From the age of 5, I expressed immediate concern when someone did not have smoked beef in their refrigerator, much to the embarrassment of my mother and father. And in primary school, girlie sleepovers entailed the careful selection of flavoured popcorn and frozen yoghurt. These nights of movie watching and giggling would be followed by a morning table spread of chocolate pretzels, teas in pretty packaging and whatever coffee had sounded suitably exotic to me at the time. In my later teen years, evenings of playing pool and sipping on Black Label would end up at my house, where my friends and I saw in the early hours with my famous gourmet toasties. This tradition continued with varsity. I remember one specific year, when mates and I attended boat races in Port Alfred and stayed at my family’s holiday home there. One day, after a few drinks, we found a children’s pack of playing cards. They had pictures on them with character names. We doled out the various cards to the individuals we thought suited them the best. I was given Cookin’ Connie, accompanied by a picture of a woman holding a frying pan. I stayed in character that weekend, of course. Even today, in some circles, this still remains my cooking ‘nom de plume’, so to speak.
However, it was in my year in London at the age of 19, that the culinary sphere exploded for me. There seemed to be no end to the wonderful cookbooks that were suddenly affordable now that I was earning in pounds. And, as I was living in the Oval at the time, Brixton market became the most magical discovery of my young life. Fruit and vegetable sellers called out to passersby, enticing them to their stalls with clever rhymes and their wicked sense of humour. On either side, I delighted in the speciality stores that delivered an entire globe of food goods to my tiny corner of London.
It was also here that I learnt to cook and shop for convenience and not purely for pleasure. That is not to say that I did not visit a particular fishmonger for tuna on special occasions or try every dark chocolate and South American wine I could lay my hands on. It just meant that with the commute to the industrial areas for work, I sometimes returned home after 7 o’clock, and had not only dinner but dishes and laundry to contend with as well. To add to this, I did not have the luxury of a car. (Not that I would’ve wanted it anyway…London traffic terrified me!) But it meant that grocery shopping was trickier when using public transport and, beyond that, I had 8 flights of stairs to climb to reach my apartment. Because of this, I learnt to shop effectively so that I did not have to undertake such time-consuming and exhausting tasks too frequently. I would have everything I needed to make whatever I fancied on a particular evening, bar the odd fresh item that I could simply pick up on my lunch break.
So when my friend, Timothy, asked me for help in the kitchen, I jumped at the chance. Timothy has been a stalwart in my life. Even though ours is a relatively new friendship, Timothy has been in my corner since day one and we all need friends like that. But this was a task I could not take lightly. It is important, I believe, that cooking not become a tedious thing. Yes, there are days when I will happily spend hours in the kitchen lovingly preparing something for friends and family. But there are other days, when a quick and easy pizza or pita is just as satisfying if you have all the ingredients you need. Because of this, I wanted to inspire Timothy as a kitchen beginner, to embark on this journey of foodie experimentation with the basic tools and recipes that might instill in him a passion for life. As such, I offer simply a guideline, a series of suggestions. Hopefully with it, those of you who enter the kitchen with trepidation may learn over time what it is you do and do not like to eat, how saucy you like your pasta, how spicy you like your curry… And with this, you will learn to trust in your instincts when cooking for convenience, or for the pleasure of eating, or both!
There is an Irish proverb that ‘laughter is brightest where the food is…’ Live by this proverb. It will not fail you.
That said, happy cooking!