Living communally has mainly been a matter of necessity, although sometimes I like it. I’ve spent most of my adult life living with partners, in shared households. I wonder if it was ever just two of us if we’d go mad. Anyway at the moment I think the third party is driving me up the wall. This is meant to be the honeymoon period and I wonder if maybe if the honeymoon is so rough that we’ll iron out all the crinkles of discontent and it’ll be smooth sailing from then on? Or if this is just a really bad sign that things are not going to work out at all.
Firstly I’ve put myself in a bad situation by lodging a friend, who was homeless and desperate. I let the pity factor play in big time. I also know this person’s faults way too much and I guess was irritates me about the share house situation is seeing the bits that irritate me about them as a friend being brought into my home life. Like being a bragging moron. Fine in the pub, entertaining even, I’m astonishingly tolerant once drunk and can be diverted and amused like some cooing toddler. Three drinks and the critical bitch switches off and I laugh and giggle and gurgle away, three more and I contemplate heterosexuality, bring the total to nine and I start slobbering over pieces of furniture.
Yeah, so pub talk, kind of like TV talk, fills the space emptied by drink, background blur…… but sober it really ain’t so crash hot. I actually don’t care for sales pitch while I’m wearing my pyjamas, let alone hearing the construction details of someone’s air castle while I’m trying to pour the foundations of my own intellectual endeavours. Writing a thesis can be profoundly irritating to be around, apparently. I find myself a shithead so why shouldn’t other people? When I crawl from the cave downstairs for some fuel, I usually trying to digest some theoretical sludge and don’t want chit chat about the weekends parties or someone’s unresolved adolescent oedipal dramas. We’re all over 30 for fucks sake!………… oh God. I mean I said all this before. “You are moving in with students we want a QUIET house. No loud phone calls in the loungeroom, no loud stereo, no loud banal conversations”. Hell he said he agreed.
But this is a minor point. The other aspect sounds like a sad story from the felafel sagas, and I can’t believe this is happening. “Lets do share cooking” he said, “lets pool the kitty and share the cupboard space” he said. “Fine” we said. We each put in 20 bucks for Paddy’s and replace what we use. So like he buys tiny weeny pots of vegemite to replace the big ones we buy, ditto for honey, milk, margarine, peanut butter, oil etc. It took two months to realise what was going on. Fuck. The communal kitty he now sees as a n excuse not to eat anything outside, and wolf down whatever fruit, veg, bread, tuna or leftovers are around. When it comes to communal cooking, he’ll scrounge in the cupboards and do the $2.00 pasta meal for 3 special. Great the first time, and the second and the third. By the fifth I’m getting a bit sick of it. It’s not the meal per se, it’s the super chef ego histrionics that accompany it. It’s the patronising comments that accompany his supervision of anything I cook, it’s the sizing up of the other flatmates cooking, which is La Vraie French cuisine. No ego, no bullshit, just decent ingredients prepared with no fuss and cooked well. With lots of salt, and cream and cheese. Aii my gallstones! Pardon my digression.
Ostensibly we all cook, we all enjoy cooking and eating. Or so I thought. But it looks like Mr. Three has got a big dose of food as simulacritis. I remember Roland Barthes analysed fashion as existing on three representational planes: Image fashion, Worn fashion, and some other one. Anyway this sums up our flatmate pretty damn well. His “image food” is all Donna Hay and one great knife and lots of anecdotes about working in kitchens. This kind of talk probably goes down really well at 30something singles dinner parties. I wouldn’t know coz I try to cultivate friends with limited social skills. Anyway “worn” food comes from a tin and cellophane, and no designer can openers here, I can tell you. All the time reciting this blather about professional kitchens and Italian relatives! It is the shit after all! If only I was drunk, I wouldn’t care, but I usually have to study after dinner!
It’s probably something wider in Australian society that I’ve missed. I reckon in Australian culture food exists within the same circuit as fashion. (The burdens of being a post industrial acculturated colony!). My mother does not cook the recipes of my grandmother, and there’s no way I’d cook what Mum cooks. There’s nothing wrong with either Nanna’s or Mum’s coking, I like both but since we all learnt to cook from our friends, TV, latest recipe books, women’s weekly or the herald then using our parents recipes is like getting them to buy our clothes – some sort of affront to our adulthood. Personally I learnt to cook from lovers from different cultures , who learnt from their parents. I also learnt that people make jokes about Australian dinner parties: calculating the number of people and the number of potatoes to match and Australians in restaurants: splitting the bill and arguing about who ate the most rice. For most of the world food is a potlatch phenomenon, something to be shared freely, not calculated and displayed like the latest consumer product from DOMAYNE. I am heartily sick of the slick chrome “foodie” culture in Sydney. I’m sick of the ostentation of showing off the “latest” recipe, let alone the latest frigging kitchen gadget. I don’t want to think of food being in fashion or out of fashion. (Even though I find certain foods kitsch) and I’d like to think that the things I cook now I’ll still enjoy in 10, 20, 30 or 50 years time.
Back in the maison, the two female cooks just do what we do best. A meal for the household is an act of love for the other housemates. While I don’t have the impeccable credentials of La Cuisine de Maman, I was a South American’s wife for 5 years and passed the test on a few basics, plus I’ve got my own obsessions, laska (from scratch), tom kha gai (from an egg and a few seeds: step one: plant seeds and incubate egg, step two: don’t let the chick eat the seedlings etc.) various marsalas and the ultimate midnight munchie dahl, as well as the sublime art of two minute noodle meals. The latter is what I lived on while scraping through art school. Scraping being the operative word. I only had austudy and paid more rent than I do now, plus therapist bills and art supplies. That left $5.00 a day for food, and I didn’t know about dumpsters either. Right now, no one in this household is that poor. So there’s no excuses for the “feed a family of four for $2.00” act.
The pseudo boho poncing just looks like scamming to me, especially when the said slumming student sustains two major drug habits, (ciggies and the pub) and asks me why I haven’t seen the latest movies (I can’t afford to!). So to put it simply I reckon we’re being had. I reckon our shopping and cooking is providing extra income to Rothmans, Carlton and United Brewery and friggin fugging Hollywood, and I’ve got major moral objections to all three. So what to do? The communal kitchen thing works in my favour because I hate eating a dinner in front of someone who isn’t partaking, but I am starting to feel really quite cross. We could try the group account/kitty, but I know it’d be more admin work for me, and FUCK, WHY CAN’T HE BE A NORMAL RESPONSIBLE GENEROUS HUMAN BEING instead of acting like he’s living with two wives, or two mothers????? And he wonders why girls drop him after 2 months? Personally I am not very interested in training any more men in basic human decency. I have plenty of male friends who I have perfectly satisfactory friendships with, and I’m not interested in training Mr. Right and have no male family members with whom to have any lingering issues with. So I reckon, I’ll have to make a new years resolution next year and become a separatist. I won’t excommunicate the male friends, just give myself a focus to push all of the annoying ones out of my way. No male flatmates, no fruitless efforts at making into the boys club at uni, hell, I’ve got even better excuses to turn down party invites. And I can rudely ignore and speak over boring men in meetings on the grounds that I refuse to listen to men. Woohoo! Sheila Jeffreys here we come!!!!!
ps wanna recipte for my laksa paste?
Blachan - (also sold as belaccan and called shrimp paste in english) - buy a solid block of brown stinky stuff, and grate up about 2 tablespoons worth - if you are cooking for vegans - then substitute this with some red miso paste or vegemite if you're desperate.
A head of Garlic - peel and chop up the lot
One big onion - do same as for garlic
A couple of chillies - 3 little red pointy buggers or half of one of those scarey balloon fuckers (once I mde the mistake of biting inot the end of one of them in paris - I thought it tasted mild and used 3 in my paste - and I nealry killed half of the anarchovegan population of France)
Some Fresh galangal and or ginger - grate up a sqyare inch of the fresh stuff - or if you can only get the hard dry woody stuff then don't bother - just stick that in your soup later on
2-3 tablesppons of that nice prepared tamarind pulp (or about 1-2 tablespoons of the thick stodge that you gotta remove the seeds from - about as much fun as pipping olives)
2-3 lower stalks of lemongrass
small handful of dried kaffir lime leaves
handfull of candlenuts
Right now you can probably tell that I'm no purist. welcome to good old aussie fusion cuisine! In australia "Laksa" is a kind of catchword for all amnner of variations on a big noodly curry soup. I developed this receipe about 10 years ago and it took 4 years and lots of expereimentation to ge tright. I was primarily inspired by the ravings of Malaysian student firends - and decided (like most Aussies) that I preferred the high cholesterol creamy KL version to the hotter, thinner and more sour Penang Assam version.
anwyay my recipe says to grab all the above stuff and chuck it in a narrow plastic vessel and mush it all up with a bamix. I used to do it manually with a mortar and pestle - but now I can't be bothered.
I usuallly add a bit of sesame oil to keep the blades runing, and generate a nice complement to the pungence of the blachan.
Now comes the extremely naughty bit.
My favourite aussie Laksa comes fomr Doy Tao in newtown - where they hold off on the palm sugar (for once) and use PUMPKIN to add to the mixture.
Coooked pumpkin goes amazingly well with fish! - Pumpkin and mussel soup is one of the speciallities of one of anna's aunts - it I'd recoomend it.
Anway - my version of LAksa - you make the hard goopy paste and then add it to some pumpkin (half a butternut or a quarter of a blue) that has been boiled in water (and don't throw out the water). Chuck in the paste and let it slowly simmer for a bit.
How much of a bit? 20 mins should be fine but you can go longer. don't go all day or you'll tunr all the stuff into cabbage..........
In the mantime, prepare some meat/veggies/tofu.this involves cutting them up into small pieces and lightly stirfrying them. blanch some noodles and some fishballs (yum!), and open 3 tins or a ! litre UHT pack of coconut cream.
Add coconut cream to laksa paste and pumpkin mix and mix thoroghly and heat.
blanch noodles and stick in serving bowls. throw veggies/meat/tofu on top
pour over soupy laksa mix
garnish with fried onions, lemon wedges, bean sprouts, fresh coriander
salivate and eat!
this should be enough for 4-6 people.