I’ve packed my port and moved on.
Please come find me here
It was the woman in red dress that decided my restaurant choice.
Or, perhaps I should say, it was her face.
Behind large wooden doors pushed open to the night breeze were couples and candlelight, and I thought… no.
But something caught my eye.
Yes, it was her face.
At the time it was upturned, with eyes closed, unmoving. In her hand an empty soup spoon poised somewhere between mouth and bowl. It hung in the air like a comma, waiting. I, too, found myself unmoving, holding my breath.
She relaxed her shoulders and slowly swallowed, I could almost feel the silent moan of pleasure as it flashed across her face.
And I thought
I want to eat like her.
Barely able to avert my eyes, I entered.
Yes, a table for one, yes, a table by the window, yes, yes.
The chair proffering views of twinkling lights is shunned for one that affords the view of the red dress. Of the woman. Of the face.
Like me, she dined alone, but she wasn’t alone.
Her companions were scattered across the table.
A dish of pasta, the trails of sauce over linen.
A bowl of bread with crust broken, thick chunks lavished with butter.
Mussel shells, spilling from bowl onto platter.
These were her companions.
Spoon became fork, she twirled pasta. Ribbons raised then deftly lowered; once again the cutlery paused in repose. Then again. And again.
She chewed slowly, eyes closed; it was hard not to stare as she ate.
Between bites, she stopped, she sipped, she sighed.
The rapture on her face, evident.
Occasionally, her head gave a shake and the red dress followed suit, shivering in pleasure.
Her brows would rise and she’d run her tongue through her teeth, concentrating. First a frown, then a smile.
I imagined the inward talk.
The groan of satisfaction.
When the dessert menu was offered, there was only one word.
I watched as she perused the offerings like a child would a picture book, tracing the words with her finger, mouthing silently as she read.
In the final clearing, the server comes to lift the flatware. As he raises the bowl she stills his arm, extends her finger, and wipes it slowly across and around the base, scooping the remains of sticky sweetness before seductively sucking her finger.
And again I thought…
I want to eat like her.
She had no inhibitions, this unaccompanied diner. Where I was the visitor, she was at home. She occupied her space, living there, in that moment.
I wanted to applaud, for her meal had been my night’s theatre.
I have no idea what I ordered, no memory of my wine, my meal.
Yet I can recall her menu, her dishes, simply by closing my own eyes and thinking of her face.
Meg Ryan faked it.
The woman in the red dress had it.
I want it.
I want to eat like her.
In 1879, a young man named John Edmonds set foot on the Northern Island Shores of New Zealand. At just 20 years of age, he made the long voyage to a land of promise, leaving behind the gloomy London skies for a new life with his young wife, Jane. Together, they opened a general grocery store and settled into an antipodean lifestyle. He began making his own baking powder to sell in store, and his first batch of 200 tins went on sale that same year.
In 1908, Thomas Edmonds took over his father’s company, offering a gift to loyal patrons with thanks for ongoing custom. It was a 50 page booklet of economical, everyday recipes and cooking hints. Every couple who announced their engagement in the newspaper received a free copy. For the already espoused, housewives could apply in writing to receive complimentary issue.
In 1955 the first Deluxe Edition of the cookbook went on sale. Currently 3.5 million copies of the Deluxe Edition have been printed over the past 50 years. Most New Zealand homes have more than one version.
I have but one.
It’s missing it’s cover and several pages. The remaining pages are well thumbed, dog eared and spattered. The baking section, in particular, has seen many a kitchen. The imperial measurements have hand written metric conversions noted by previous owners. I assume these notations show his or her favourites. One of which, is this, a humble slice.
The very first bite transports me to my childhood… jam slice and cold milk under the mulberry tree.
Old-Fashioned Louise Slice
125 grams butter, softened
¾ cup castor sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1 ¾ cups plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup raspberry jam
2 egg whites
¼ cup castor sugar
1 ¼ cups coconut
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
Preheat oven to 150c.
Grease and line a 30 cm x 20 cm baking tin.
Cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy.
Beat in egg yolks one at a time.
Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold through the mixture
Press an even layer into the tin.
Top with a layer of jam.
Whisk egg whites until stiff and add sugar gradually, a little at a time, continuously whisking.
Fold in coconut and vanilla essence.
Layer topping over the jam and sprinkle with additional coconut, if desired.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes and let cool in tin.
Serve with a milk moustache whilst sitting under a mulberry tree.
Alongside loving vintage cook books comes the love of vintage cookware. On a recent road trip, I came across a genuine vintage Willow nut loaf tin in a country second-hand store.
I have many vintage recipes that call for round loaf tin. Date loaf, nut loaf, or date and nut loaf in many guises. I have fond memories of my paternal grandmother, manual rotary whisk in hand, whizzing this up and serving us rounds slathered in rich creamy butter for afternoon tea. Her mother used to bake to the same recipe, using aluminium foil and empty food cans. Such luxury was the round nut loaf tin to those that could afford one.
The recipe I have chosen is from The Commonsense Cookery Book, this time, the 1959 release. .
One of the things I love finding in vintage recipes is the quirkiness of the measurements. In the absence of exact science and precise measurements bakers call for today, there’s often reference to a bit of this, a dash of that, or a splash of something else. ‘Cooking by cups’ was very common through the depression, the recession and the post war years. Cup recipes were easy, easy to remember, easy to manage, and with utensils required kept to a few, easily accessible for most people. This recipe trusts you will understand the needs for a small cup of milk. Yes?
Date and Nut loaf using a loaf tin: 1959*
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tsp baking powder
Small cup of milk
1 tb butter
Pinch of salt
Beat butter and sugar to a cream.
Add a well beaten egg.
Add milk gradually.
Add chopped dates and chopped walnuts.
Stir in lightly the flour, baking powder and salt, sifted.
3/4 fill the greased loaf tin and secure both ends.
Stand upright and bake in moderate oven 3/4 hour.
This recipe makes enough for 2 loaf tins. Don’t try to fill in a single bake, your tin will explode.
Serve just as my Nan did – slathered in butter and with a nice cup of tea.
Don’t mind if I do.
I’m meandering through another vintage cookbook. This time, it’s ‘The Commonsense Cookery Book compiled by the Public School Cookery Teachers Association of New South Wales’.
Settle in, for I’m about to cook you breakfast.
Cocoa, Sir? Madame? Please note we only serve real cocoa here, none of that sugary powdered drinking chocolate you’ll find in the next Century. Even good old Bournville will contain additional ingredients once it’s acquired by Cadbury.
Of course, Sir.
War rationing has commenced, so we are supplementing some of our café de jour with chicory root. I hear it’s very restorative, Madame.
Please, settle in. Read today’s papers. Take in the scenery.
It takes a while to brew.
“First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.”
Mr Orwell recommends ‘6 heaped teaspoons to every quart’ of water. There are 2 pints in a quart, which equates to three teaspoons of tea to the pint. May I remind Sir, we are on rations, so the tea will be slightly less… strong… than you may be accustomed to.
Ahhh, but we all must do our bit, mustn’t we?
Thank you for dining with us.
*The Commonsense Cookery Book was first published in 1914. This copy, published in 1940, boasts 236,000 issues.