The Plates I've Made: Three Vignettes on Dishes and Their Social Lives

We circuited between food and the erotic, making promises to roast pumpkins and burn butter for each other.

An intricate painting of a bowl of mussels, pumpkin ravioli, and a cut loaf of banana bread.

Content warning: brief mention of mental illness

Roast pumpkin (honey, cumin, cinnamon, chili, salt, olive oil), ricotta, sage, hazelnut, butter, fresh pasta

I worked at a restaurant with an open kitchen that served this dish. Food emerging from over counter, from chef, to me, to guest. The pumpkin was roasted with honey, mixed with ricotta and mustard fruits and made into six ravioli parcels covered in toasted hazelnuts, fried sage and burnt butter. The chef, whose name I can’t recall even though I can still hear his sandy surfer voice, explained to me what a mustard fruit was but it never quite stuck so now I don’t know his name or his recipe for a mustard fruit. The first time I made this dish I was in my new Brunswick home. I had moved into Hannah’s place, it was an old cottage on the corner with an orange door that is now painted blue. We didn’t have a lounge room, so our pink kitchen table was the hearth of the home.  Hannah is a wonderful cook, you can taste her artistry in everything she makes. I bought fresh lasagne sheets from the Mediterranean Wholesalers on Sydney Road with hopes to turn them into ravioli, but they were too thick. So I sliced them into triangles (I'd seen it on Jamie Oliver years ago) and cooked them in water. I arranged the triangles into little oblong flowers, dropped spoonfuls of the smooth honey/pumpkin/ricotta mix (sans mustard fruits) and poured the butter, sage and hazelnuts on top. Hannah sat across from me at our table. She loved it, we shared a moment in food. When I moved out a few years later, she gave a book of poetry and a postcard that thanked me for always garnishing my food with something special. Around the same time, I made a simplified version for my cousin Harry and her baby Dalia. Less spices, smaller pasta. Dalia loved its taste as much as she loved throwing it the floor. Soft warm pumpkin is good for a baby with new teeth. Last year, I went to visit my dad at his home in Rydal near the Blue Mountains. His house was built by an artist who made ceramics and mosaics and painted all the rooms different colors. There is a Japanese pagoda in the backyard and we think he might have been short because the kitchen benches are quite low. Mine and Dad’s relationship was tense at that point, it’s hard when father and daughter are both depressed. We were running late to a movie that I ended up walking out of anyway. I rushed it and the pasta and sauce stuck together. Most recently, I described it to a boy while we ate warm brie and honey in the middle of the Portuguese desert. I’m pretty sure we were flirting, as we circuited between food and the erotic, making promises to roast pumpkins and burn butter for each other. We are both back in Australia now so perhaps I need to go back to the Mediterranean Wholesalers and buy some pasta. I might even work out what a mustard fruit is.


Mussels with either parsley tomato chili or leek cream cider, sourdough  

For a while when I was twenty, I would go to a restaurant by the lake in Canberra and eat 1kg pots of spicy tomato mussels with an old man called Steve. We worked together, Steve was a professional waiter whose shirts were always ironed when mine weren’t. I liked eating them because they were messy and juicy, like a more interactive bowl of soup. I cooked them for the first time for a boyfriend I had moved in with when I was too young and he was too old. I went to the markets that I used to always go to with dad and was surprised at how cheap mussels were. One pot had tinned tomatoes, chilli, parsley and the other had leeks, garlic, cream and dry German cider. It was delicious and I realised my boyfriend had too many fantasies about what I should be and that I wanted to cook mussels for other people. Between lockdowns I was home in Canberra and offered to cook my brother dinner in exchange for the use of his expensive new car. I bought the mussels from the same market and added chorizo to the tomato sauce because I know my brother likes Paella. He was two hours late to dinner because he had to go the gym and now we haven't spoken in two years. The last time I made mussels was for my aunty, uncle and cousin Bella when I visited them in Sydney. I have been visiting them since I got too stressed out completing my Year 12. I am lucky to have many family homes. I like it there for its cold ocean swims in the rock pools, a bottomless fridge of food I usually only eat at Christmas and cotton bedsheets only homeowners have. They have a springer spaniel called Gus. I keep his hair in a jar on my bookshelf. My aunty and uncle are talented cooks with worldly palettes and this was the first time I had cooked them anything. Making mussels with an ocean view lends a sense of authenticity to a salty dish. I put too much chilli in and tried to offset it later with sugar but no one said anything about the imbalance. It’s nice to be cooked for by people you watched grow in your sister’s belly.


Banana bread (nuts, spices, brown sugar, standard cake ingredients)  

I don't remember a time when I wasn't eating or making banana bread. My dad makes it a lot, good to eat after his long bike rides. His always has a crumbly top—oats, butter, brown sugar, nuts. I usually forget to cover the bread in foil part way through and end up burning the top. There was a very sweet, more cake than bread, banana bread that we served at my first café job. I worked in the cake and sandwiches area—Tracey, who made all the cakes, would prepare loaves and loaves and loaves of banana bread—we would freeze them. Then we cut one or two loaves, group them in pairs, butter them, sprinkle them with cinnamon, wrap the pairs up individually in cling film and wait for them to be ordered. We would then microwave it for 30 seconds, toast in the sandwich press and serve. The microwaving never seemed necessary but the smell of melting butter relinquished any concern. When my mum makes banana bread she usually apologises that it’s not very good. She says that about lots of things. Her food, her art, her gifts, her parenting. She’s wrong every time and butter can make anything delicious. During the summer, after the borders reopened I stayed with a family that was building an off-grid home in Crescent Head. We peed in the banana tree forest because it made good fertilizer. I didn't stay long enough to eat a banana fertilized with my urine. I would like to make a banana bread with those bananas as it sounds like an example of reciprocal ecology. I heard about that today on the radio in reference to bees and the dances they do to communicate data about hive construction. If I served that loaf to someone I probably wouldn’t tell them it was made with my piss bananas. Currently I live in a banana abundance and should make one soon—they are good to have in the freezer and I have been getting hungry at night recently. I use what’s in my pantry when I make banana bread. Nuts, seeds, spices (always cinnamon, always nutmeg), bananas, brown sugar, flour, binders. Butter can make anything delicious.

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