This week my Facebook feed has been overflowing up with pictures from my first time parent friends as their kids take the first step away from the nest and embark on the great adventure of life.
This is me aged 5 ½ on my very first day at school in 1983 (you do the math) styled by my Mum. It also happened to be my Dad’s first day at school too – as the new Principal of the primary school I was now attending.
I don’t remember my very first day, but Mum says I was excited to be going to ‘big school’. She still feels bad for sending me off in this uniform above which was second hand rather than new – the result of my family moving from country NSW to Newcastle the week before and my parents being unable to get to the uniform shop in time for the start of the new school year.
I do remember I loved the learn-to-write work books, scratch-and-sniff stickers (all the rage in the 80s) and the pride in winning a gold star for my work which was the ultimate prize for a 5 year old. Even back then my competitive streak was already evident in the race to beat all the other little girls in the class to the dress up box for the coveted pink ballerina tutu. I had a thoroughly thought out strategy (just get there first!) so really, they had no chance.
I also remember that I was not a fan of my very first teacher. He seemed to be a rather odd choice for leading a Kindergarten class. Rather than a dreamy Miss Honey like in Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’, my teacher was a cranky, middle-aged man armed with thick rimmed glasses and a Magnum PI moustache. One of his most unpleasant habits was to poke the class kids in the back with his finger if you were doing something that he found annoying. Given we were five years old, of course this happened quite often. I’m not sure he would not get away with that these days.
1983 was the year Princess Di and Prince Charles visited Australia. For one of my very first school excursions, we travelled to Sydney for the occasion and I remember standing in a grassy stadium while the famous couple whizzed past for a quick royal wave.
That same year I enjoyed some quality pop culture too. I listened to Michael Jackson’s new hit ‘Thriller’ on the radio and got acquainted with Mr T and the ‘A’ Team on television after Mum & Dad had fallen asleep in the TV room.
Sometime later, school became an entirely family affair when my Mum became the school librarian and my younger brother started school. Lunch money flowed on tap simply by visiting the teacher’s lounge. Back then, a whopping $2.00 bought a sausage roll, a chocolate milk and a packet Ovaltine’s – good times. However the older I got, the more evidently uncool it was to have my parents in charge and there was no escape until high school.
Throughout my school years beef chow mein (also known as chop suey) played a starring role at the dinner table. Having spoken to many other friends who grew up in the ‘80s, most seem to remember some version of this dish being served by their parents as well.
In the early 1980s Australia had just begun to welcome Asian immigrants to its shores and this beef chow mein recipe seems to be representative of the Australian take on Asian food at the time. This version seems to have emerged in the late 70s sometime when heavy, stodgy, syrupy sweet food was the dish d’jour. I’m sure Keen’s curry powder would’ve been a completely acceptable addition to the local version of Chinese though I highly doubt this ingredient was flying off the shelves anywhere in Asia.
Despite having developed a more sophisticated and adventurous palate long since my 5 year old self, I still keep returning to this comforting concoction of spicy sweet mince and cabbage time and time again – it reminds me of my childhood years. There’s something magical that happens when keens curry powder comes together with powdered chicken noodle soup and cabbage – trust me. My older brother now makes it for his kids and they love it too.
Below is my parent’s original recipe for ‘easy chow mein’ that came from a mother’s group cookbook in the late 1970s. For my Australian readers 1 pound of mince is approximately 450g and you should use 250g of green beans too. Once cooked, leave the leftovers to ‘marinate’ in the fridge over night – it tastes even better the next day like a fine bolognaise sauce – 70s style.
Put it in your lunchbox today! xo