Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Thoughts of food

I have spent much of the last week thinking about food – making it, buying it, whether we have enough. I’m not having an Armageddon phase, imagining that the end of the world is nigh, nor am I over-reacting to constant news reports of food shortages around the world, serious though the problem is. No, I am just in the midst of a tidal wave of family visits, all of whom need to be fed, watered and have beds provided. This is in spite of the fact that we have a half-finished extension and only two properly working bedrooms, both of which are fully occupied by my immediate family.

These successive waves of visitors are camping out in the new bedroom on a series of borrowed beds and air mattresses piled high with sleeping bags. My parents are the most welcome. In addition to extra pairs of hands, they also travel in a campervan and simply park amongst the trees at the back of the property. All they require is a power cord, access to wash facilities and main meals.

I don’t see very much of my family which is probably why I sometimes find their descent, especially when it is en masse, overwhelming. My parents I see a few times a year. My siblings only every few years when they return from overseas, usually frazzled with travel and work.

I remember what it was like coming to Australia every few years and being dragged around by my parents to see people of whom we were supposed to be fond, but whom we didn’t really know. Names, places, beds, kitchens, all blurred into a whirl of making sure that we were doing the right thing and had all the things packed that we were meant to. I assume my brother remembers me, but I’m not so certain of my niece and nephews. All I can do is make sure that my lot share their toys and are friendly and that they are fed.

In pursuit of that, for the first time in my life I have been making meal plans for the week ahead. Usually I am of the “what do I have available and what do I feel like eating once four o’clock rolls around” school of meal planning but I have actually been making notes and lying in bed thinking about what to feed people. Over the rest of the week I have twelve people at most meals.

I’m beginning to realise how much time looking after large families must take. I am doing it with all the modern facilities of refrigerator, deep freezer, cooktop and oven. Not to mention a supermarket only a short drive away. My mother-in-law looked after five children with only a wood stove. I can’t even begin to imagine cooking with only an open fireplace for the large families typical of German migrants to this area. Simply putting food on the table must have been an immense effort especially as most of it was grown, farmed or hunted by people for themselves. Sometimes I hear people rhapsodising about the past and I wonder if they have any idea how difficult everyday life was. I certainly don’t even though I try to imagine it.

I have heard that there are a few doubters out there who believe that there might not actually be a book – that I write about writing but might not really be doing it. At times I wonder if that might be true. My recent blogging silence is certainly not the way to answer the critics. But I certainly am writing, if only shopping lists and food plans.

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