for the love of food and words
I could talk forever about my general ethos concerning food and its preparation, but instead, I’ll let a quote from Louis Golding do the job for me, who wrote,
“It is not essential that there shall be luxurious foods in the kitchen and fine wines in the cellar for a man to eat and drink well, though, of course, those things make it easier. The important thing is to know how to manipulate and to combine what is available, however little that may be, and, if next to nothing is there, to have such a gift for improvisation, that somehow the body is still nourished not only adequately but with pleasure.”
To me the challenge, and what incidentally provides the most pleasure, is using what you have in the pantry to come up with creative solutions for meals that you might otherwise never have thought of if not for that missing onion, lack of spice or some other vital ingredient. I find a scant pantry is every so often more yielding than a full one! So go boldly forth, round up whatever you can find in fridge and pantry, discard the recipe book and see what happens. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can make with very little.
I find cooking therapeutic. If I’m in the kitchen I’m happy. It’s a place where I can relax, a place where I can allow my mind to wonder and come up with new taste sensations. It’s a place where I can simply be and do what I enjoy best; cooking and writing. I admit that alongside the therapeutic calm, there is the occasional bout of frustration, the rare tantrum when things, for whatever reason, simply don’t work. Yes, it happens to the best of us; that moment when you want to scream and swear at inanimate objects, that moment when the smell of burning reaches your nostrils and you realise you have forgotten to take the cake out of the oven in time, or when you turn on the blender without securing the lid, and you, and the entire kitchen ends up covered in batter. But all in all, the kitchen is my sanctuary, a place of where I can create and dream.
I live in the Dandenong ranges in Victoria. It’s a beautiful inspirational place to live, full of creative people who are passionate about food, local produce and sustainability. It’s a never ending source of inspiration and I know how lucky I am. It's a wonderful creative hub that provides not only inspiration on a daily basis, but tranquillity. Time seems to go a bit slower here, and it helps give rise to ideas that I can then develop and craft. And if it happens to be something edible, later devour!
How I developed my passion for words and food is something that most definitely started very early on. As children we were always surrounded by books and I loved the way words had the ability to transport me to new and exciting places. I always loved reading and that naturally turned into a desire to create my own stories and characters. So I did! I still have a story I wrote and bound into a book when I was about six years old, titled, "The Fluffy Bunny", about a rabbit in search of food. That was the first of many and I've continued to write ever since, from writing for the school paper, to studying journalism at University to running a copywriting business. Not to mention the dozens of journals I've kept over the years to now writing a blog.
Reading and artistic endeavour were always encouraged, as was the eating of scumptious Finnish pastries. Pulla, a type of sweet coffee bread, was a staple in our home growing up, and is still one of my favourite comfort foods. It's also one of the few things I'm always reluctant to make because it's simply never as good as my mums. And despite the fact that mum would make pulla that's out of this world, I'm not quite sure where my love of cooking came from, I certainly didn’t grow up in a household where food took centre stage, it was more a meat, potatoes and bread kinda family. Not very adventurous or experimental. Salt, pepper and premade curry powder were the most exciting things to be found in our spice cupboard. Along with cinnamon. If there was nothing else in the pantry, cinnamon could always be found. The sweet warm smell of cinnamon always reminds me of my childhood and I love it as much today as I did then. But, if there is one thing I can heartily attest, it's that Finnish pastry is something else, delicious, heart stopping buttery goodness; something I'm sure contributed to my love of food, and in particluar, pastry of all kinds.
Mum always provided good wholesome food. We never went hungry, but our household lacked remarkable food, and that’s what I hungered for. Literally. I craved new flavours and textures, so I started cooking. My dad didn’t cook much, but when he did, it was always seafood or pancakes. These two things he cooked immensely well. And unlike my mum, he never used recipes. He just cooked from his noodle and it always turned out. Like my dad, my mummo (grandma) on mums side would use a mix of recipes and cooking from “omasta päästä, which loosely translates as cooking from ones own head. In other words, she made up the recipes herself, and still does to this day, all of which are delicious, and not just for the copious amounts of cream and butter that goes into each dish. Although it helps! The lips that is, not the hips, but that's another story.
The idea that I could be creative with food the way I had, already for many years, been creative with words was an “a ha!” moment for me. I was about 16 years old. The realisation that I could be artistic and experiment with different tastes and textures, and come up with delicious food that I could enjoy, and that my family could enjoy, really appealed to me. I think the first time I made a three course dinner for my family, and registered the joy they had in eating it, I was hooked, and my desire to provide nourishment and comfort through good food is something that has grown with me over the years.
I love the way in which a fresh loaf of bread slathered in butter can make people so happy. I also love Farmer’s markets (although there are not enough of them where I live) old books and op shops. My partners smile, which is so generous and warm. My daughters hands, which are so strong yet graceful, even in their infancy. And I love the way food brings people together and has the ability to defy language and cultural barriers. Feeding my family and friends is one of the things I love best; a celebration of food and community that never fails to leave me feeling anything but blissfully content.
What happened in 2016
At the end of 2015 I started to struggle with where my food was coming from and how it was being produced. I have always been an advocate of all things organic and sustainable, but I recently became aware that many of the products I was buying - products I thought were sustainably and ethically produced - were, in fact, not. This shocked and angered me. I decided that I didn’t want to contribute to a system that is by and large, corrupt of any good. After undertaking a great deal of research into the meat and dairy industries and learning just how cruel, unethical and unsustainable they are, I decided to give them up and embrace a largely vegan diet. Now, I use the term vegan with trepidation, as I’m still learning and adapting to this new way of eating, and I’m sure at this stage, I would be better suited to label (even though I really hate any kind of labels) myself as someone “who eats a whole, plant based diet,” as I’m well aware that veganism isn’t simply about what you eat, but how you choose to live - encompassing all aspects of life from the food you eat, to the cosmetics you use to what you choose to wear and put on your feet.
I’m still coming to terms with it, and if I’m honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it and where I sit in the scheme of things. All I know is this: the way in which animals are treated to produce food and products for consumption is wrong. It’s cruel, environmentally unsound and completely unnecessary. Another devastating example is large scale trawling of our oceans. I love sea food. I have grown up fishing and eating our own fish since I can remember, but I won’t buy it anymore. I can’t support what the commercial fishing industry is doing to our oceans.
Still, this does not mean that veganism ticks all the boxes for me. It doesn’t. Many vegans consume large amounts of tofu and other fake meat products, which are heavily processed, have a ton of food miles attached to them and are almost entirely soy based. The vast majority of soy beans are grown in a monoculture, which threatens biodiversity, endangered species and the livelihoods of local people. This is not something I can support either. Soy based products, even though they seem like the kinder choice, are in fact devastating to small marsupials and millions of insects that are killed when their ecosystems are destroyed for the cultivation of soy beans. In other words, I don’t think replacing meat with their fake counterparts or tofu is any less cruel to animals. It’s just less high profile species that are threatened and killed in the process. To inflict as little harm as possible to other animals and the planet is incredibly complicated. It's by no means a black and white issue and I'm not sure what the best solution is. I don't know if any one does.
So my philosophy is this: do the least amount of harm and be informed. I like knowing where my food comes from, who makes it and what processes are employed. It wasn’t so long ago that people lived sustainably - supporting local and largely ethical practises. I think it’s a good way to live and something we should all aspire to. I realise life today is very different from the time when all commodities where local to a community, but I don’t think it’s too far fetched to think we could bring some of that back. At least, I hope it isn’t. I believe if it is within our capacity to craft our lives, and it is, then why not craft a life that will have a positive impact, rather than a negative one. The best solution that I can think of it is to be self sufficient, to live off your own land, where you can minimise your environmental impact, ensure the well being of your animals and live a life that is balanced and respects all life.
I spent my formative years eating food filled with butter, milk and cream. I’m Finnish. My whole family is Finnish, so this was the norm for us and I never really thought much about the consequences of consuming dairy, until now. Meat was very easy for me to give up as we hardly eat meat in my family anyway, but dairy was a lot harder. I really struggled with this, and still do. And I probably will for some time to come. I felt like I was throwing away a huge part of my heritage not baking the traditional Finnish food and pastry I’ve grown up with and love. I still get emotional when I think about it, but at the end of the day, I can’t justify the use of dairy when I know what animals have to endure for me to be able to eat it. That's not to say I'm totally giving up my cultural food heritage. Not at all. I'm simply going to have to make a few changes, find a few substitutes, and rethink a few recipes. Maybe one day, when I have a large property and I can have my own cows, and the calves can stay with their mums and live a happy and full life, I won’t mind taking a bit of milk to make butter. But having said that, I’m not convinced dairy is good for human consumption, so who knows. I might never consume it again. I’m also not sure how I feel about eggs. I won’t buy them anymore, but maybe, along with the cows, I’ll have some chickens, and eat an egg every now and then. But still, if and when the time comes, I’m not sure what I’ll do, or how I’ll feel about it.
One thing I do know is, that choosing to live a life free from meat, dairy and eggs is a personal choice for me that I feel good about. We as humans, unlike other animal species, have an emotional intelligence and a conscience I think we must listen to, and be accountable to. We no longer need to kill other species en masse to ensure the survival of our own. We are the greatest predators on earth. We have become very adept at killing, but it doesn’t mean we should. We hardly respect human life, so why respect the life of an animal? Because we can. We can choose to. We can choose an alternative path. We have the power and force to affect positive change, so why not do that? I hope I can to some degree. I have two amazing sister’s in-law who are both vegan. They are so passionate and courageous in a way that I’ll never be, and they are the reason I’ve made this change. They inspire me everyday with their conviction, encouragement and knowledge.
So, what am I? As I’ve said, I don’t like labels. I feel that they do more harm than good. I don’t want to define myself in very uncompromising terms, and then feel like a failure if for some reason, on some days, I don’t live up to that definition. I think that’s a hell of a lot of pressure. However, If I had to label myself as anything, I would label myself as someone who cares, as someone who is trying to live better, not only for myself and my family, but for the environment and for all the animals we share this earth with. I feel the human race has a lot to answer for on this front, and if I can contribute to making the planet healthier, to more sustainable and ethical practices and know that I’m not turning a blind eye to the cruelty that goes on in the rearing of animals for meat and dairy, and if my actions make even the smallest difference, then I can feel happy in the knowledge that I did my best, and that I tried.
Fundamentally, I want to live a life that is mindful, full of inspiration and hopefully inspiring to others, a life that supports local food production and community, but most of all, I want to live a life that is kind. Kind to the planet and kind to all the species, great and small, that inhabit it.
So that’s pretty much where I sit at the moment. In six months, or a year, it might change. Who knows? I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I probably don’t have half an answer, but I’m trying to find them and I’m excited about the journey.
Love and light!