She’s wonderful and wise. She’s Zoe Bowman.
Describe your dish
It’s Sunday dinner—quail marinated in mushroom soy, honey and Shaoxing wine with fluffy rice and veg from the garden. The vegetables were tiny fennel, diced fine and cooked in olive oil with blanched asparagus, broad beans, parsnips and chicory that were harvested that day thrown in. Bitter greens like chicory are absolutely my favourite thing to eat in the whole world.
How does your dish portray your relationship with food?
I like to try new things—I love eating quail, but this is the first time I’ve cooked it. I read a couple of my too-many cookbooks (using the very helpful Eat Your Books) and ended up using a marinade from a Vietnamese book by Ghille Basan. I really wanted to do an Ottolenghi one, but I didn’t fancy learning how to bone quail as I had to clear out a bed in the garden for the tomatoes to go in next week. If it wasn’t such a busy time in the garden, that might be something I’d really enjoy doing on a Sunday afternoon. I would be really bad at it, though, I’m not at all a good butcher.
The Canberra folklore is that tomatoes can’t go in until after the Melbourne cup—on average we have five or six frosts during October. So to prepare I put the stakes in and planted the companion plants on Sunday afternoon, which mean the chicory and parsnips had to come out. The parsnips were tiny, about the size of a pinky finger. They’re very slow growing and I will plant them in a better spot next time. They’re an heirloom variety that my friend Naomi collected from her garden for me. While I was doing the gardening, our four year old Jethro was hanging out on the trampoline next to the garden bed asking me one million questions.
Because I’d spent so long in the garden dinner was very late. The children (Jethro and Sage, who has just turned nine) had an early dinner of our asparagus, toasted sourdough and Tamminaise because they were starving.
My quail in the photo is missing a leg because Jethro wanted to try some when they were ready. Dessert was ruby grapefruit, lemon and passionfruit iceblocks. A new book on Mexican iceblocks (Paletas) arrived last week and I’m in love with it so we had watermelon ones on Saturday and these ones the next day—the flavour was determined by cleaning out the fruit bowl. The iceblock mould I found at the op shop makes 6 75 ml (1/4 cup) iceblocks which is the perfect size for a little bit of sweetness.
What inspired your food behaviour?
I don’t know where it came from. Whenever my father cooked when I was a child we got Deb instant mashed potatoes and both my parents think frozen vegetables are awesome. My parents were the first generation in their families to go to university and the first to eat a mostly industrially-produced diet.
I started cooking in my early teens, but irregularly. The big change for me came with motherhood. I was out of the workforce for several years, and worked part-time for more. I started thinking more about food because I was putting food on the table three times a day (plus snacks). At a time when I had no time for myself in the ways I’d known before, cooking became a way for me to channel my energy. I promise that in real life I am less wanky than that last sentence sounds.
What do you wish for the future of food?
There are so many unhappinesses in the world. Feeling skilful is amazing, being resourceful is satisfying, and the pleasure of eating beautiful food together with friends and family is, to me, sublime. It is my greatest joy.
I want urban people to understand why it’s a good idea to develop the skilfulness and resourcefulness that make eating excellent food everyday manageable. To me, every suburban veggie garden is a victory garden triumphing over Coles and Woolworths.
I want people to be sharing with the children in their lives, teaching them that growing food is fascinating and the art of the table is a delight, and that if you eat quail there are many little tiny bones and you must be careful to find them all and spit them out and put them in the cemetery.
The “cemetery” is the Brazilian way to refer to a shared bowl in the centre of the table used for discarded bones. I was an exchange student in Brazil approximately 100 years ago, but I did not learn this expression until my parents travelled there to visit the family of a Brazilian boy who had stayed with them. So yeah, I want children to understand that the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to keep learning.
If you’d like to tell your food story, hit me up @flavourcrusader or email me at info AT flavourcrusader DOT com