The relationship with my then boyfriend was incredibly toxic.  I endured emotional abuse and it took me a long time to find a way out of the relationship.  Only when I was at uni, in the same town, did I discover that I was appreciated for who I was, that my curiosity, thirst to know things and difference were ok things to have and that suddenly there were multiple people interested in me, versus the incredibly tiny number at school – well one.

When I dropped out of uni because engineering was not for me and moved to Melbourne I lost all the friends that I had gained in the town.  My ex-boyfriend still lived there and our circle of friends found it easier to be friendly to him as he was there than to remain in contact and/or friendship with me.

Moving to Melbourne was a good thing for me.  I’ve made friends again and lost friends and made new friends.  I have built up a family of choice of wonderful people I am happy to have in my life.  I have left behind the mess that was that country town and avoid going there as much as possible, even though there are a still one or two people I would not mind getting in touch with again.  I have a home now (and I’m even paying it off) and have filled it with people I love dearly.  I have a great circle of friends and have sorted out most of my genetic family stuff.  I have learnt that I’m me, and that those who cannot deal with that have a problem, not me.

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