Big Family Dinners

For many years my parents held weekly family dinners at their house. Initially our family of six had plenty of elbow room around a large oval table. Over the years the family has grown to twenty-one squashed around two round tables and no elbows to be seen!

Mum and Dad toiled in their kitchen putting on sumptuous Chinese banquets. In later years we children would contribute a dish or two each. We don’t hold the dinners anymore — catering became too difficult, especially if one or two siblings were absent.

Apart from the stress of cooking, I miss those times and look back on them with fondness. The Big Family dinners provided a chance for siblings to stay in touch, to get to know their siblings’ partners and look on them like their own siblings. It provided an opportunity for young cousins to play together and become close – the large rumpus room downstairs was a perfect setting for this, where many a table tennis tournament, piano duet, tricycle race and paper plane contest took place.

We’d begin the dinner by drinking to anyone who had any achievements during the week. Sometimes the number of people who had announcements was so long, the food was in danger of getting cold, as we each clinked glasses with the happy person!

My second sister started a “Cheers Book” where we recorded the announcements. They could be as important as ‘We’re having a baby!’, or as simple as ‘Jonny did his first wee wee in the potty!’. The book charts the journey of our family over the years – a speaking part in a school play, engagements, Good Sportsmanship Award at soccer yesterday, new job, leaving old job, participation in art shows, going on holidays, getting through a difficult week, good assignment results, degrees, anniversaries of Dad’s quitting of smoking. I once received an award for volunteering as a reading tutor at my children’s school for 5 years. And I was proud that my achievement was documented in the family book.

Conversation-wise, my family has a taste for the ridiculous. One of my sisters would start by recounting something funny that happened to her that week. The rest of us would add comments here and there escalating the story to high comedy and while we’d almost choke with laughter, Mum, who is hard of hearing, would catch one word of the conversation and start talking about something else completely.

If there was a new baby present, grandmother and aunties would quietly race each other to finish their meal so they could be the one to relieve the tired parent of his/her load and run away to coo over it.

Birthday dinners came with singing and cake, the inevitable embarrassing ‘blowing the candles’ photo, and gifts.

Dinner on Election Night has always been a tightrope. The TV is left on through the night while someone looks around the corner of the dining room at it to report the latest. Some members of our family like to clearly show their political colours and of these, some (my eldest sister) try their hardest in the weeks leading up to the election, to influence those who like to keep their voting preferences to themselves (me). This could be very irritating for both parties involved, but one must suffer for one’s right to privacy!

Politically, Mum is the most vocal of us all and we all know that if you provoke her too much, the conversation at dinner can quickly turn sour. So most of us hold our tongues and wait until we clean up after the main meal, congregating in the kitchen to whisper our thoughts.

One of my sisters has correctly predicted winners of elections for as long as we can remember. She is like our very own Eden-Monaro (a swinging seat which almost always swings to the next government) and at dinners leading up to elections we always ask her opinion. She is like a sage.

Talk of politics at family dinners is not restricted to Election Night. It continues right through to the next election, especially when the government of the day has made a blunder, with the supporters of the last losing team saying to the supporters of the government, hey, how do you think the government you voted in, is going? Except for Mum, this is all taken in good humour.

Those were good times. Thanks Mum and Dad for all the effort you made to put on these dinners. They shaped our family and made us close.


A Stranger in the Modern World

I was born long before the digital age, … well long enough to have used a typewriter for my school essays, and annoyed my parents by staying on the family phone too long. I have yet to fully appreciate or understand the way people communicate and record information in this modern world. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a foreign land.

I was in town walking down busy Pitt St one day when a young man in a suit ran up, and fell into step with me.

Hi, he said.

Hi, I replied (I’m a very polite person ).

I’m not disturbing you, am I?

No, no (I kept walking).

So how are you?

I’m well, thank you.

When did you get into town?

Oh, about half an hour ago, got off the bus at Circular Quay and thought I’d walk down …..

How about the other night! You were pretty out of it!


What? You still in bed? You lazy bastard!

I stopped as the man kept walking – he was talking on a bluetooth in his other ear! I just had a conversation with myself!

Once I stood outside a coffee shop and noticed a couple sitting by the window, facing each other with their heads bowed. The table was small and the tops of their heads almost touched. I thought, what a tender moment! They were actually both using their mobile phones under the table!

Another time I saw a man in the distance holding onto the pole of a parking sign, talking to it. He walked around the pole slowly and every now and then he’d look up at the sign and laugh. I thought oh, poor man! When I got closer I saw that he was talking on the phone using his hands-free kit.

Is it just me or does all this seem weird to you? I saw the above about a year ago and I must admit, events like these faze me less now. Same with seeing a group of girls all dressed up and out to dinner, spending the night taking group selfies and pictures of the food and drinks in front of them, and talking to people on their phones but rarely to each other. I’m getting used to it, but I still don’t understand it. Does it have something to do with social media? Is there pressure to show proof of the things that you do so that people know that you do things? And were you mentally present when doing the thing? Did you actually have fun while looking like you were having fun?

You’re probably thinking, you should talk, you’re writing a blog! You’re documenting the things that you do online. And you’d be right. I’m slowly getting sucked down the cyber-world spiral too. I don’t think this is as far as I go either, as I feel a few photos coming on in the future! Help! Grab my hand!

But really, I don’t think cyberspace is all bad. I spent a lot of time in my youth wondering about things and having no way of getting immediate answers to them like, I wonder what time it is in New York right now, or I wonder who is the head of Vanuatu? (?) And I’d just put up with the fact that I’d never know unless it was important enough for me to do some serious research later on.

Young people out there, the following is a conversation two people could have had before internet and mobile phones came onto the scene.

Say, when I went to Melbourne last year I had lunch at a little shop, I can’t remember its name, but they had steamed Chinese bread, you know the bread that they use for making steamed pork buns, and they used it to make tiny fresh warm sandwiches. The fillings were like pork belly, coriander and a lovely sauce, or tofu and chives, and that sauce! ….. Mmmmm! I still think about that lunch!

Yum! I’m going to Melbourne to visit my brother soon. Where did you say the place was? And what was the name?

It was somewhere in the CBD, it had a name ending in BAO, I know that much, something like Super Bao, or Mighty Bao. It was in a little laneway with graffiti on it, near a university or something. The laneway had an unusual name, something fitting in with the university setting, something to do with books I think. Oh I wish I’d kept the CBD map that the hotel gave me when I was there. If I had it, I could show you.

Where to find a map of Melbourne’s CBD in Sydney? Hmmm. We could go to the Victorian Tourist Bureau, in the city tomorrow, but it will be a bit of an effort to go all that way….. I know, I’ll ring my brother!

(beep beep beep beep) HELLO! WHAT’S WRONG!

Oh hi, It’s just me, nothing’s wrong, I was just talking to my friend here and she recommended a bao place that I should go to when I’m down there. I just wanted to ask you if you know where it is?


Oh dear! Your description of the food really has me intrigued! Perhaps we could find a recipe to recreate it.

(1/2 hour later) I couldn’t find anything remotely like it in any of my recipe books! Perhaps we could go tomorrow to the library to see if we can find it in their recipe books.

No, I’ve tried that already, this is something very new, it’s steamed bread. The only thing I found remotely like it  there was a recipe for pigs-in-blankets.

What’s that?

Don’t quite remember but it was something wrapped in something, but it wasn’t steamed bread!

That’s it! Tomorrow we’ll go to the post office, find a Melbourne phonebook, the Yellow Pages and look up Chinese Restaurant!

It sounds rather tedious.

But what else are we going to do?


Breakfast in Drummoyne

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I went out for breakfast – a treat after banishing ourselves from home the night before while our sons and their cousins took over the house, networking their computers to play games through the night.

We hid out in a local hotel. Alex unfortunately had work to do so was busy online while I spent the night sitting on the king size bed watching Death Comes to Pemberley on TV, drinking complementary tea and eating biscuits! We woke the next morning with sore necks and backs from the feather pillows which squashed down so much once the head was applied, they could hardly pass as pillows!

Alex suggested breakfast at a nice cafe in Drummoyne (a waterside suburb 10 minutes from Sydney CBD) as compensation for the bad night.

We parked behind the cafe and entered by the backdoor, passing a small, dark room to the right. With a tiny window, high up but level with the ground outside, it would have been a perfect place to shoot a scene from The Sopranos. Sitting at the only table were three middle-aged men who jumped almost as high as I did when I turned to look inside. Who sits in almost complete darkness on a sunny morning???

After checking out the blackboard menu we moved on through the long room, and decided to sit three tables from the front window. Alex left to join the queue to order. I immediately regretting sitting facing the front as watching the busy traffic of the main road whizzing by made me dizzy. The queue was long and I distracted myself by looking away at the other customers in front of me. I was interested to find that there were two types of customer.

One type was very fit looking women who wore racerback singlets, shorts and sun visors. The singlets showed off their well defines muscular shoulders and upper backs. They looked totally different to what I did in my new racerback singlet, a purchase made in a bid to stay cool without putting on the air-conditioning at home. My racerback made my pear-shaped figure look even more pear-shaped! These women ate meals like fresh fruit and yoghurt or sliced banana on rye, scrambled eggs on their own, and each with a latte. I was surprised that there were three tables of these women, arriving at different times – one big group, one woman on her own, and one with her boyfriend.

As we worked on our Eggs Florentine on sourdough with crisp grilled prosciutto (which was delicious, by the way), I noticed the other type of customer — tired young couples with toddlers. The parents wore loose light coloured t-shirts and shorts, taking time over their precious coffee and newspaper while the toddler played with the cafe’s toys at the table. Given their casual wrinkly attire and flimsy slip on sandals I assumed that these people were locals. They must have been well to do to live around there! I imagined the men in an earlier time as the short, plain looking nerds that were bullied at school, and now they live here with their beautiful blonde wives and their beautiful blonde children.

I started to hurry my meal as I had an itch to race home and write a story about the human personality of this Sydney suburb by the water — racerback singlet women and young wealthy families, and what a gift – it’s all just sitting there in front of me as I eat!

We get up to leave. I turn around to find that the rest of the cafe was filled with people like us! Middle-aged, some overweight people, and some noisy families digging into their bacon and eggs!

I was so disappointed! Alex said, can’t you just pretend and write it as you imagined it?

NOOOOO! I can’t! Boo hoo!

The Great Pepper Saga

Hello again! Today we are talking about pepper (among other things).

I am a member of a local writing group. We are not serious writers, we don’t study technique or ask for critiques on our writing (hmmm, technique critique). We just write because writing makes us happy, and we love listening to stories. Every fortnight or so our leader sets homework for us and next time we meet we read out our offerings.

Once I was given the word ‘pepper’. Normally I bravely accept whatever word or subject I’d been given. This time I almost asked for a replacement word. But I didn’t. I dragged my pepper home with a heavy heart. Why? Because PEPPER DOESN’T INSPIRE ANYTHING IN ME! I have no funny stories about pepper, I have no tragic stories about pepper. I don’t love or hate pepper. I can’t even make up anything interesting with pepper as the star. Apart from being peppery, pepper is a bland word.

I resorted to Wikipedia. Did you know that there are two types of pepper? There is the capsicum-type pepper and there is the berry which is dried and used as a spice. The two are not related. Did you also know that pepper is sometimes used as a verb to describe attacking or bombarding as if with missiles? That’s mildly interesting; funny how a food word is used in a non-food context.

I started wondering about other food words that are used in a non-food context. Like describing a person’s language as saucy, or calling someone a couch potato. Who decided that apples described order when someone says ‘she’s apples’. What is a peaches and cream complexion? What is it about cows that leads some people to be described as ‘beefy’. I think cows are quite boney to look at. What is a pudding face, or a lamb chop? Why do some people call themselves onions? When you peel away each layer, don’t you still have an onion? Only smaller? Why are sausages silly? Actually, sausages are pretty silly, scrap that bit. Why are some people called crackers or nuts. I don’t think nuts have any particular personality at all.

I don’t understand the connection between food and non-food but there are some food words I would love to be used in a non-food way. How about linguine or rambutan, lentil or eclair? How about goulash or fondue, jelly baby or chocolate frog? Bonox, oat, chickpea, squid, nougat, watermelon or vanilla slice could all be used in such an emotive way!

Possible descriptions of people:

linguine – someone who never gets to the point

bonox – someone who doesn’t eat food that has been introduced to Australia after 1970

squid – similar to calling someone a worm

nougat – a very nice person on first meeting, who requires your immediate unflinching commitment

eclair – someone who wears designer clothes but doesn’t have the income to support themselves at the same time

watermelon – a happy person who enjoys casual entertaining

vanilla slice – someone who is hard to get to know, so hard that you don’t know how to approach them, then when you finally break through that tough surface, they fall to pieces and are such a mess that you don’t know what to do with them.

I feel like a vanilla slice sometimes. Goodnight.