Introducing TDPC – Poli

A mental map of the world in meals

Poli

Having read my TDPC fellow bloggers introductions I realized that, while we grew up all over the world, we have one thing in common: our love of food; that along with the memory of shared mealtimes has been important to us since our childhoods.

Family legend has it, that I orchestrated my first tea party at the age of 3, when, while my mum was trying to fob off an unwanted caller at the front door, I appeared from the kitchen bearing a tray with tea and biscuits – the caller stayed……

I vividly remember chasing poplar fluff in the school playground, being amazed at the size of poplar moths, assembling rat skeletons in my free time and monitoring the flower buds on our rhododendron as they developed. I remember being bitten by a mouse, I was attempting to rescue, in a flower shop, the first time iron filings showed me a magnetic field and the first bacteria colonies I ever saw in a petri dish. But mostly I remember food – the colours, the tastes, the texture, the contrasts, the setting and, yes, the company, the scents, and where school dining rooms are concerned, the smells.

I remember the tastes of England – spam and mushy peas, deep fried fish and malt vinegar, treacle tart, spotted dick and rivers and rivers of yellow birds-eye custard. I remember scones and clotted cream, home-made strawberry jam, my mother’s bread fresh from the AGA, blackberry and apple pie, loganberry crumble and millionaire’s shortbread served by our nanny, who in an unguarded moment told me her nipples were the size of the inside of a saucer….

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I remember the tastes of Switzerland at my grandmother’s house, ham, paprika crisps, meringues with whipped cream and fresh berries. I remember sorting through redcurrants, and big bowls of enormously large cherries, fresh green beans and pine-forest honey with fresh, rich, creamery butter served on the Bernese plaited bread known as “zopf”. I remember my mother’s dinner party dish of veal in a sherry and cream sauce with button mushrooms served with skinny noodles.

Bulgaria is soups with fatty meat and copious amounts of grated feta on salads and French fries, the Italy of my youth is olives and tomatoes, a stand in Cagliari selling oily focaccia to be filled with any manner of grilled vegetables, prosciutto and cheese you can imagine, tiny cups of strong espressso and pan forte in Siena. And I will never forget the rich, silkiness of my first grilled eel in Sardinia.

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Paris as a student is, in my memory, an orgy of ethnic restaurants, sushi and coconut cream tarts at Paul’s bakery, Berlin – a terrible, “mayonnaise-poisoned”shrimp cocktail, Helsinki in winter – an amazing, spiced honey-vodka in Russian restaurant Troikka, Kerala is dosas and coconut, Spain molletes and tomatoes, and Moscow in winter is Georgian chicken with roasted walnuts, spicy Georgian foods such as carrot, chili and coriander salad and spicy eggplant, and small mushroom turnovers in the local fast-food place. Moscow is also shashlik, served with freezing cold vodka in cold glasses of course, standing outside in the snow wearing a North Face jacket as the thermometer registered temperatures of -30°C (-22°F).  Moscow is also lovely, creamy cold sirok (Сырок)  and hot chocolate so thick your spoon stands upright.

Iran’s food, a labour of love, – fesenjoon, daspic, kabab koobideh, kookoo sabzi and that most wonderful, wonderful thing – tah dig, also my favourite Khoresh Gheimeh.  Iran is also wonderful bread, limu omani and sumac, saffron ice-cream and Moby Dick in Washington DC. Egypt is ful mesdames and parsley-speckled falafel speckled with parsley and tahini salad, Israel is falafel, pickled vegetables, hummus, pita and halva and not to forget lachuach eaten during a 2 week stay with a family in the West Bank. Washington DC introduced me to soft-shelled crab and California rolls and later, through divine intervention by way of Japanese post-docs, sashimi and sushi in Japanese run restaurants, my first, umami,  “uni” and of course, fajitas and frozen margaritas. DC also introduced me to Ethiopian food, like injera,  and Tej – honey wine as well as South American fried plantains with lime salsa. USA beyond DC: enormous steaks, apple butter, shoo fly pie, lobster and BBQ ribs; all manner of fusion food and macaroni and cheese served with fruit salad…… Happy hour is represented by that time honoured combo of US  Miller lite – which tastes of not very much at all, sorry guys, with scrawny Buffalo chicken-wings. Morocco is deep fried filo pastry triangles filled with cinnamon scented rice served cold at breakfast, spicy lamb tagines and fragrant, juicy oranges. And delving deeper there is Brazil: sweet avocado cream with lime for dessert, Greece: tzaziki and grilled fish, Turkey – home to one of my favourite spices: deep purple Pul Biber and of course modern-day Italy, with delights too numerous to list here and so may grannies in small kitchens. Argentina – grilled beef and of course, fresh fruit and maté……China – Szechuanese dishes and fish-fragrant eggplant, eaten in a small restaurant,  a local Chinese business-woman took us to, when we asked for directions.

Food, for me, is living history, enjoying it enables me to connect to the past and to better understand a country and a people. I like to talk to the locals about their cooking, what they eat to celebrate local holidays and their memories of loved foods. I take joy in jotting down time-tested recipes. I enjoy watching old ladies cook and will ask lots of questions, take copious notes and photographs (see “how to make crostata with Nonna di Giulia”, or how to make simply the world’s most satisfying, and possibly largest, meat-ball: Polpettone the great Italian meatball”, notes on foragine “Erba di Mare”) or the ultimate chocolate-covered “spice-biscuit” – Lucetta’s mustazzoli pugliese. . Learning from the locals, and bringing home a cook-book, is the best holiday souvenir: Long after you have thrown that sombrero (toy-donkey, painted horse, mate-straw) out, you can still celebrate memories at home.

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Apart from experiencing individual ingredients I remember sharing meals – I recall how I felt when I served the first meal I ever remember making: spinach with potatoes and curry and tomato paste and lots of curry – aged around 8 – both my parents were in bed sick and I concocted something I thought would make them feel better, I remember how grateful they were, the power of food for healing and I still remember the taste of that dish concocted of left-overs.

Beyond discovering new foods, I most enjoy, planning a meal for friends, remembering their likes and dislikes, thinking about that perfect dish that will make them happy and surprise them, to let them discover something new.

Too often, I think, food is classified as good or bad, reduced kcal counts, sugar content, “good fats” and “bad fats”, brain-healthy, heart-healthy etc. when meals, I am convinced, should really be about sharing love, emotion, experiences and pleasure. Dinners, are about spending time with friends, and preparing for them, about creating memories and showing you care. I know which of my friends hates anchovies, who loves chocolate, who dislikes olives and what types of wines they like and I will plan my meals for them to reflect that, because doing so makes me happy. The meal itself doesn’t need to be overly complex, you don’t need to slave away in your kitchen, you just need some food, something to drink and time.

In cooking I like every aspect of the process from selecting, to buying. cooking to serving: I will unashamedly peruse the wares at a farmer’s market, walking round all the stands first to see what looks freshest… and sometimes, noting this, the farmer will open a box behind the counter and offer me the perfect vegetable – making me feel a conspiratorial bond between expert producer and food-loving customer. Similarly I’ll happily spend an hour discussing cheese with the cheese monger (to the frustration of anyone in the queue behind me).

Once I have great ingredients I like to experiment. There are so many limits on daily life that the kitchen is one of the areas where you can be creative.

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When Margot invited me to be a part of The Dinner Party Collective, I was honoured, a teensy bit apprehensive but also, mostly, extremely excited to create global menus with other bloggers, whose blogs have inspired me in the past.

Dinner parties are like a large boulder strategically placed in a furiously raging river, a stepping-stone to the calm of the other side, or if the river is wide and the path treacherous, maybe just a welcome spot where you can sit and rest, while you map the path ahead. At their best, they offer an oasis of calm, respite from the furies of the day and stay in your memory as a stolen, golden moment, where you were able to be all that you are, celebrating your life journey with your loved ones. Beyond that, a truly great dinner party has the power to fortify you spiritually for the journey ahead.

If you doubt me, I challenge you to get some food in, invite your closest most loved friends over, prepare a simple meal with love, and then sit and talk (obviously with the television switched off..)

Please join us on our TDPC journey, hopefully you will be inspired to spend time in your kitchen, to have friends over, to contemplate cooking from scratch, to enjoy the sensual pleasures of selecting fruits and vegetables and to celebrate the long-lost art of the dinner party with us!
Bien-venue and Bon appetit!

Poli (Polianthus)

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40 thoughts on “Introducing TDPC – Poli

  1. polianthus

    Reblogged this on polianthus and commented:

    Being part of an international community of bloggers is so much fun – it’s inspiring, we exchange ideas, discover new ingredients and spend a lot of time emailing each other….This is the introduction I wrote for the The dinner party collective, there are some bits and pieces of information in there and my story of my love of food as well, so I thought I’d share it on my own blog as well

    • polianthus

      Linda, thank you so much for your kind words, and thanks for reading the lengthy introduction, when I started thinking about the various food experiences I found it hard to stop! Have a great weekend

  2. talkavino

    Very nice intro, Poli – lots and lots of passion! All I can say is that “you have traveled…” – very impressive. Cheers!

    • polianthus

      Antoli, thanks so much, you can never get enough travel or food – although now that the airports are more and more like cattle farms I find my capacity to manage the travel part waning – luckily there are wonderful places in Europe I haven’t been to yet like Normandy and Burgundy and Bandol (:) – and I can get there without flying!

  3. Gather and Graze

    So beautifully written Poli! I feel that travel and food go hand in hand… they really can enhance one another infinitely, if you’re adventurous, curious and brave enough to allow them to do so. Look forward to hearing your tales of food and fun in Cyprus!
    Thanks once again for being a part of TDPC, I’m so very grateful! M.xx

    • polianthus

      Dear Margot – thank you very much – I agree – being adventurous is part of it – I remember in Cairo joining in a wedding celebration in the poorer parts of the city (where Egyptians later told me we’d been mad to go, but we didn’t know) – or being told I was a good girl in Cairo, because I took pains to cover up from ankle to wrist, despite the heat, and being invited home with a girl for dinner, her mum sitting on the floor making the food. So I guess the recipe for interesting food discoveries is curious and brave and also I guess trusting. There is so much to experience beyond the hotel complexes of this world! Thanks again for inviting me to be part of TDPC! Poli

    • polianthus

      Thank you very much Suzanne – the intro just kept getting longer…….the amount of eating I have done in my life the mind boggles! Dinner one day would be wonderful and I suspect as the world gets smaller and we all travel one day our schedules will coincide – I’d love that too.

  4. Elaine @ foodbod

    What a great intro, I loved reading it and learning more about you, Poli. You made me remember childhood food experiences and my influences. I look forward to seeing what you create xx

    • polianthus

      Hi there Elaine – were you a victim of school dinners too then? I cannot imagine you rolling spam around mushy peas and potato mash in the hope that because it’s aesthetically more pleasing it will taste better – I imagine you just refused, quite rightly, to eat that kind of thing! But then, perhaps, your food preferences grew on a foundation of “iffy” school meals. I am so glad my memories triggered some of yours, couldn’t hope for a better compliment, thank you.

      • Elaine @ foodbod

        Actually, you reminded me of the family holidays that we had when I was a child and it took me back to eating mini crabs in a restaurant in France. I was very lucky to have the kind of parents who introduced us to lots of different foods as children, as well as suffering a couple of years of school dinners, all of which creates memories, good and bad, and enables you to be able to form tastes and choices based on having tried it all 🙂

        • polianthus

          much better memories than only spam rolls, agree, lucky you to have eaten mini crabs in french restaurants and very fortunate to have parents who open mindedly introduced you to the joy of food in all it’s variations!

                  • Elaine @ foodbod

                    He eats so many more things now and has experienced so many more flavours and aromas, and places, and he loves it all. It’s just not what his childhood was about – we literally had completely opposite upbringings in so many ways x

                    • polianthus

                      I was tempted to ask you about whether you’d been able to influence beyond your beautiful husband, but decided not to ask 🙂 – I see my intuition was correct..There is some wonderful food in the UK and then there is the other boiled to death and very much processed stuff and margarine – left overs from the war-time cooking apparently (according to the website I recently consulted, but who knows)

                    • polianthus

                      yes – luckily the apple rolled in this case 🙂 – for some people eating what they have eaten all their lives is comforting, for me it would be restrictive, but then I branched out very very early on to try new things – also depends on a sense of adventure and the willingness to believe that other countries also have interesting food to offer

                    • Elaine @ foodbod

                      I completely agree 🙂 funnily enough, she travels extensively, there’s very few countries she hasn’t visited, but she won’t eat the local food! Such a shame, she’s missing so much.
                      But hey, it takes all sorts to make a world…be boring if we were all the same…;)

                    • polianthus

                      …how funny – that explains why you can get sunday roast in cyprus, and yorkshire pudding in portugal….funny old world isn’t it – it does take all sorts true, but the more open-minded generally the better – am I being terribly judgemental? Probably yes eh?

                    • Elaine @ foodbod

                      Probably, but who cares?? I agree! I used to be amazed that when I lived in Dubai, people still cooked a Sunday roast every week – Sunday isn’t even a weekend day over there, and in that heat???

                    • polianthus

                      Good point thank you! wow – really,e every sunday, I guess it’s a question of comfort food 🙂 – and the conviction that the sun won’t go down on the empire as long as there is a sunday roast on the table – no insult intended by the way – I guess that is why people drag foods from home to their new lives, I admittedly import Ethiopian spices from the US, and herbs from the Middle east and stuff from England I cannot get here (ginger nuts) but in true sense of the word I am a poly-cultural omnivore..better hit that gym eh?

  5. Chica Andaluza

    What a great post – most of my memories are food/event realted too! What an interestign and well travelled life you have lived so far. Looking forward to your recipes.

    • polianthus

      Hola! I didn’t mention a wonderful memory of Salmorejo – eaten in Spains so-called frying pan during a long and very hot drive – I guess the food/memory aspect is what brings us all to each others food blogs – as I cannot travel as much anymore (and the airports strike fear into the heart of any sane person) – I do my food traveling by blog now – which works really well 🙂 thanks for reading and happy Sunday, Poli

      • Chica Andaluza

        Salmorejo is perfect for the summer when the tomatoes taste of sunshine! It’s my favourite of the cold soups and holds happy memories for me too 🙂 Agree with what you say about travelling by blog!

  6. ladyredspecs

    So eloquently written Poli! I’d love to sit beside you at the dining table and engage in conversation about food and memory. My place names and the food I ate may differ, but the sentiment is the same. I look forward to the food you prepare for the virtual dinner party

    • polianthus

      Thank you dear Sandra, I am still in awe of your quail de-boning exercise, I’d love to have dinner with you one day, where you cook the quail 🙂 – and I’d love to hear your place names and food memories too, one of the best ways of expanding ones knowledge of the world, next to reading serious books of course. Happy Sunday to you, my dear, Poli

  7. Anne Wheaton

    Very much looking forward to your recipes! It’s great to share your memories – nodding in agreement or thinking wow, I must go there and try that. I totally agree about the holiday souvenir and love the way that cooking a dish we shared in a foreign place so often leads to long conversations about what we did there.

    • polianthus

      Hello Anne – cookbook/food holiday souvenirs are the best, from Cyprus I didn’t bring back a recipe booklet, a lot of the traditional food was very heavy, however, a bottle of wine and a big jar of sevilla marmalade from a lovely homecooks garden did come home with me as well as some baklava for the next door cat-sitting neighbours – still hoping I can entice you to come hiking in Switzerland one day! best to you Poli

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