The Secret Ingredient…

When I was little, my dad, who wasn’t terribly good at DIY made my mom a ‘kitchen island’.  It was a wooden cupboard on wheels (moveable, hence the ‘island’ moniker), with louvre doors and seventies ‘yeah baby’ orange and brown glaze tiles on the top.  It was made with love. It was hideous. It ended up beside the stove and served as a vegetable cupboard-cum-potstand.  In this case the wheels were superfluous because the kitchen island never moved.  But it was loved in return. 

That kitchen island was there on Sunday nights when my father made pancakes.  He was a good – but very messy – chef. He cooked with emotion and lots of utensils! Drove my mom bonkers. She had to wash up!  My dad was also the person who taught me to fling spaghetti at the wall to see if it was done ‘al dente’.  If it sticks, it’s ready!  Yes, that kitchen island was there when he died and we all sat at the kitchen table missing him as small girls in an uncertain world. My mom missed him the most because she loved him best. I think perhaps it was because they both discovered curry together!   It was hard to see that kitchen island and not think of him.

And yet, in her own unassuming way,  the person who taught my sisters and I the meaning of togetherness when we were growing up was my mom.  Sundays in our house were always roast dinner in winter and braais (barbeques) in summer. My mom grew up in a country that could not be described as the culinary capital of the world – though they probably could claim the patent for inventing the potato!  Despite this, she made fantastic homemade pizza, superb sweet and sour chicken and a pretty good curry.  You know, the old fashioned type served with sultanas, chopped tomato and cucumber and dessicated coconut. Yum! Yum!  I often think of those meals! 

Even today, mealtimes are important for my sisters and I.  They are a chance to get friends and loved ones round the table – to share the news of the day, to commiserate, to celebrate, to laugh and perhaps to cry when we remember absent friends and fathers. We all cook with passion…and I must admit, a fair degree of garlic, herbs and other spices. Fresh, of course!  I think for each of us, cooking brings particular pleasure. I’m not a baker (too scientific) but I can make pavlova.  My middle sister does a fab roast pork, and my baby sister has a cracking recipe for apple crumble with Toblerone! It’s our recipe for love – the secret ingredient you will never find in any book, but one that nonetheless makes a meal that is cooked with care and thought, taste great.