Cooking up a backstory

If there’s a book in all of us, what sort of book might it be, asks H J Kilkelly.

My weeks of late have been immersed even more than usual in words, writing and writers. Last week, lots of fun at the youth-led New Zealand Young Writers Festival right here in Otepoti; this week I’m attending the perfectly programmed Verb Festival in Wellington. My pile of to-be-read books grows to an irresponsible level.

Of course, this leads back to my feeling that everyone has a book burning somewhere in them ... which in turn leads to another feeling that just maybe, one day I should actually write one. Is it something about living in a Unesco City of Literature, perhaps, that I start then interrogating the possibilities for what exactly mine would be about; is it a gloriously photographed cheese roll-focused coffee-table book, or travel blog-based ditties from back when blogging was a thing (oh, whoops, and back when international travel was still a thing), maybe a collection of anecdotes from years of managing an open-all-night Cosmic Corner at the height of the BZP phase, or a tome of essays about the failure of our various systems to uphold the wellbeing of, in no particular order: artists, takata whenua, children, those with disability ..?

I settle on the fact it’s probably some kind of odd narrative-rambling style of cookbook. Unfortunately, I’ve watched enough food TV to know that you have to be able to name some kind of food philosophy, or some epic lineage that has made you the Cook You Are Today.

My nana was a rubbish cook. It always astounds me to hear the heart-string tugging memories time after time of MasterChef contestants, bloggers, food writers ... "My first memories of food are sitting on the kitchen counter watching [insert relevant family member]. Everything I learned, I learned from them." Really?

At first I thought it was down to genetics — maybe if I had a nona who lovingly rolled floury gnocchi while stirring an aromatic and bubbly sauce ... or a gung gung who could chop veges faster than a woodchipper and produce dumplings with pastry so thin they looked like still forming sea creatures. But no, it wasn’t just my lack of genetic breadth ... the baking tins of friends’ colonial-stock grandmothers were replete with all manner of delectable temptations.

My nana didn’t even have a baking tin. Her idea of cooking was simply boiling everything — the meat, the spuds, the greens — for nearly the exact same time as each other. Condiments — white bread (thin, sandwich slice, generic supermarket stuff) and margarine. Salt and pepper would be on the table but there comes a point at which they can’t resuscitate a thing.

OK, so no discernible philosophy, no reliable back story. I love food and for the most part can whip up something to feed those I care about, but true story, once upon a time, I lost a really close friendship over my inability to make chocolate icing. (Now a celebrity chef, I feel that person would be shocked at the audacity of my even suggesting I might write a cookbook.)

It strikes me that, like most things in my life, whatever it is will probably be a mash-up of all the above; the things that work, the things that haven’t. The friendships destroyed by non-Michelin-star icing; the guilt wrecked by the extra cream-cake theatre prop we didn’t end up needing for a show then neglected by school holiday journeying. Watching the cabbage in our garden turn itself, what I can only describe as, inside out, erupting into a very cool, but probably less than edible, emerging alien shape.

"They" say "write what you know". And perhaps that is it, words linked with food linked with trying to figure out how on earth all the others bits of your life, and those around you, fit together = a book. And, who knows, maybe that book of yours, of mine, of the writers we’re surrounded by in this city, will form the basis for a panel at a literary festival coming soon.

 

Comments

Nona, Gung Gung: grandparental names of the Old World?

Green Island, years before the motorway: 'Gandy', 'Gaga'. Totally.

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