I’M NOT A NEAT PERSON. I’m not particularly organised either. I carry around an everything book, where I put everything I might need at any one time; parking fines, recipes, to do lists, you name it. The thing weighs a ton. It’s falling apart at the seams because so much is jammed in there. Just looking at it makes me anxious. Really, it’s a metaphor for my life. As hectic as everything gets though, I make sure one thing is in control. My pantry. I’ll organise and re-organise it; colour code it, sort it into ‘ethnicity’, size, shape, genre – and I’ll sit for hours going through it all until my housemate discovers me sullenly eating a block of cooking chocolate at 1am, sitting on the kitchen floor, surrounded, with old foodstuffs.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m cleaning. Obviously.”
“Of course you are. What’s tonight’s neurosis?”
“I’m just putting them in order of when I got them, ok!”
She laughs, “It’s like High Fidelity.”
“It’s nothing like High Fidelity. Look, this is much more complex. I’ve organized everything into different life stages.” (In my head, John Cusack is saying, “What I really like about my new system is that it makes me more complicated than I am.”) I know it might be a sign that I might be stressed and that I feel like my life might be spiraling out of control, but I will never admit that to her.
In the first section, the one pushed furthest back, are all my packets of Mee Goreng, a packet of mac and cheese, (the blue box variety), Shake ‘Em Up pancake mix, and everything from when I first decided I could cook for myself. I was sixteen, still living at home with my parents and realising my rockabilly phase, a by-product of which was my very first boyfriend.
He was eighteen, though people thought him much older. This alone was enough to make me swoon – getting him to pick me up from school was just so scandalous. It was actually due to him being so hairy. A thick, black shag covered his arms, like carpet, and he wore a permanent five o-clock shadow. He’d also wear open Hawaiian shirts, with white singlets underneath, combing his hair up to look like Elvis. Actually, he kind of looked like Ace Ventura.
Me, I’d spend hours in front of the mirror every morning, trying to get my liquid eyeliner cat-eyes even. Then I’d ‘cook’. In a bizarre-o performance I would emulate a 50’s housewife, tottering around the kitchen wearing high-wasted skirts and kitten heels. My parents would hover in the background as I burnt batches of pancakes I’d made from a pre-mix powder. Going to hot-rod shows, or taking shopping trips into town, our end came in the white-good section
of Myer, when he hypothetically asked me to marry him.
“Not asking you, but if I did…”
“Hypothetically,” I said, “No.”
The second section is made up of slightly more substantial ingredients. Dusty packets of dried lentils and chickpeas, tinned tomatoes, canned tuna, stock cubes. This was my boho-hippy phase; I was constantly skint, I went travelling around Europe after finishing high-school, I may have worn a feather in my hair.
Passing through London, I dated an ex-chef. I never found out exactly how long his cooking career lasted, but it seemed to be long enough to give him some sort of authority in the kitchen. So, we’d sit around in these big fur coats, watching French new wave films – he lived in a warehouse that was literally freezing – and he’d cook. I thought he was beautiful. Thinking back, he was completely insane. At the time, I attributed his behavior to eccentricity. At some point he decided to go on a health kick, probably to hide how little cash he had to buy ingredients. I’d come home to yoghurt blended with broccoli or dhal made with just lentils, water and spices. The health kick went on, he got more neurotic and eventually he developed an aversion to stock. In his addled thinking, all stock became bad for the reasons that MSG is bad, synthetic, unnatural, chemical. When we broke up I may have gone a little nuts – powders, packets, liquids, boosters, gels. Those stock cubes have been in the cupboard for so long they’ve kind of melted out of their foil wrapper and crystallised into a hard, toffee like rock. Some rebel huh?
The biggest section is the middle one, the spoils of my own health kick. I was in my first year of an Arts degree. Of course I was a vegetarian. Cacao nibs, chia seeds, coconut oil, liquid iron, it goes on. I’d skulk around the kitchen while my housemates ate, tipping my sachets of liquid iron into my drinks. There was another boy. He was a musician – read unemployed. He told me he didn’t eat meat and, well, if he didn’t…
He’d buy bags of spinach leaves from the supermarket and eat them by the handful, trying to combat his anemia. I’d make smoothies by jamming every superfood I could into a blender and lacing it with Vital Greens for energy. Vital Greens, that nutrient powder distinct with the taste and colour of deep forest green. The result would be something that looked like green sludge and tasted mouth-searingly of foliage, with the gloopy, unctuous texture you’d get from too old tahini at the bottom of a jar.
I actually have my family to thank, for getting me out of this stage. My dad started leaving steaks on my verandah every Saturday on his way home from the market. I resisted for a while. Then the boy and I broke up. I drove
to my family home for comfort, met my mother at the door and hysterically, told her the news. “Thank God,” she said.
At the very front are a bottle of balsamic vinegar that’s been aged in oak for twenty years, a thimble sized container of smoked salt, a jar of chestnut honey, and a tiny cartridge of saffron strands. They’re all wax sealed.
He was quite a lot older than me, and I thought I had my life very together. My motto; you are as sophisticated as the things you buy. This is not true. I didn’t and I’m not. It ended.
Actually, my pantry is a lot like a graveyard where all my relationships have gone to die. Just like High Fidelity.