Favourite game

One of my favourite conversations topics for some years now has been around food nostalgia – specifically, what people’s favourite and least favourite meals were when they were growing up. I think it’s fascinating – not only because of the types of food people ate years ago and the reasons they loved or hated things, but because of the distinct memories it brings back for people. I distinctly remember my mum making lasagne for the first time – it was a big deal for a meatandthreeveg family – and most people have a similar recollection in their own childhood. It either turned out well (such as my mum’s lasagne, although it was definitely nothing authentic) or disastrously (Hotel is still scarred by his mum’s curried mince), but either way people remember and there’s always a fondness of recollection when the topic is discussed.

For the record, my favourite was my mum’s tuna mornay. When we were small, before my youngest brother joined us, we lived for a while in Papua New Guinea. Food was delivered monthly so other than the fresh things found in the village, supplies had to last for some time. The mornay my mother made was, as a result, the exact opposite of fresh. It is made from long life products (tinned tuna and vegetables, fake cheese – known as kids’ cheese in our family as ‘all kids like it’ according to my mother) and yet all of us look on it with fondness (another fun feature of the game – most people’s best foods are in hindsight revolting by today’s standards). It was a dish that was made towards the end of that month long spell – it was cheap, fed a host of hungry children, and most importantly, it lasted. I make it from time to time and I am slightly ashamed to say I still love it – tinned goodness and all. You couldn’t pay Hotel to eat it; such is the power of the favourite childhood food.

I’m excited about the large traditions in my girl’s life – Christmas, her birthday, Easter nests (because everyone knows bunnies lay their eggs in nests), our annual holiday away with my sister and her boy. But I’m equally excited about the small ones, the ones she grows without any of us realising it. Maybe it’ll be eating raisin toast after winter swimming lessons, reading new books in bed by torchlight because she’s so excited to finish them, playing ‘kicks across the road’ with the football on hot summer days. Of course these are my memories; she’ll make her own. But one thing my favourite game has taught me over the years is that people’s memories are so closely associated with home, with food, with meals – either because they’re hilariously bad (mince, curry powder and sultanas in the microwave, apparently) or because the were new, highly anticipated and possibly mispronounced (that lasagne), or because they are present before you’re even aware of it, familiar and comforting. Like our revolting, apocalypse surviving, delicious tuna mornay.

I spent the afternoon today with her strapped to me as she was clingy and grumpy (which she wouldn’t be if she, say, slept), and did my weekly meal prep with her watching every move. We made the breakfast compote, mixed granola, prepped veggies for steaming or roasting at short notice, sloshed together a soup, and made a lime slice for my mothers’ group tomorrow. She was calm for the afternoon, but it also calmed me to think that we were starting to build food memories together. Simply, daily, non-eventful memories that will probably bring her mirth in the future, like our tacky mornay, but nonetheless be ties to us, to home.

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