"In the good old days" and "when I was young" are frequent phrases in my vernacular.  I use them all too often because I feel that change has occurred rapidly enough to require reflection on my youth.  And I'm not even that old.

When I was little, my parents didn't have a lot of spare cash.  They had two young children, a dog and a rabbit, a mortgage and repayments on cars.  We never went without food or necessities but there also wasn't a lot left over for Mum and Dad to spend on treats.  I grew up "window-licking",  in the words of the French.  I had this great yearning for stuff.  To have more than I did already.  I stared into shop windows hoping that my parents would notice my longing for the Sky-Dancing doll or Furby or bicycle or... The list was endless.  I'd tell them that my friends were given $5 when they lost a tooth (that stingy tooth fairy only giving me 50c!).  It seemed absurd that the Tooth-Fairy Regulation Act (1901) would not have standardised values for teeth.  Perhaps it was calculated on some complex algorithm that my six-year-old mind did not understand.  I'd beg for a Happy Meal because I wanted the little toys (and because ALL of my friends had the whole collection, and it seemed decidedly unfair that I did not).  I wanted new clothes because   ...well just because I didn't have what the other girls did.  Mum would always tell me I had adequately full drawers.  In fact, back in HER day, she only had two dresses.  I had five, I should count myself lucky.  "But Muuuuummmmmm," I would say.

On Saturdays, though, Dad and I would have a little treat.  It didn't always happen but I always hoped it would.  After going grocery shopping for the whole family, Dad would take me to the food court.  He would always get a coffee (long black, one sugar) and a slice of Capricciosa.  I would always get a small lemonade and a Margherita.  The owner of the store sometimes gave us an extra slice of pizza to thank us for our custom.  Sometimes I would ask Dad if we could have a look at the other outlets for something a little different, so he'd dutifully take me on a tour.  I knew most of the options would be too expensive - my pizza and drink were only $1.50 but anything else would be at least $3.  We would always end up back at Melina's for our standard order.  I cherished each bite of the pizza.  I would savour the way the cheese stretched on and on as I tried to bite through it.  I loved how warm and fluffy the base was, despite being thin-crust.  I loved the rich tomato flavour that was complemented so well by the light dusting of oregano.  And then I washed the whole thing down with small sips of my lemonade (the only soft drink I could consume as a child).      The whole experience took in excess of a half-hour.  Dad and I would chat about school and work.  We would have the best conversations.  Sometimes I would be lost in wistful desire to play in the indoor playground with the other kids, yet I knew that this time with Dad was more special than that.  When the food was all gone, we'd take our trays back to the rubbish point (because we weren't slobs wanting other people to do it for us, Dad told me) and go home to surprise Mum with our grocery purchases.

I may have been upset from time to time that I couldn't get a Happy Meal for our post-shopping treat, but I am so thankful that my parents taught me the value of good things as a child.

I get upset now that catching up with a friend almost invariably involves buying coffee, food, a movie ticket, entrance to an entertainment venue or going shopping.  People baulk at my suggestions of "going for a walk" or "sitting in the sunshine".  I've taken to inviting people over to my house for home-cooked meals instead of going to some inexpensive, poor quality restaurant that we can both afford.  I know that I can cook us both a scrumptious, healthy dinner for the same price as I would spend at a dodgy restaurant.  And I know I won't be hurried away from my table.  My housemate tells me our cooking is so good that we should start charging our guests.  I tell him that's not the point of entertaining.  At its core, spending time with friends is about enjoying each other's company, about reminiscing, planning for the future and living in the moment.  It's about valuing each other.  Last time I checked, I couldn't put a price on their company.

It frustrates me that I can go to five lunch or coffee dates with friends in a week, spending a small fortune on food that I don't really need or want.  I could happily make a packed lunch (beans, rice and diced tomatoes are in equal position with pumpkin soup at the moment) for which my body and bank account would thank me.  Even more importantly, this process of going out for a quick bite devalues the entire restaurant process for me.

I moved interstate at the start of the year and my parents came up to visit this winter break.  They, having saved for the trip, took me to some of the most wonderful restaurants during their visit.  I had forgotten what it was like to experience a true eating indulgence.  We sat down at Caffe Sicilia, in perfect view of the pastry chef preparing the evening's desserts.  We could see the delicacies at the tables of other patrons, beautifully arranged and steaming in their freshness.  The wait staff all wore suits.  They were incredibly attentive to our thirst, constantly re-filling the water glasses.  They never forgot us.  We received excellent advice on our menu queries that came with the lilt of an Italian accent.  And then, the food arrived.  It smelled delicious.  It steamed.  It looked beautiful, nestled in its bowl.  The seafood was plentiful and fresh.  It was so delicious that conversation completely halted as we all devoured our meals.  We tried to eat slowly to savour the taste.  I looked up about halfway through my meal to see two tiny patrons asking the pastry chef what he was doing.  They ran back to their parents, giggling at their self-confidence.  The restaurant was filled with joy and good food.  It shocked me that I could have this amazing food re-awakening for only slightly more than I'd spend on dinner with a friend.  And I wondered why so little credence is given to this sort of experience amongst my friends. 

I want my future eatings-out to be special.  I want them to be a true indulgence.  The only way that can happen is if I eat out less and make my own stuff more.  This is especially true when most food purchased out is less delicious than that which I can make at home.  Certainly, there are times when I won't have time to do enough grocery shopping or when I accidently leave my soup in the fridge before 12 hours away from home.  There are times when purchasing my lunch becomes almost unavoidable.  I can, however, minimize the need for this fast-food consumption.  Nights out for beautiful meals are less of a financial burden if they are the only excess.  I want to experience true indulgence, which can only happen if there are fewer treats.

Once upon a time, eating out, eating dessert and having smoked salmon (oh my goodness, smoked salmon, how I do love you) were special things.  Something I would hopefully request permission to consume from my mother, half-expecting a no.  It has now become all to easy to have my cake and eat it too.  Literally.  Dessert is a norm, rather than an exception.

I want to go back to the good old days of half an hour with one beautiful slice of Margherita.

This is just one of my parents' life lessons.


Popular Posts