Hunter/Gatherer

Hunter gatherer’s still exist – one of them happens to be my mother in law.

My MIL is a pensioner and full time carer for two adult sons, both also pensioners. One of my brother’s in law has a colostomy bag and has been wheelchair bound for 30+ years after a childhood road accident. The other has severe kidney disfunction where a grain of salt will cause a random body part to balloon. One time it was his forehead, with rather comical results. Usually it’ll be a limb and its local appendage. When, for example, his foot balloons he is unable to walk. The toes become huge and round and squish together and even the sole is convex.

As a result my MIL has to cook 3 different meals catering for these varying dietary requirements (all halal)… and then when my cows-milk-preservatives-orange-peanut-strawberry-sesame intolerant daughter is visiting it becomes 4 different meals.

Luckily my MIL is an amazing and imaginative cook. Growing up in a wealthy Kuwaiti family it was her duty to supervise the Phillipino and Egyptian kitchen servants from the ripe old age of 6 (incidentally this is the same age she almost burned the whole kitchen down by setting a vat of oil alight). She knows how to cook Persian, Egyptian, Turkish, Iraqi, Lebanese, Greek and Asian style foods to absolute perfection. Not only is the flavour to-die-for she even presents everything artistically. Sometimes we watch cooking shows on Aljazeera, but the end result (no matter how delicious it looks) doesn’t even come close to my MIL’s food creations.

My MIL only uses the best, freshest ingredients and cooks the exact right amount for each meal. There is nothing but milk, cheese and soda water (her only “vice”) in her fridge. She uses 4 different types of rice and 6 types of oil for different meals. Her salads can have 10 types of leafy green – every imaginable sort of lettuce, spinach and herb.

The first time i went to my MIL’s home for lunch she asked how much hashish I wanted… after I stared at her blankly for a second, wondering if it was too early in the day for Nargileh, she cracked up laughing and said “Hahaha, I bet you didn’t know that hash just means grass… that’s what we call salad”.

A pensioner’s income isn’t much, but she makes it stretch for eons – she knows exactly where to get the highest quality, value for money fruits, vegetables, meats and breads. My MIL will catch a train to Lakemba for her meat, a bus to Greenacre and another to Liverpool for different breads and she will walk all over Bankstown for the best vegetables. She’s one of those people who picks up, smells and squeezes every single piece of produce. The cucumbers and bananas that she buys are tiny, half the size of anything we’d consider adequate… they’re occasionally “wrong” coloured to my eyes (too light or dark) or pockmarked – but they taste (and smell) unbelievable.

She literally spends all morning hunting and gathering food and all afternoon preparing it. Whenever i spend a Saturday with her (like i did last weekend i come away with a wealth of knowledge about the “perfect” bean and the “right” rice and the “only” acceptable oil.

I’m on a pretty tight budget these days (with rising interest rates, and Miss2 in full time daycare)… so my MIL’s knowledge is really coming in handy. I visited the “new” Redfern Woolworths last week and baulked at seeing bananas for $6.45 a kilo. When i took Miss2 to the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay last Saturday they were selling ONE banana for $3. Whereas the “best” bananas that my MIL chooses are only $2.49 a kilo. It’s not just a difference between city and suburbs – in one shop the Medamas Fava beans are $4.99 for 850gms, in the shop next door you can get 750gms for $1.99. Even the difference between “junk foods” is mindblowing – in Newtown we can pay $23 for a large pizza but i know where to get a huge Zaatar pizza for $1.50.

Simply being observant and shrewd can save you so much.

One of my unwritten New Year’s Resolutions is to spend more quality time with my MIL learning her “ways” and mining her vast knowledge reserves. Yes, she has driven me to insanity on occasion (for the better part of the last 4 years in fact) but i know she is a valuable resource that i will one day regret the “loss” of. This goal also ties in with my other intentions for this year (to spend less, eat healthy fresh food, simplify).

I know that cooking is never going to be my forte, but i’m pretty sure i’ll be good at this hunter/gatherer business.

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