The man in the mirror
I am a daddy’s girl. Not the Princess-who-can-get-away-with-anything kind of daddy’s girl. Heavens no. I am my father’s daughter in the sense that we are frighteningly similar, a fact which I’m sure my long-suffering mother would confirm. You see, we share a certain temperament which can, at times, be trying for our loved ones. And yet it is this intensity of being which underpins our life passions, many of which we share.
The second great gift, after life, which my father gave me, was a love of the written word. Growing up, I was never without new and exciting adventures to discover on the page. Rather than standing idly by why I wallowed in a new-found obsession with the Baby Sitters Club, he arranged for his brother to post me his complete collection of The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. He challenged me with literature of sophistication, and by the age of eleven I was reading Lord Of the Rings. (Admittedly the series was abandoned midway through the first volume due to chronic boredom. His penchant for quality fantasy and science fiction has never managed to penetrate my cerebellum.) Dad helped me to write my first essay, a discussion of Lord of the Flies. I remember him teaching me about the concept of social mores, equipping me with new vocabulary and patiently explaining Golding’s complex and powerful metaphors, never condescending to my still immature intellect. This was the first of many essays, my skills in this genre eventually securing me such accolades as coming second in the state for modern history in my higher school certificate (the pinnacle of my academic achievements to date), and one or two pieces of note over the duration of a drawn-out liberal arts degree. Of course I now aspire to be a writer, something which I believe my father would have liked to do, had he been afforded the opportunity. His considerable skill as a wordsmith of wit remains sadly elusive.
My father and I share a sense of humour which often approaches the abstruse and the absurd. Not many seven-year-olds listen to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore recordings, and nor should they. In hindsight, this probably explains a lot. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was also a family favourite, along with The Goodies and The Young Ones (favourites of my mother’s). Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and Are You Being Served were rightly frowned upon, though tolerated.
While my mother nurtured my talent and passion for classical and jazz music, my dad influenced the selections on my stereo. I grew up listening to Mississippi delta blues and greats of the 60s, 70s and 80s; The Beatles, The Band, Bob Dylan, Cream, Traffic, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, Phil Collins; artists which I have an enduring love for, along with, to my father’s eternal bemusement, the ‘yacht rock’ of the Doobie Brothers, whose cassettes were the soundtrack to the road trips of my youth (dad wisely left them behind with the 1980s).
Perhaps the most obvious passion my dad has passed on to me is a love for food. Eating it. Cooking it. Reading about it. He learned to cook because his mother couldn’t. Not because she was incapacitated, but because she had no interest in it, and was consequently terrible at it. As far as I can tell, the culinary highlights for my father and his four siblings growing up were the meals cooked by students they hosted in their home through the Colombo plan. This also gave him a taste for the exotic cuisines of other cultures. As a young teacher living in Orange, in regional NSW, while many other young men were probably subsisting on counter meals, dad was taking Chinese cooking classes. My first yum cha was consumed in utero at a memorable meal my parents shared with dad’s beloved uncle Owen Thomson, who was, in his time, a colourful and controversial media personality of the kind that faced extinction when Kerry Packer died for the second and final time. Growing up in the country, while most of my friends were eating meat-and-three-veg, we ate from the pages of Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Food. We ate what we were given (happily), and flavours were never softened just for our young palates.
This evidently also rubbed off onto my brother, now a chef at Andrew McConnell’s Cutler & Co (recently named Australian Gourmet Traveller‘s Restaurant of the Year). Like my father though, I am a keen home cook. For us, home cooking is for nurturing, loving, expressing creativity and preserving sanity. This is why for father’s day I chose to cook dad a leisurely breakfast of the kind I know is his favourite. My father, like his daughter, always prefers savoury to sweet. When we dine out, I can almost always predict what he is going to pick from the menu. If we are breakfasting, he will always choose something like homemade baked beans or Spanish-style baked eggs. Having picked up some gorgeous tiny hen’s eggs from one of my mates at the farmers’ market this week, I decided to cook baked eggs with chorizo in a rich, smoky tomato sauce. Unlike me, my father’s expression is relatively unchanging, but I think he was proud.
Spanish-style baked eggs with chorizo, tomato and capsicum (serves 3)
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 red capsicum, diced
1 tin tomatoes
1 chorizo sausage, sliced
pinch smoked paprika
salt/pepper/sugar to season
chopped flat-leaf parsley to serve
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Heat a generous lug of olive oil in a large frying pan. On a moderate heat, cook off the onion and the garlic, without browning. Add the capsicum, and season with sugar and salt to help caramelise the vegetables. Reduce the heat and cook for 20 minutes to half an hour until the vegetables have become soft. Stir regularly to ensure they don’t stick and colour too much. Add the tomatoes, break up roughly with a wooden spoon, and simmer.
In a separate frying pan, cook the chorizo in a small amount of olive oil, until it begins to become crisp. Drain on paper towels. Add to the tomato mixture, and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes until the flavours develop and the sauce thickens. Season carefully with smoked paprika, and salt and pepper to taste.
Oil individual ramekins, or a suitable-sized ceramic baking dish (I used small bowls). When you’re happy with the sauce, divide between the ramekins. Make two impressions in the mixture in each dish with the back of a spoon, and break an egg into each. Bake in the oven until the eggs are set. Serve with buttered toast.