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Stan’s Stuff

Foodie adventures – chew on this!

It exploded in my nine-year-old mouth. I went into shock. Gallons of water later I was still in agony. That was the last time I asked to ride in my dad’s truck.
 |  Stan Stewart  |  ,

Ashley was a bit disappointed that a shark had taken half of his kingfish, but there was still lots of flesh.

My Dad drove ex-US-army trucks for ‘Youngs Shipping Agents’ in Melbourne. The trucks, “Blitz Buggies” my Dad called them, had a big red star painted on the door. Dad’s route was to the Melbourne wharf and back to a nearby warehouse. He did this again and again – his daily grind.

I wanted to ride with him in the truck with the red star on the door. Finally, he gave in and on one school holiday he took me to work with him.

Inside the cab of the truck, it was noisy and hot and very bumpy. However, my Dad was taking me to the ‘Truckers Restaurant’. The place was filled with sweaty men. The menu was limited.

“Try the stew” my Dad said. I did and that’s when I bit and swallowed a small green thing. I thought it was a pea. It wasn’t. It was a chilli.

Fire filled my mouth. I thought my eyes would pop out.

“You don’t eat the small green things,” my Dad said.

His advice came too late. I was already on fire.

When I was 20, my life involved throwing ladders up poles and climbing up them. Come lunch time, I was ravenous.

My boarding house lady said she would make me a sandwich. Much to her disgust, I insisted on buying one. The milk bar (deli) near my work sold cheese and gherkin on white bread sandwiches. I loved them. I have never had them before or since. Only from this one milk bar (deli) have I ever seen them. Strange, but I can still taste them.

Over the years I have developed food obsessions which although interesting at first, eventually became a pain (in the gut) to all in our household.

In my thirties after one of our very occasional trips to a Chinese café I could think of nothing more than fried rice. I had to have it. That led to me experimenting with fried rice preparation – all kinds of ingredients cooked in a huge dish.

Usually, one serve would satisfy the family leaving me with copious leftovers which I staunchly ate for the next week. This overindulgence eventually cured me. These days I can live without fried rice.

Something similar happened with roast vegetables. Once I was shown I realised that cooking roast vegetables was not too hard. For weeks I nightly prepared roast vegetables. The family became tired of them long before I did. However, even for me the taste became same-ish.

My shortest-lived food fantasy was Gazpacho. This is a cold Spanish soup. For non-Spanish, slurped on a very hot day once a season, it is very pleasant. But every day for weeks, come rain, hail or wind, the taste treat can wear off. It nearly ended a friendship with my artist friend. He slurped a little and then burped a lot. Before the summer ended, this dish was banned and honestly, I was over it – at least the way I made it.

I’m thinking what makes for a great meal is the context and the feeling of friendship in the room.

How about this for a super Whitianga repast.

Through the initiative of a friend, we bumped into old friends and were invited to their old style, open plan bach. We arrived at 4.00pm in the afternoon and after hugs, we insisted we were not staying. “Just popping in”. Really! Coffee and juice could not be refused. And then there was the tale of the young fry’s fishing adventure.

That day he had caught a huge fish. It was a struggle to land it, but land it he did. But it was only half a fish. A shark had taken half the fish before he landed it. He was left with the head and a bit more. The pic was interesting but not heroic.

Amazingly, there was still a lot of flesh on the fish. Before we knew it, raw fish with soy and wasabi was on a plate before us. I had never eaten such a dish. It was terrific.

“We are not staying for dinner” my wife said. No one listened. Old memories and catch-ups were shared.

And then out came knives and forks and I knew our hosts had conquered our protests. Fish in breadcrumbs and salad – yum! Around that central large table our conversations were sometimes sad but mostly joyful. Supa dupa! It happened without planning. Generous hearts made it happen. Old and new friends around the table, children playing and fresh Whiti fish. Beat that! Our best meal in a long time.