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Boring then, boring now?

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

I mentioned in my last post that I had not been inspired by the latest Woolworths Fresh Ideas magazine. Indeed I was about to throw it out when I decided that I really should ask myself why this should be. After all there are a fair number of recipes, most of them pretty easy to make and most of which would most likely taste really good. And yet I wasn't tempted. I found it somewhat boring. But what would I have thought if I had picked up this magazine back in the 1950s? Would I have been excited? After all this was the time when spaghetti bolognaise was exotic and I didn't know whether a clove of garlic was just one of the little bits or the whole thing?

At the top there is a that was then, this is now comparison, although even that is not strictly true of course. On the right is Bangers and mash pie - almost the last recipe in the current magazine and a modern take on traditional bangers and mash. And Woolworths might I say is not the only place where you can find a bangers and mash pie. The picture on the left of traditional bangers and mash with onion gravy and peas is modern though of course, and therefore probably considerably more glamorous looking than a 1950s photograph would have been. In the 50s I don't think anyone would have thought of messing with the concept. Nowadays everyone does. Those other versions of bangers and mash pie cover a wide range of possibilities.

Then there are the dishes that have actually changed in meaning and my example here is dumplings. On the left Woolworths Chinese dumplings - there is a lesson on how to make, shape and cook them, and on the right dumplings as I knew them in my childhood perched on top of a stew.

In my youth I had never heard of Chinese dumplings - the kind they serve at yum cha. Indeed when I was a little older and ate at Chinese restaurants because they were cheap, I don't think they even served them there. It was all chow mien and chop suey. I'm not generally a fan of the Chinese yum cha dumpling thing, but perhaps the only recipe in this months Fresh Ideas magazine that tempted me at all were these Pork potstickers with crispy skirt, which whilst, I'm sure it is based on a traditional Chinese dish, is a new way of presenting the dumplings to the Australian housewife. So we are still moving on.

I applaud the supermarket magazines for presenting beautifully styled photographs of food that can be cooked by just about anyone who has the patience to gather the ingredients - all available at the supermarket of course, and put them together in minutes to produce a nourishing meal for themselves and their families. For mostly they are pretty nourishing. But honestly I am a bit bored by this particular edition - and it's not the only one - not just Woolworths - Coles too. So I'm going to look at four more recipes and asking myself why wouldn't I want to cook them. Am I being a snob?

I love soup, and I love chicken and corn together. So why wouldn't I want to try this one? It looks so fresh and light. I think I glanced at it and thought - oh I can make my own chicken and corn soup - indeed I have on occasion. I don't really need to follow this recipe. Well I have looked at it now and I see that it differs from anything that I would make in that it mixes real fresh corn kernels and canned creamed corn kernels, and is flavoured with ginger and soy sauce, which gives it an Asian twist. Plus at the end you stir in egg whites. Why would you do that? Different anyway, so maybe I should try it. I suspect if I did I would be tempted to mess with it a bit and add noodles or something. A very long way from the soups of my childhood though. We didn't know about corn. although it may well have existed in cans. Corn is so commonplace now isn't it? And ginger too. This is real ginger, not the powdered ginger that was all that was available to us back in the day. Maybe there was crystallised ginger, but that's different again.

I didn't pursue this recipe because it was for pies made in a pie maker, and in spite of my enthusiastic intention to buy the K-Mart pie maker, I couldn't quite do it when I actually was confronted with one. If I had actually looked at the recipe I would most likely have scorned it in my snobbish way because it is also made up of four off-the-shelf products, puff pastry, a coleslaw kit to serve as a side, bread and butter pickles from a jar and, worst of all, Woolworths slow-cooked beef brisket. Oh dear. Possibly all of those things would have been available back then, although I don't think that beef brisket was a cut that we knew of. So a low-class, if I'm being snobby, version of what actually could be a very nice meal, but modern in that there were no pie makers back then and although you might have been able to buy a ready made filling in a tin, you wouldn't have found it in the chilled food section. Ordinary then, ordinary now. But made to look absolutely beautiful.

Now if this isn't a dish of today I don't know what is. Grilled eggplant, wraps, chick peas, tzatziki, cherry tomatoes of different shapes and sizes, lamb mince ... We had none of these things back then. And yet all of these things are so commonplace these days. It's what people put in their kids' lunchboxes. We even make our own pita breads now. I and my two sons spent a quarter of an hour or so rolling and cooking a massive stack of pita bread for David's party, from the dough that my daughter-in-law had prepared last night. So I think I ignored this one as being completely ordinary. As such it is perhaps the best example of how times have changed. In my youth this would have been unbelievably exotic.

This is another example of an utterly modern and yet ordinary dish. Pasta - we didn't know about that until I was in my teens. Roasted Brussels sprouts - we would never have thought of roasting them back then, but nowadays it seems you can roast almost any vegetable you care to name - even leafy vegetables. Chillies - where would you get them? Parmesan - it was years before you could actually buy Parmesan in any form other than the almost powdered stuff in packets. This, in fact, is a prime example of the raid the fridge kind of cooking that has become de rigeur these days even if we have actually been doing it most of our lifetimes. We didn't do it in the same way though did we? We weren't quite as imaginative. Perhaps I should try this. Although it seems almost too simple to be worth the effort of roasting the Brussels sprouts.

I feel a bit depressed about it all really, because I think it shows that we are always looking for something new, something different. That we are bored with dishes that would once have been incredibly exciting. Really I can't criticise any of them - other than the pies perhaps because of their reliance on the ready-made. Ready-made salads in particular I abhor. Because lettuce is so expensive at the moment I instead created a slightly Asian kind of slaw last night, with shredded cabbage, celery, radish, cucumber and spring onion, mixed with baby spinach and rocket - there I succumbed to leaves in a packet - with a dressing made of leftover mayonnaise mixed with a little soy sauce and lemon juice and sprinkled with quickly fried dry chillies, dried garlic flakes and peanuts, whizzed to crumbs in the food processor. It was really successful and I will try it again. Or variations thereof.

Variations thereof. I suppose any of those Woolworths recipes are ready for variations. They at least give ideas of how you can improvise - the wraps and the pasta in particular. The pot stickers not so much, but then Chinese is a cuisine with which I am not very familiar. A Chinese housewife would vary away to her heart's content.

Maybe it's all to do with mood and expectations. I have said a few times now, that I have an unconscious and wholly illogical bias against Woolworths as opposed to Coles and that may well have been a factor in my dissatisfaction with the magazine. I skimmed. I should read more carefully and see what I can glean from it. After all I did find out about mindfulness, and you wouldn't necessarily expect that from a supermarket food magazine.


Last night was the family party for David's 80th. The girls made a gorgeous chocolate cake and brownies. The boys brought dips and biscuits, bread and cheese to nibble on, I made Robert Carrier's kebabs and some tray-baked chicken, plus salad and stir-fried beans and my daughter-in-law also had some chicken shwarma. All so very ordinarily modern. Here are some pictures.


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