The Food of Love

Food is my language. I daydream about recipes, get inspired by flavours, cuisines and all kinds of exotic ingredients.

I guess you could say that it is in my blood.

I have vivid memories of Mum bustling around the kitchen – wooden spoon in hand – stirring pots, chopping ingredients and creating dishes. I remember leafing through the weathered book that she used to keep track of all the meals that she had served to dinner guests – three course creations – from French onion soup to borscht… chicken puffs to Prinzregententorte (a Bavarian layer cake with chocolate buttercream). She made profiteroles dripping in chocolate and bursting with chantilly cream, brandy snaps and triple chocolate cookies. Our house always smelled welcoming. Food was the gateway to friendship, to connecting with people, bringing everyone together.

Baba’s kitchen was all about abundance. “If you don’t eat it, it is going in the rubbish!” Baba would declare as she firmly dished out second and third helpings, ignoring our helpless groans. Salty, crispy fried potatoes; smoky and hearty goulash, mouth-watering lamb cutlets, rissoles, a huge pan of chicken lasagna oozing cheese. Then there were the cakes – walnut cake, cherry cake, kiflice, apple and jelly cake, black forest cake. We eventually heaved ourselves away from the table, collapsing for afternoon naps in a blissful food coma. It was incredible.

Cooking for kids can be a little unrewarding though. For a while I just capitulated to what I knew they would eat – fish burgers, pumpkin soup, spinach and feta pie. On endless repeat. Of course, even the seemingly straightforward meals could still lead to dinnertime stand offs. Sudden taste changes that hit as the plates were lowered onto the table. An hour of stirring pots and sliding trays into the oven only to scrape most of that same food into the bin feels like (and is) a huge waste. As an example – we make woodfired pizza from scratch – Jamie’s pizza dough and a garlicky tomato sauce base (you can find the recipe here if you like). Yet every time without fail, when I announce that we are having pizza Eli asks hopefully “Is it Dominos?” I’m sure you can imagine my magnanimous reply.

So I have two choices – keep plugging away at the mundane and ever-decreasing options that they may or may not actually eat…. or make cooking something that I enjoy no matter the outcome. Spoiler alert: I’ve chosen the latter.

This month my focus was on ‘playing’. Granted there is not a lot of time in the day for leisure activities that are geared towards my enjoyment, so I chose to focus on cooking as playing instead.

We began with a visit to India – tandoori chicken, chana masala, beef kofta, chicken and spinach curry, even a slow-cooked brisket with Indian spices. The kids actually embraced it (or at least the mint raita and wraps that were served along with each meal). Eli has declared curry to be his favourite and he is slowly becoming accustomed to a greater level of spice.

Then we travelled to Spain. We have been listening to episodes of Around the World Stories – an incredible collection of engaging and educational audio stories involving characters who live in different European countries. The Landin family travel full-time, delving deep into different cultures and then creating adventurous stories out of these experiences that all of our kids love. We listened over and over to the adventures of Lucia and Matteo and visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, learned to appreciate Marbella through Lucia’s eyes and watched Abuela Maria whip up a tapas feast for a special anniversary. To make the experience come alive we made paella, Spanish meatballs, tortilla espanola, baked eggs with chorizo and a calamari salad. Even if the kids didn’t enjoy each meal, the excitement in their faces as they saw on the table recipes they had heard about in the audio books was very rewarding.

In reality, travelling internationally with four kids aged six and under would be a little bit of a logistical nightmare, but through these stories and recipes it almost feels as if we are having the best of both worlds – new experiences within the comfort of our own home. And that hour at the end of the day when I’m in the kitchen – mind whirling through a new recipe, chopping up ingredients and breathing in the sizzling aroma of new flavours – it has become my favourite. (Of course it might also be the glass of wine I have while cooking, but who knows!?)

Motherhood can be emotionally draining and incredibly narrowing of our previously expansive worlds, but this approach to cooking and ‘travelling’ has been transformative for me this past month. I still have lots of hard days and moments where I want (and do) scream but the rest of the time I have something to look forward to, to channel my creative energies into and to share with the kids. I know that this will look different for everyone – perhaps your passion is gardening, reading, crafts, painting, filmmaking… whatever it is, see if you can incorporate it somehow into your life as a mum. It might be (will be) messy, but I promise that you won’t regret it.

What do you do to stay sane keep inspired as a mum? How do you make it work for your family?

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