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Coming Home - Cathy Armstrong

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In Coming Home, Cathy Armstrong shares her favourite recipes from a lifetime of cherished moments, alongside homespun craft projects and cherished memories.

Cathy's food philosophy is simple: to cook well, you need a generous heart. In Coming Home she pays tribute to the people that have inspired and shaped this belief – her much-loved nana, whose kitchen all too often resembled a 'wonderfully messy jam factory', the unsung heroes of the neighbourhood garden fete with their limitless donations of sponge cakes and knitted babies' bonnets, and her parents, who taught her that honest, heartfelt cooking is the key to a truly memorable meal.

Along the way, Cathy shares more than 80 recipes, from comforting breakfasts such as crumpets with orange blossom honey and whipped lavender butter, to special-occasion dishes such as baked lamb saddle with feta, beetroot and mint salad, and gravlax on zucchini pancakes. There are also handmade accessories to delight and inspire, including patchwork potholders, adorable egg cosies and a stylish shopping bag.

This warm-hearted, whimsical book celebrates the comfort to be found in coming home and the food that makes us glad to be there.

About the Author

Cathy Armstrong was first captivated by the magical powers of cooking when the neighbourhood gathered at the Brownie fundraising table to marvel at jelly cakes and honey rolls.

Cathy has now cooked professionally for 30 years, working with the likes of Sean Moran, Anders Ousback and Tim Pak Poy. She went on to co-create a multi award-winning restaurant, Boca, in the USA, before establishing the popular Green's Cafe in Sydney's Bondi. She now produces a range of preserves under the Princess Pantry label, which she sells in her store. Princess Pantry Ladies Guild, in the Blue Mountains, and distributes to selected delis around Australia.

A Cordial Welcome

Cooking to me is kindness. I think that struck me at an early age when Nana took me along to her street stalls. I was very taken with the courteous chitchat and all the old ladies falling over one another to be helpful. As they carefully arranged their jars of jam and cakes on the table outside the Community Hall and helped the eager customers clustered around the table to decide whether to buy chutney or pickles, the jam sponge or the pikelets, I could feel that generosity was present. They used what they had and shared what remained, calling by each other's doors with baskets filled with cut flowers, lemons, quinces or chokoes (some items more prized than others). And if the recipient happened to be out, a small kind note would be left with the delivery.

Sharing these humble harvests tied the little communities together in a sweet and personal way. It also enabled Nana and her friends to see each year in and out in harmony with the seasons and nature's gifts.

The snapshots of these times that I will share with you have been stored in my memory, while the recipes have been recorded over the years in notebooks, scrapbooks and diaries. I have brought them together to become the story of Coming Home.

Coming home. I like this phrase because it can mean literally returning to where you live, or just returning. The connotations are comfort and familiarity; nothing too grand. After all, I am a cook, not a chef, and this is reflected in my food. The motivation and the reward for my desire to cook is the same: to create belonging.

I come from a family of generous people. They are down to earth and quick to dismiss any praise, insisting they are ordinary. They do however make a huge effort to engage positively with life and share what they have. This is the kindness I speak of.

My father is a passionate gardener; he framed the various homes we grew up in with beautiful flowerbeds and splendid trees. He taught us the names of all the flowers that grew in our gardens, which we could cross-reference by studying the floral motifs that decorated our china teacups or were embroidered on our table linens or printed on our dresses.

Mum is passionate about cooking. We rarely visited restaurants; instead, we had dinner parties on Saturday nights with an evolving group of friends and acquaintances. Preparation for these events involved the entire day and all of the family's efforts to get the house in order. I loved these occasions because they were such a departure from the well-worn routine of our weeknights. And for Mum, they provided an opportunity to sail off into little culinary expeditions that everyday family cooking could not provide.

These experiences, combined with my visits to Nana's house, have given me some brilliantly coloured snapshots I call 'food moments', where the memory of the food eaten is secondary only to the feeling of belonging that came from sharing it. As an adult, this feeling is something I feel compelled to return to, and I do this by creating my own food moments.

After I left school, I was offered a place in the Dress Design Course at East Sydney College, but I quickly learned my plan to create children's clothes was not part of the syllabus. I drifted into the professional food world without even thinking about it. In hindsight, this was entirely logical and completely unsurprising.

Previously I had spent a summer picking peaches in an orchard in Dural, where the camaraderie that blossomed amongst the workers (and certainly not the owners) was compelling. So perhaps it was no great surprise that when a friend called to ask for assistance at a café in an antique market, I responded in the affirmative. This is where the next part of my food journey began, amongst the Spode teapots and Coalport dinner sets I longed to have, for sale in the cabinets that surrounded me.

With each simple job I secured in kitchens, I learnt a little more – enough to make me want to continue. Each place was invariably staffed by a mix of bright characters that I could not have invented, who became family and made the late nights of endless pot-scrubbing worthwhile.

In 1990 I travelled to the USA to live in Ohio, and I married a chef from Cincinnati. Together we created a multi-award-winning bistro-style restaurant, called Boca, in a dynamic neighbourhood close to the city. It was home to an eclectic mix of artists, university professors, young families and crack dealers, with the odd white supremacist thrown in. Surprisingly, there was an amazing sense of community, and small businesses like ours were encouraged as part of the push for revitalisation.

One of my good friends from Australia said to me before I left for the States, 'America is even more like the movies than you can imagine it to be.' For me, this was very true. I found myself living in one of Norman Rockwell's pictures – passing the little lemonade stand at the corner of our street, gathering on the verandah of a friend's open house and taking turns on the porch swing, watching young lovers dawdle the streets eating their melting ice-cream cones. It took me a little while but I fell in love with Ohio. I found the goodness I was so attracted to that came from kitchens and gardens. Summer was a joyous opportunity to grow and share tomatoes, corn, basil and baby lettuces, and bunches of flowers such as zinnias and celosia. We would often be presented with baskets of home-grown herbs and produce at Boca, which we then used on our menu. I remember one very busy Saturday night, a friend who had a farm on some land at Indian Hill (I loved the names of the places) stopped by with a crate of baby vegetables. We were so occupied with service that we didn't pay much attention. Later that night we walked out into the courtyard, which was lit by a huge silver moon.

During her brief visit, our farmer friend had filled every empty jar she could find with cockscomb in beautiful colours – palest sour green, bright crimson, golden yellow and faded orange. It was spectacular and there again was the kindness that kept telling me kitchens, food and gardens and all things related to them were the best places to be.

I am very grateful I have earned my living using my hands to work with nature's gifts. I feel cooking is a very honest way to earn your keep. I also believe there is a huge amount of wisdom to be learnt and shared from the kitchen, and the opportunities for deep friendship are abundant.

I sometimes catch myself feeling as if I have lived many lifetimes in sculleries (perhaps that's why I was so drawn to them). Pondering that feeling of familiarity is another coming home, or returning. And in the world of upstairs and downstairs, I will always maintain that downstairs is far more interesting.

I have now cooked professionally for just over thirty years. Like my parents, my preferred method of socialising is dinner parties. While I play around with new recipes, gaining inspiration from Mother Nature's garden, I realise I always return to the thing my parents were so good at: making a home that generates an essential sense of belonging by opening the doors wide for new friends and old to come and share food moments, however simple they may be.

This book celebrates the comfort to be found in coming home and the food that makes us glad to be there.

ISBN: 9781921382659
ISBN-10: 1921382651
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: 26th April 2012
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 25.4 x 21.59  x 1.91
Weight (kg): 0.95
Edition Number: 1