I grew up in Kenya, where my mother together with her mother and mother-in-law, conjured up fantastic feasts for high days and holy days and our cook made me and my brother the most delicious meals for when we got home from school. We had an enormous extended family – it seemed that everyone was an Aunty or an Uncle – who were all equally adept at turning out fabulous food. We had the most amazing resources – milk from the farm (quite literally from udder to table), creamy butter, beef, chicken and goat that were truly organic; fruit and vegetables that came straight from our garden or the vegetable growers’ allotments; fish and seafood brought in the day they were caught off the coast. Though it wasn’t always bountiful – I do also remember the power outages and food shortages; the surreptitious whisperings about where flour or sugar could still be found at a price; the sometimes comical lengths my mother would go to procure something in short supply…I look back now, through rose tinted glasses no doubt and feel truly privileged to have experienced such abundance.
We moved to Canada when I was thirteen. I realise now how difficult that must have been for my mother, a socialite who now had no help in the kitchen or around the house and no extended family around to visit or support her. Leaving the Tropics behind for six months of cold and snow every year… My mother is Arabian and my father, Indian; both Muslim and before long, they had gathered together a circle of close friends who have stayed in our lives, through thick and thin, ever since. It didn’t take long for Mum to get used to the convenience of the vast supermarkets or the lack of exotic ingredients and start throwing huge dinner parties. This is when I started to get involved in the kitchen – washing up to begin with. And then baking. In Nairobi, it had been all about fruit and ice-cream based puddings. In Canada, the magazines had picture after mouth watering picture of the most glorious cakes, pies and biscuits. Measuring ingredients is not in my mother’s repertoire so I became baker. I turned out cakes and cookies, hesitantly at first and then with more and more confidence as I came to understand the terms and the feel of textures. I learned from those magazines and the food packaging labels. But I rarely cooked anything savoury. That was my mother’s domain – completely.
I married and moved to England when I was 24. I couldn’t boil and egg but I could make a mean apple pie. My husband loved good food and we frequented the top London restaurants of the time as well as going into Southhall and Wembley for a fix of authentic Indian food. I piled on the weight and he got fed up of eating out all the time. He showed me how to make a simple stew and I was off. Shamelessly asking the most basic questions of any of his friends’ wives when we went round for a meal and discovering the food writers of that time – Marcella Hazan, Margaret Costa, Claudia Roden and Madhur Jaffrey…I would read them cover to cover and still refer to Marcella Hazan and Margaret Costa…I have never really got to grips with with Indian food. So we began hosting the very occasional dinner – one of my first triumphs was stuffed sardines – my husband brought home an unexpected guest – I cobbled the sardines together and not only were they edible, his friend wanted more…
6 years later, I moved into London, on my own, getting a job and sharing a flat with a co-worker who loved to say that I could produce a meal with nothing in the cupboards. However, it wasn’t until I started living with M that I really found my feet. The shopping in the streets of South London yielded a variety that was still unknown in the stockbroker belt of Surrey. Cooking out of the tiniest kitchen I would dish up Thai salads and curries, Italian fish feasts and French casseroles. I would marinade lamb chops and courgettes and barbecue them in our wild Victorian garden. I would roast marinated chicken wings in the tiny gas oven and our neighbours, finding the smells irresistible, would arrive early for their dinner invitation. I cooked Ossobuco with Risotto Milanese for dear friends which became one of those food memories which has grown exponentially over time. A book that totally changed the way I shopped was Frances Bissell’s “The Real Meat Cookbook” – in the early nineties, the ins and outs of battery farming were not that well known and this tome really opened my eyes.
With the birth of my son and life in utter turmoil and chaos, my focus nonetheless shifted with alarming alacrity to nutrition as EVERY MOUTHFUL COUNTED! I made all his baby food, steaming and pureeing a wide variety of organic vegetables and fish and freezing them in ice cube trays. As a toddler he was pretty adventurous – one of his favourite restaurant dishes was Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia – Cuttlefish Spaghetti. The staff used to pat his head sooo proudly as the rest of the diners looked on aghast at this child with black lips eating black pasta. I began baking again – birthday cakes of course, muffins, banana bread, biscuits. Encouraged by friends, I started catering the occasional cocktail party and supplied a local cafe with soups which I was able to fit in around his nursery schedule. With full time school, came my return to full time work and the emphasis shifted to fresh food that was delicious but quick…no more slow simmering in the week – that luxury is now reserved for the weekends!
So, I begin this blog to share memories woven through with food, lots of laughter and the love and encouragement that I have been surrounded with throughout the trials and tribulations that is this wonderful life…
These wonderful awards are such a pleasure to receive and I am truly grateful to each and every one of you, who take the time and trouble to award them to me. Due to time constraints, I am not able to pay them forward so with much regret, I must decline from accepting them. Thank you for thinking of me. Sx