Women’s Weekly Chinese Cooking Class Cookbook Dinner Party
Was I sitting on the floor cross legged as small children seem to be able to do so easily? I can smell the stale dust in the yellow shag pile carpet. My hands pull on the tufts as I peek around the door jamb. Chaotic conversation mixed with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass echo into the hallway. We four kids are supposed to be downstairs in the rumpus room playing nicely of course. We were probably playing hide and seek but since I’m the youngest and therefore the smallest I can hide too well and the others give up before they find me. They don’t really want to play in the first place but only do it to keep me quiet.
I like to hide in mum’s sewing cupboard. I can tuck my legs in close and squeeze in beside the machine, pulling fabric on top to camouflage myself. My fingers slide in between the mission brown louver doors and pull them shut. The rough unfinished wood rubs against my back but I want to win so force myself to sit still, listening for the seeker. I’m not strong enough or quick enough or clever enough to win most games against my older siblings. Hide and seek is my trump card. If only I can stop my bladder from bursting, I’m definitely going to win this one.
It takes me too long to realize that they’re no longer looking for me but in my sister’s room busy with something else. No point going in to complain. I race to the toilet and almost make it in time. I take off my now wet knickers, scrunch them in my hand and leap upstairs to my bedroom. I shove them to the bottom of my laundry basket and grab a dry pair. Only then I tip-toe across the faux tile print lino towards the cacophony.
Shrieking laughter, clinking of tableware and swaying rhythms draw me closer. I want to be a part of this scene. Mums and dads from the other houses in our little court. I play with their children every day and have spent time in their houses but they look different now. They act different now. The mums have shiny lipstick and dangly earrings. The dads wear neat trousers and casual check shirts. My mum wears her jewelry and dad has put his Old Spice aftershave on. My parents look and smell different.
Before the grownups all arrived, I got to help mum and dad prepare. Dad went to the shopping centre this morning to buy all the exotic ingredients he needed for their Chinese banquet tonight. The Women’s Weekly Chinese Cooking Class Cookbook is great because it has photos of all the weird food he needs. The baby corn, water chestnuts and bean shoots all canned in weak brine. Soy sauce just like the local Chinese restaurant has on the tables. Ginger, not a dry dust but a gnarled light brown slightly withered lump. Dad even went to Box Hill last week to the large Asian warehouse and bought these small blue and white bowls and the odd ceramic spoons with the flat bottoms.
The recipe book gets propped up in the clear plastic stand which lives just a little too close to the electric fry pan. Splatters of a brown sauce are wiped off with the tea towel he always has flung over his shoulder when he is cooking. As I’ve grown older I see many of his traits in myself. Not only the tea towel at hand but also dishes must be done and the kitchen clean before I can even begin to assemble my mis-en-place.
I can see the book in my mind even now – a rich red cover, gold lettering and a plate of meat and vegetables in a glossy thickened sauce. I don’t know if it was sweet ‘n’ sour pork, beef with black bean or chicken with cashew nut but there would certainly have been a dish of fried rice with those tiny prawns. San Choy Bow was definitely on the menu that evening also. I can see myself declaring that I’m up to the task of gently peeling apart the layers of iceberg lettuce for the cups. I probably wasn’t. Dessert was most likely tinned lychees in syrup with ice cream. Deep fried ice cream was reserved for dining out only.
The dining suite is pulled out from up against the window where it usually rests unused. Black stained wood, with black leather slung seats and ornate brass fasteners. It would not look out of place on the set of Game of Thrones. The good silver cutlery is unearthed from its resting place opposite and polishing begins. A cruet set (long before I know this is what it is called), large serving spoons, the cocktail shaker and glasses. They always serve Brandy Alexanders for the women on arrival and I’m lucky enough to get to shake the ground nutmeg from the Masterfoods spice jar. I’m even allowed to have some of the peanuts form the carved wooden bowl if I promise to chew them thoroughly so I don’t choke.
I don’t know if I was quick enough to leave my spying post before one of the adults came around the corner. I probably left of my own volition. My childhood stamina wasn’t much. One time, in a fit of anger I swore I was going to punish my parents by staying up all night. I’m sure I caved long before midnight. Bored I would have retreated to my room and snuggled down deep under my sheets. The animals in their boat traversing the rainbow over the jungle below. I t was probably a version of Noah’s ark. I could never figure out where one picture started and the other one finished.
The next morning dishes would be stacked neatly on the side of the sink for washing. Lingering smells of strange sauces and weird spices. We kids were full of our natural morning energy even if our parents weren’t. Morning sun shining in on the table and its detritus.