I've been starting to cook a lot more, recently. I really enjoy it. It's something that I can become completely immersed in, and has so many rewards connected to the delicious pastime. Also, it's a creative pursuit to smooth my worries and help forget the uncreative work of the day. It has immediate gains - praise from dinner guests - cooking can produce beautiful food when done right. I particularly reveal in the challenges I face making something from what most people would consider to be nothing special. The basics: a single carrot, a can of chickpeas, broccoli stalks garlic and chili, tomato paste and of course my herb garden. For me, it's all about the taste.
This mix and others from the depths of my fridge almost always creates the most tantalising aroma from a bubbling pot of Italian inspired ingredients. Italian food being so simple and good - just as life should be. Magical tastes arise from a dish infused with herbs.
Some of my strongest memories are food related. Not fussy, showy food; good, strong peasant style dishes and home made. We had six or seven plum trees, while I was growing up in rural New South Wales. My brother and I use to help pick the plums for an assortment of mum's creations, including plum sauce, stew, pudding, jam. It was glorious.
There's a picture of me under the plums trees from when I was about four years old, a wicked smile on my face, with wild plum blossoms softly nestled in my hair. I vividly remember moments like this; standing on top of our wooden garden table and reaching for plums. But plums weren't the only fragrant plant in my parents garden.
Fennel is a bulbous herb that is coming back in to cooking fashion at the moment, but I'll always associate the smell and taste with the (seemingly) giant fennel bush growing in my parents backyard, in the country. I'd hide under it with the dog panting in the sun just across from me, pink tongue out and glistening. The cat stalking insects of the other side of me, tail twitching with lively intent.
As I reached up and ate bunches of fennel, chewing slowly on the strong, stringy herb, I would hear the murmur of my parents voices floating over me, as they worked in the vegetable garden, and feel comforted by their presence.
Food has always had a tugging emotional attachment with me, and I'm certain I'm not alone in this fact. Food is enough to bring people together and, when good, can silence a rowdy table to occasional slurps and appreciate moans of culinary delight.
I know people who take photo's of the food they eat. While this behaviour on one hand puzzles me, on the other it makes perfect sense. In a world where we can capture every moment, these people are attempting to capture delight and surprise at the colour, smell and sensation of food. Food is a sensory symbol of their emotional attachment and their sense of satisfaction with the social situation they're in. Food brings people together, and in my experience, seems to strengthen the bond of relationships when experienced socially.
Despite my strong roots of a childhood spent in gardens, until recently I was never what one would consider a green thumb, and was more closely linked to that unfortunate group of individuals that manage to kill cactuses.
I had a cactus. I named him Gary and he gave me a good five to six months of cactus love before his untimely demise. I worshipped that cactus. I would greet it as I came home after work, and bid goodbye to it as I left in the morning. Gary and I were getting along fine; but, like any relationship with an untimely demise, Gary couldn't give me the affection I was after, and could often be quite - dare I say - prickly. He suffered under the weight of my constant love and watery affection. And was so infrequently allowed outside, into the warm arms of the waiting / lurking sun.
In short, Gary died from an overdose of affection. Luckily those days are behind me. These days I have my own garden. It's not as impressive or as ambitious as my parents garden, but it has a small selection of herbs and leafy veges. When I grew some herbs from seed, I was fascinated by the slow growth of the green shoots, struggling up through the softly packed dirt, and defying the slow, intent snails, ready to pounce and chomp their way through my baby shoots.
My garden and the plants within it bring me pleasure, and perhaps pride in what I and my neighbours have achieved. I've been cooking a lot more, recently, and the other day I even caught myself taking a photo of my latest culinary creation (my dinner), to send to my mum. I tend this garden with some of the people in my apartment block, and it's one of the many links that ties the building together. We share the herbs, and I have been known to pick giant bunches of rosemary and press it upon people who come to visit me. Perhaps I am becoming a bit of a green thumb after all. Who would have imagined it, but it makes me happy, and that's a fact.