Steve Braunias on cooking for his teenage daughter.
The after-school snack is my favourite meal of the day. It may not be hers but it's something I take really seriously and scatter the bits and
pieces of my professional life around it to make sure I have the time to buy or make some sort of snack for when she gets home from school. The clock is ticking. It ticks ever later over the past eight years: hometime was approximately 3.05pm throughout primary school, 3.20pm at intermediate and now , at college, closer to 3.50pm. If she goes to university it may not be till midnight. Strange to think of a grown woman dragging herself through the door after a night of studying at the library and sitting down to maybe some kūmara chips, a chopped-up apple and a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon as prepared by an old fellow hovering in the background.
The after-school snack is being the best parent I can be, which may not be the same thing as parenting at its best. But it's my main contribution to her welfare and the object is to serve, to nurture and to provide certainty in a world filled with chaos and alarm. I have my anxious moments. Sometimes I worry. Now and then I lie awake at night afraid of how my life will expire over the next quite frightening decade. It occurs to me that the after-school snack provides more certainty in my world than hers but I think she appreciates it all the same.
The after-school snack and its function was first explained to me by her Aunt Shirley. I was asking about the whole deal of what it was like having a kid at school – she had two daughters then at primary - and she said that the after-school snack was vital. When kids came home from school, she said, it was like they had returned from a long and bloody war; the battlefields of the playground and the classroom were intense, raw, exhausting, and the after-school snack functioned as a kind of tranquiliser for savage beasts – very well, I'm massively distorting what she actually said. What she actually said was more along the lines that it was a good idea to put food in front of kids after a long day at school because they were often tired and hungry. My world of chaos and alarm imagined an exaggerated version and I began to see the after-school snack as a kind of morphine drip in a hospital tent. "Medic!", etc.
The after-school snack is a work in progress. For years there were regular servings of Chicken McNuggets and Chicken Tenders but then she turned vegetarian and after that there were regular servings of macaroni cheese, fish fingers, hard-boiled eggs and a Funky Monkey from Tank, but she recently turned vegan. It's a challenge. But it's an interesting challenge and I can always turn to Duncan Garner for advice now that he's making good of his election pledge to turn vegan for a year. Strange to think that a broadcaster so reviled by the liberal left might help to bring nourishment and wholesomeness to a bright-eyed innocent.
The after-school snack is a middle-class luxury. I've been reading Stan Walker's memoir, Impossible, where he remembers a childhood of such constant poverty that it was merely part of his daily routine to rifle through other kids' bags to steal their lunch. One time he dared to take out a bottle of milk from the fridge and drink it and he got a hiding because milk was a scarce commodity. Versions of want and going without are played out throughout New Zealand.
The after-school snack is my favourite part of the day. I always leave the front door open and I hear her footsteps on the stairs and there she is, home from the war, back in my life. We hug at the top of the stairs and she says, "What's on today's menu?" A plate of offerings du jour and a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon wait for her on the kitchen table. She sits down and digs in. I sit next to her and ask about her day. Food is togetherness, food is love.
Next week: Diana Wichtel