I was born to Dutch parents living in Australia. I don’t think you can say that I had a typical Australian upbringing. My Father had worked on board ship in the Merchant navy which took him all over the world, with all kinds of nationalities for work companions, and so he was exposed to many different types of foods in his travels. Living in Sydney in the early 50’s saw the main styles of food being mainly made up of Chinese restaurants with exotic dishes like sweet and sour pork or chicken chow mein, Greeks running the fish and chips shops with that all important seasoning called ‘chicken salt’, the Italians making pineapple and ham pizza, and Aussies with their ‘milk bars’ where you could buy things like sandwiches, milk shakes and banana sundaes. Something we now take for granted and can buy by the barrel is olive oil, which was only available in very small bottles for medicinal purposes from the pharmacy/chemist. With Australia being so multi-cultural, I love living here at the moment, as I have access to lots of wonderful and unique things that are becoming more accepted and even becoming ‘everyday’ foods.
Dad would try to recreate some of the dishes that he could remember in his travels. He would often make curries which included sultanas and bananas, Nasi goreng, ‘Rijsttafel’ (literally ‘rice table’) and many other Indonesian dishes which had been cooked for many years already by the Dutch. In the early 70’s dad often worked a late shift at the radio station 2KY and we would go to dinner at the Chinese restaurant in the little arcade in Jannali at almost closing time and ask them to just surprise us and cook something not on the menu, something the family was about to eat. I remember being served chicken feet, whole fish with head and eyes and teeth grinning at us, whole steamed chicken, yes, with the head of course, deep fried tofu in fermented bean sauce, crispy pigs’ ears, tripe, garlic…… Back then, most Australians where not quite ready for that type of thing just yet. I can still remember the flavour of a beautifully sweet but spicy, crispy beef and carrot dish even to this day. Not your average 8 year olds lifestyle at that time.
Mum was a great home cook for Dad and my younger brother and me. Pots of slow simmered beef with lots of onions called ‘hachee’ (hashay), mounds of buttery mashed potatoes, humungous trays of lasagne with a kilo block of grated cheese melted on top to fill two hungry teenagers- we would cut a massive chunk of it and just eat it cold for lunch the next day- and when we moved to the country, we had lots of steamed vegies from our own garden, all cooked on a tiny caravan stove for a couple of years while dad renovated a 100 year old house that had been used as a cow shed for the previous 50 years. During winter we would store our water in the fridge because it was so cold the water pipes would freeze and not thaw till lunch time. I also remember it being so hot there during summer, that mum would cook a quick pasta dish with some cut up omelette, bacon, onion, garlic and capsicums all mixed together with SOS brand sweet chilli sauce and we would eat it floating in our 3 foot deep above ground pool until the evening was cool enough to go back into the caravan. As a treat we would open a can of lychees served with cream, or some of mums defrosted poached peaches. Sometimes it was so hot, all we could stomach for dinner was an iced coffee with ice cream.
In 1990 I married an Austrian. Trying not to offend him, it’s difficult to explain him to you. He has a very extensive list of wines he likes- and has educated me well in this subject- however his attitude to food is completely different to mine as he is quite happy to just turn up at the table and eat whatever I put in front of him. If I ask what he would like for dinner his answer is always the same….”I don’t know, I just ate breakfast/lunch so I’m not hungry now, I’m easy, whatever, it’s up to you.” Because Austria is a landlocked country, he is not a big fan of Asian food or seafood, and he does NOT understand Brussels sprouts. He says “If they were going to go through all the trouble to genetically modify them, why do they still taste like Brussels sprouts?!” He will however, eat ANY style of potato dish and would gladly do so every day of the year if possible. Before immigrating to Australia his parents actually checked to make sure you could get potatoes readily in Australia or they would not have come. It’s true!
In 1997 I gave birth to a 9LB 5oz boy who is now 190cm tall (6’3”). He has been homeschooled all his life and at the tender age of 16 is one book away from finishing ‘Certificate lll Business Administration’. I have always tried to expose him to different types of foods, and as we have travelled a lot, he has had access to foods and cultures not normally available to everyone. Whilst travelling through France last year to discover the Champagnes of Reims, he was allowed a little sip from only the Brut Champagne of each place we went to, and by the end of our journey, for his schooling project, he was able to tell us that the three varieties of grapes used in the production of Champagne where Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, the differences between Cuvee, Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Sec, Sec, Demi-sec and Soux, and the complete process from vine to bottle. All I need now is a plot of land and he can show us what he learnt and put it into practice. Even though he is developing a discriminating palate, his request for what he wants me to cook, is Indonesian Satay…every time!
My very large list of close friends include African, Albanian, Austrian, Canadian, Chilean, Chinese, Croatian, Egyptian, English, Fijian, Filipino, French, German, Greek, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kiwi (New Zealand), Latvian, Lebanese, Portuguese, Russian, Scottish, South African, Spanish, AND Australian. I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone. The last time I had a ladies only luncheon at my place there were 39 of us, and I counted 80 that come to the Oktoberfest in our backyard with my own homemade beer and a whole lamb and a whole pig on my double banger spit which is so big it looks like a hypobaric chamber! The spit was a very cool Anniversary present from my husband! What a man! J
So now it’s time to talk a little about me. Actually, I am a Diploma Teacher of Music and have been teaching Piano and Piano Accordion for over 30 years. In 1986 and 1988 I attained the title ‘Australian National and Australasian Champion on Piano Accordion’. Even though I love teaching, my passion is food. I love nothing better than spending a whole day in the kitchen, having friends and family over in the evening, sitting around the table for hours and sharing a couple of bottles of wine. We have a rule in our house and it’s; “Help yourself and if you go home hungry it’s your own fault”. Another wonderful Anniversary present from my hubby was two glorious weeks at Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. I dream of doing the whole course some day. My bedside table includes a dangerously tall pile of cookbooks for bed time reading. My favourite at the moment is the Larousse Gastronomique. I own over 300 cookbooks. I love Julia Child and Maggie Beer. As you may imagine, I am overweight, but this is because I am homely, generous, and ready with a hug.
My very good friends have a gorgeous little girl that calls me and my husband Oma and Opa (grandma and grandpa), and even though I am only 47, I am very happy to be called Oma before my time.