Monday, July 9, 2012

The small dress

There was a time, perhaps one or two generations ago, that making your own clothes, or clothes for your children, was the thing to do. Perhaps done out of necessity or because of increasingly tight budgets, shorts were cut, dresses were stitched, frills were added, and family photos showing off small smiling children with brand new homemade clothes were taken. You may have had the same family photo – I know we did (against a fake backdrop of an autumn forest in all its yellow, gold and red glory, me in a beautiful handmade dress, beribboned and grinning into the camera).

I remember my mama sewing at night to make us clothes. She used small, finger like lengths of dressmakers’ chalk that was cold to the touch, and held pins between her lips as she folded and tacked and marked and fastened the long lengths of fabric. The dresses she made Kim and I almost always matched; and I remember how the fabric felt when we tried on our almost-done dress for the first time – slightly stiff from not being washed, but oh-so-lovely to spin around in.

Last week, my mama gave me two little dresses that I used to wear as a girl. They had the customary frills and bows and lace and ruffles, are impossibly cute and very sweetly vintage in appearance. I remember her making them; and I remember the way that the lace hem tickled my legs as I walked. And goodness, didn’t it just light a fire! I had Lyra up on a stool the next morning, trying on these little pieces of tangible memory, and measuring out just how I would have to adjust the pattern of the dresses in order to make new ones. I love the idea of my Lyra-Lou having a similar childhood memory, perhaps when she’s grown and gone with babes of her own – of her mama at the sewing machine, pattern pieces and long lengths of material fastened together with multicoloured berry pins, and the feel of a new, made-just-for-me dress.

Do you remember your mother (or father, aunt or grandmother) making clothes for you?


Ps. My apologies for the impersonal images of late; my camera has gone missing. I know it’s somewhere in the house, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it has been spied as treasure and hidden away by one of the kids…

Image from here.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Learning how to cook

Picture from here.

I admit it: there have been times in the past where I have sneakily passed off a fake curry as my own. You know, the empty-the-bottle-and-stir-it-in kind, that doesn’t involve any roasting or measuring or waiting and waiting. Look, if they didn’t ask, I didn’t say; and all that mattered is that we were eating delicious things, right?

In the last year, the need to be taught properly has taken up residence in my heart; and so over the summer, I bought a recipe book from renowned Asian cook, Charmaine Solomon, with the resolve that I was actually going to learn how to make a curry the right way, and not cheat my way through Indian cookery forever. My Mum actually owned an earlier edition when she was my age, and I remember her using it in much the same way. Her copy is filled with little annotations and small changes to the recipes to suit her tastes, scraps of paper with hurried recipes and abbreviated measurements, and pages stained with curry splatters or yellowed with turmeric. It was well used, and well loved.

After the necessary gathering of spices and some basic implements, my adventures in real Indian cookery began; and so far, it’s been a delicious resolution.

This is what I have learnt:

  1. The smell of onions, garlic and ginger slowly turning golden in a pot on the stove is a great memory starter; every curry I’ve begun in the last few weeks has reminded me so much of my grandmother Renee, who always wore an apron, made her curries in tall metal pots, stirred with long handled wooden spoons, and hummed made-up tunes as she mixed and added and tasted and waited. My spice cupboard smells like her kitchen too, which is comforting and bittersweet and delightful, all at once.
  2. It’s fun using new ingredients, like the little knubs of fenugreek seeds, silky saffron strands, aromatic cardamom pods, or tiny mustard seeds, which pop and release their flavour in hot oil. There are some ingredients in Charmaine’s book that I’ve never heard of, and I’m so looking forward to experimenting with them.
  3. A kitchen garden is a wonderful thing, especially when it's put to good use. Our coriander is cut every couple of days in big fragrant bunches, and mint has been added to spice basics and whizzed up into fragrant pastes. We're patiently waiting on our tomatoes and cucumber to be big enough to use; and the chillies that we grew last season are finally being thawed and chopped or ground, and added in for necessary heat.
  4. The kids have surprised me with their curry tolerance. Just last week, Lyra polished off a bowl of Alu Gosht Kari, a meat and potato curry that I’d added a good chopping of chilli too. She mopped up the gorgeous thick gravy with her chapati like she’d been doing it all her life, and asked for a second bowl once it was (almost) licked clean. Which is awesome for two-and-a-half, don’t you think?
How about you? Have you ever wanted to (or learnt) how to cook in a more traditional way – perhaps like your parents or grandparents did?