Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not what I meant to write

Last Thursday I thought this was going to be an exceptionally cheerful post with highlights of the food bloggers' conference, held last Friday and Saturday at the new Cordon Bleu school in Wellington. I had been looking forward to it for ages, so when I woke up on Friday with a really nasty cold I just gulped down the cold pills and soldiered on, determined to enjoy myself. Which wasn't hard, because it was splendid from start to finish.
          However, I will have to be excused this week, because I got a phone call today to tell me that my birth mother died very peacefully this morning (see Elsewoman). Soon I'll be heading off for the funeral. In past times she would have relished hearing all about it and seeing my photos. So I will tell you my stories about it next week instead, imagining I'm telling her too. But just not right now.
           What I will tell you briefly, though, is what I was able to tell my mostly sister and one or two brother bloggers at the dinner on Friday night. The food memoir I've been writing for three years is going to be published early next year by Awa Press as their first "e-riginal" - an original e-book. Here's what I said on Friday, with a first tiny taste of the book itself. It's a little memorial for my birth mother too - she loved eating and cooking, and one of our greatest pleasures was eating out together.

"I love reading food memoirs, and I’ve loved writing this one. I’ve set out to conjure up a lifetime of experiences related to food. So it covers a lot of ground. It moves from the everyday fare of suburban Mount Eden in the 1950s to the pitfalls and pleasures of learning to cook as a 19 year old bride who had never lifted a pan in my life; on to discovering the exotic dishes of Albania in the 1970s, and at last getting to grips with French food in all its glory.
But of course, food never stands alone. From the beginning, it’s tied up with our deepest feelings and desires. So for me, writing about food has also meant writing about finding a long-lost mother, losing a son, sharing the kitchen and table with a beloved husband - and finally, over the last eighteen months, learning for the first time how to cook and eat alone.
I want be in touch with you all again in the next few months about my book...But for now, to go with this great dinner, here’s a tiny advance taste.       

Auckland, 1958. At first it was the French words for food that I loved, even when I had to invent my own explanation of what they meant. Our French textbook En Route said that at 10 o’clock every morning, French school children ate pain au chocolat. Bread with chocolate.
           I’d never had any French bread, but I knew what it looked like from the pictures. I imagined a thin dark-haired girl like Lesley Caron in Gigi, opening a paper bag and taking out a piece of baguette and a few squares of dark chocolate. (Somehow I always thought of it as dark like Cadbury’s Energy, not pale brown like Dairy Milk).
              But I wasn’t sure what happened next – did she eat these things one at a time, in alternating bites, or did she put the chocolate into the bread and eat it like a chocolate sandwich?
                It took me seventeen years to find out. On my first morning in Paris, I ate my first warm, flaky, buttery, melting pain au chocolat, and knew that this was what those schoolgirls in En Route had been eating all along."


Rosa said...

Anne, so sorry to hear about your mother. I hope she has a fitting farewell.

I am very much looking forward to reading your book!

Mairi @ Toast said...

Sorry to hear your sad news. Lovely to meet you last week & look forward to the book!

Alessandra said...

Sorry to hear about your loss, a big hug.

It was lovely to hear your story, but maybe you will find amusing to learn that bread and chocolate (and I mean two slices of bread with a bar of chocolate in the middle) it is indeed a children snack in places like Italy and France. In fact often we could not have our bars of chocolate unless we ate it with bread! :-)

I still like to have bread and chocolate now, pane e cioccolata!

AnneE said...

Thank you for your warm messages, they are such a help. Alessandra, that's fascinating - in other words my first imagined picture was right! I'm just revising my ms now, I will have to fit this in!

ambradambra said...

I enjoyed your post and sad about your mother. My newish food blog is often about my mother (and late father) and the funny ways she does things - all very important to record this as she gets older. Best of luck.