Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
July 2020
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Gastronomic reminiscing 1

A long time ago one of my Canadian friends asked me to provide some data for her Masters thesis concerning the role of food in shaping identity and relationships and memories and … well … a whole bunch of other neo-Jungian (or something!) stuff that I didn’t entirely understand about the social role of recipes. Anyway, I wrote her a whole bunch of reminiscing bits and pieces that seemed to fit my interpretation of what she was talking about, with the typical distractions, diversions, and drivel for which my writing is notorious … and which were probably no use to her whatsoever. Anyway, I came across the file the other day, and it occurred to me that I could do a series of blogs on food memories.

So, let’s set the ball rolling with spaghetti bolognese. This was a traditional and regularly cooked recipe that developed over a period of time as I was growing up. Any of us kids could make it, because it was always an easy thing to help with the cooking of it. There’d be the chopping of the onion, the frying of the mince, then a can of tomato soup and another of tomato paste to add, followed by dashes of mixed herbs, nutmeg, and sugar, after which it bubbled away to itself for a while.

There is a story attached to the onion chopping. One day, in my Grade 8 cooking class, we had a written test and one of the questions asked “How do you chop an onion?” Now, I couldn’t remember having had any lessons on this, but that was okay because I had been chopping up onions for spaghetti bolognese for years. So I drew a sequence of illustrations β€” in glorious beautifully accurate perspective, if I do say so myself β€” showing the stages of onion chopping that had never failed to produce chopped up onion for spaghetti bolognese. Imagine my surprise when I got the test back with a mark of 0/6 for the onion chopping question. Of even greater concern β€” from an educational viewpoint β€” was the fact that I received no remedial teaching for onion chopping! Note well the short-comings of my education, and the pitfalls of summative assessment! I have been judged a failed chopper of onions and given no chance to redeem myself.

I still don’t know how to chop onions, so I chop them the way I have always done … but secretly, so that no one knows my ignorance. πŸ™‚

When I first moved away from home and was sharing an apartment, I didn’t make the meat sauce version of spaghetti bolognese very often, but my flat-mate Lynda and I came up with a nice meatless sauce (with tomatoes … and onions!), which I still call Burnie spaghetti (Burnie was the town where we were living). I still cook this from time to time (perhaps even more often than the traditional family recipe), and it brings back memories of my Burnie days. The secret with this recipe is to let the tomatoes stew for ages … and then (oh, I just remembered!) there is Lynda’s great way of checking if the spaghetti is cooked. You simply throw a piece against a brick wall: if it sticks, it’s ready! This necessitates the existence of a brick wall, which, fortunately, our apartment had, otherwise we might have starved. I’ve since learned to make brick-wall-free judgements about the readiness of pasta … but I do miss the satisfaction of tossing the spaghetti!

3 comments to Gastronomic reminiscing 1

  • Linda

    Your culinary education was broader than mine! We learned to cook cakes and biscuits as children but nothing so useful as a main course, which was something of a disadvantage when I moved out of home. Woman should not live by cake alone! Fortunately I eventually developed a suite of recipes that required putting all ingredients in a bowl, mixing together and putting in either the oven, microwave, frig or freezer. Sophisticated, eh? Obviously if I’d had a brick wall, I could have done pasta too. I don’t remember the chopped onion question but I do remember making a succession of inedible, and often unidentifiable, dishes in cooking class. The only recipe I ever used again was the Malt loaf made with Milo.

  • You have me troubled: I wonder if I could pass a written test on onion cutting?! The only time I remember cooking in school was during a French lesson; it was very obvious by the end of the class who hadn’t learned the vocabulary we’d been assigned the day before! (Mine was just fine, BTW.)

  • […] dinner to get to know them in a more informal setting. I did spaghetti bolognese … and the secret of my onion chopping is revealed. There are one or two other random things as […]

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