Introducing Retro Kitchen

Ah the 1970s.  Do you miss those days?  Your Dad’s car had an AM radio and pungent vinyl seats.  He serviced the car himself in a huge back garden with a rag and a dipstick.  The engine was less complicated than a Dyson air purifier.

You went overseas twice in your childhood – once to Europe and once to Asia.  If you were dead posh, your car had a cassette player and you took a third trip – to Disneyland (which was in one place – the States).

All other holidays were domestic affairs – coastal caravans and regional road trips.  There was Austinmer, Terrigal and Warrnambool via Coonabarabran.  Then there was Barrington Tops, the Warrambungles and some sleepy joint called Brisbane run by two revered knights – Sir Joh and Sir Terence.

No wonder I sneer when kids of today complain they’ve only been to Koh Samui once this year.  Or that they have to go to the dated (ie post 1985) Port Douglas where, if they did but know it, they are more likely to run into Elvis than a crooked cop.  Sympathy only creeps in when I think of the traffic these kids (or, more precisely, their parents) have to deal with.

In the 1970s, peak hour lasted from 8.45 am to 9.00 am and from 4.55 to 5.15 pm.  Outside those times, your Mum let you play cricket in the street.  A fallen Knight, Sir John, was Governor-General and your parents maintained the rage every Friday over half a cask of Yalumba and a Tooheys or two.

People smoked EVERYWHERE  – including on rickety Leyland buses, where a conductor issued your ticket while the driver heave-hoed you from cheap and undesirable suburbs like Willoughby and Naremburn into town.  VIA CROW’S NEST.  That’s right.  Another shining knight, Sir Bob, was still wondering if New South Wales really needed the Warringah Freeway.

And now to the food!  Takeaway was fish and chips.  Maccas had recently opened with a Big Mac for 49 cents with a menu which explicitly clarified for us knockabout Aussies that French fries were “ie chips”.

Restaurant meals were a lavish affair.  There were three options, each of which would be exercised once a year.  The first was the local lawn bowls club.  The second was dining in at Pizza Hut, which was fully licensed.  The third was going to a Lebanese restaurant with a belly dancer in Surry Hills after which your parents would drive you through the Cross to look at the prostitutes (trust me – a LOT of people did this).

You didn’t care that you never ate out.  That was because your Mum had taken maternity leave when you were born in the form of TEN YEARS off work.    If you were a little bit posh, she would later go back to work after pulling you out of your local primary school due to overcrowding (ie classes of 15 plus)  to go to some elite institution charging a few thousand …. ANNUALLY.

During her ten plus years as a housewife, your Mum would serve fabulous meals on a nightly basis.  The ingredients were mostly out of cans, with meat from the local butcher.  They were bound together with a shower of jarred spices, Worcestershire sauce and Heinz Big Red.  You’d wash it down with a few pints of milk delivered in glass bottles that morning.

My Mum was a sensational cook.  She would sometimes host glamorous dinner parties, with true culinary achievements like fish soufflé, Dobosh Torte and paschka.   It was all amazing and took about a week to prepare.

I don’t remember that stuff well – the guests would get the posh nosh.  What I remember vividly is how DELICIOUS my Mum’s everyday meals were.  She was a vibrant mid-30s siren who made it all look so darn easy.  She simultaneously managed the school tuck shop and clothing pool while making innumerable cakes and crafts for the school fete.

Sadly, no girl I’ve dated has matched my Mum’s recipes.  Especially the girl who served up vegan kale cordon bleu (WTF?).  That’s okay – every time I’ve been dumped for a suspected Oedipus complex, Mum’s taken me in and served up all my old favourites.

But Mum’s not the person she once was.  These days I assist her to her feet and she uses her walking stick to get to the kitchen.  I then feed her meals on wheels.  At this point, Mum undergoes the most amazing transformation.  I stand her in front of the stove and muscle memory sets in.  For the next half hour, with her poor sight and arthritic fingers, she’ll whip up one of her delicious meals for me and my mates.  In that moment, Mum’s a divine 35 year old all over again.

Still, I’ve started to realise I’m being a bit selfish.  Mum might forget her recipes some day soon.  What will my mates do, if and when?  How will I cope if I realise too late I just had my last apricot chicken or carpet bag steak?  And shouldn’t the world know how FUCKING SENSATIONAL 1970s home cooking could be?

There’s only one answer.  I have to write a blog and deliver Mum’s recipes free of charge to the world (until the million dollar book and TV deal).  Even so, there are a few difficulties.  Mum has no written recipes and does everything by memory, intuition and judgement.  Also, I’m a very pedestrian cook and want the recipes to be open to someone similarly useless.

Lastly, each meal needs to serve at least 4, cost about $20, and be able to be frozen so you can enjoy them again on those nights you can’t be arsed.  Otherwise, you will head off to Maccas for a small cheeseburger meal (for a limited time, $3!!!).

The solution to these difficulties is preparation and presentation.  I’ll get Mum to cook each of her wonderful recipes.  I’ll take notes and then cook the dishes myself, perfecting quantities and method.

Then I’ll be ready for the gala performance.  I’ll cook the dish a third time, presenting the steps of the recipe as a photo essay.  Old Dad will take the photos.  He’s on a similar trajectory to old Mum.  But just like Mum in front of the stove, he’s reborn when you thrust a camera into his hands.  And, anyways, I’ll be the star!  I can hardly take my own photos now, can I?

I’m going to upload recipes every four weeks – pretty reasonable if you remember every one requires three separate sessions of cooking.  Each recipe will list ingredients and price.  Each step will be accompanied by photos any primate could apply.  And before too long – even if you may never get back to the ’70s – you can relive them every night at the dinner table.

Now crack open a cold one and drool on my next post – a list of Mum’s recipes from start to finish.  After that, we’ll be onto our first recipe – spaghetti bolognaise like Italy has never tasted it before!

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