They told me they were hungry. The oven clock validated their need. It was 7pm and they’d just flown from Melbourne and Sydney.
“Sorry. Didn’t tell you, Renee’s a vegetarian,” my son said.
Renee was a last minute addition to our household that busy week.
A history student from Newcastle in the UK, our son had brought her home for a week in Tassie.
In the fridge I found smoked salmon, boiled eggs, avocado, Spanish onion, greens and some bagels and cream cheese.
Sometimes I amaze myself and after a year of “just the two of us” I created what husband called “little works of art” and the three were fed in a vego-friendly flash.
I am not a food wanker, although the above fridge ingredients might suggest otherwise.
I’m a Mary O’Byrne and the thousands of other women like the late, great Mary, who feel most alive when they are cooking and feeding friends and family.
Mary, whose cream, milk and butter-filled mashed potato sits comfortably on my hips, floated effortlessly about her kitchen like a cuddly, pink cloud of cloud of love. I’m less a cuddly pink cloud of love and more your crazed, poor knife skill but generous kitchen goddess.
This week I read that one third of children prefer fine dining over fast food.
In New South Wales, 49 per cent have dined at a “starred” restaurant at least once and 75 per cent, nationally, prefer to order from the adult menu. There goes the chicken nugget empire.
A mother from a well-to-do Sydney suburb said her children were “absolute foodies”, and they’d prefer sushi to bangers.
What have we done? What will be their simple pleasure?
Five years ago, we spent a week in Paris. We didn’t venture out of the Marais (go and Google it).
We didn’t visit Le Louvre, le Champs Elysees and not even le Eiffel Tower.
Instead we discovered fat white asparagus, the first of spring’s strawberries, Nutella eclairs, magical silk ravioli, small buttery croissant, croque monsieur, all washed down and degreased with regularly astounding coffee.
On a recent mainland visit, I took my daughter and her boyfriend to the beach at a place called Shoalhaven Heads.
In foodie miles, the Heads are like Paris is from Sydney.
But the local takeaway’s hamburger “with the lot” had, what foodies might call integrity.
In foodie parlance, we ate our burgers in context; that is, from the white paper bag, on the beach.
I’m sure the beef wasn’t wagyu, the eggs weren’t free range, the beetroot and pineapple came from tins.
The lettuce was iceberg, the sauce not artisan and the tomato could have done with another week or two in the sun.
However, it was the best burger I’d eaten since I left New South Wales about 25 years ago.
This summer, at home, I’ve tried to replicate the Shoalhaven Heads takeaway burger experience and I’ve failed.
Although I came close when I used generic supermarket patties.
What makes for great food, beautiful cooking and seriously memorable dining experiences?
For me, cooking is meant for sharing. One of the massive, harsh realities of our first year alone as an empty nest couple has been filling the gap children and their friends have left at our table.
US food writer and New York Times restaurant reviewer, Ruth Reichl notes: “When you’re dining in a restaurant with friends, you’re not taking much of a risk.
“But at home, your personal life is on display. There’s a bravery in saying, ‘this is me’. You’re not really making friends with people until you invite them to your house.”