by Jeanette Purkis
Today I did something which would have been impossible for me just a few years ago. I got a taxi to an address I hadn’t been to before to spend an evening cooking and connecting with other women I had never met before. I attended the Canberra Cooking Circles ‘country cooking’ evening with twelve other women.
There were a number of reasons making the decision to attend this event tricky. The main one is my high level of insecurity in social settings. At the mere suggestions of a social gathering with unfamiliar people I am always transported back to my childhood when I was at a friend’s 11th birthday party. My mum had bought a slightly crappy gift for me to give (our family never had a lot of money when I was a kid and my mum is not much into material things anyway). I didn’t know what you were supposed to parties and all my clothes were nasty hand me downs form relatives who – judging form the style of the clothes I inherited from them – had lived in some unfashionable decade which favoured nylon and unpleasant shades of green. I wore a green check a-line skirt and yellow shirt to my friend’s birthday. All the other kids had jeans and t-shirts. I didn’t own a pair of jeans. At the party everyone avoided me. One girl asked if i was wearing my school uniform. I was so embarrassed I wanted to die.
Every time I attend a social gathering, that poor little outcast, nylon clad Jeanette is there, expecting everyone to be mean. My other issue with parties is that I don’t feel like a ‘real’ woman, I always think of those memes on social media where a cat is falling off something or looking goofy and the caption reads ‘I forgot how to cat’. I feel that is me but that I forgot how to ‘woman’.
Before I left for the event I tried on a bunch of outfits, not knowing whether to dress up or down or what. I settled on a geeky space kitty t-shirt from Treadless, worn Sheldon Cooper style with a long sleeved tee underneath. I wore casual stripy grey pants and some nice costume jewellery. I always wonder how other women always seem to know what the dress code is.
When I got to the host’s house a few other people were arriving. I had my winter coat and a wacky bright pink knitted scarf my mum made and gave me at the launch for my second book. Unfortunately my purple crystal earrings got caught in the scarf. While I was extricating the earring from the woollen scarf it broke. ‘Yep,’ I thought ‘I don’t know how to woman!’ Everyone else looked beautiful. I wondered if they were insecure as well, just less patently inept than me.
I met everyone and they all seemed lovely. It is Canberra so there were lots of shared connections between people. A friend I know from church was there and one woman had received an award at the same ceremony that I received my volunteer of the year award earlier this year (She got one for education and science for her work as a volunteer at Questacon.) She and I had some interesting discussions.
The whole idea around cooking circles is women connecting through cooking. I think this is a great thing. Food and cooking have a great power to bring people together. Tonight we were eating – and making – 1950s-inspired dishes from the Commonsense Cookbook. It was just wonderful because the food took me back to my teenage years in rural Victoria where 1950s country fare was still very popular. We had devilled eggs, ‘little boys’ and a dish made from mashed potato and devon held together with tooth picks (I must admit I didn’t sample that). The host had three generations of her family there, with her mum who was visiting form country NSW, and her daughter in attendance.
We all got organised into teams for making two desserts – bread and butter pudding and golden syrup dumplings. The main was a sweet curry with beef, pineapple and sultanas. The smell of this dish was incredibly evocative. I don’t think I have eaten a sweet curry since about 1987 and it took me right back to being a kid. I thought the country theme was great because many of us remembered eating such things in our youth. There were some younger women and women form cultural backgrounds which had not included the Commonsense Cookbook. These differences in experience were a opportunity for sharing thoughts and history.
I had some amazing conversations about a huge range of things. While I was self-conscious at the start of the evening, by the time I left I was happily talking to people. I realised that there was actually value for me being there for others too. By being there I offered others my perspective as they offered theirs. I liked to share my perspective,
For me the best ‘take away’ was knowing I could do this thing. I can go to a social event where I don’t know the people and not end up looking at my phone all evening or talking to the cat (not that there is anything wrong with those things but I prefer to socialise if I’m at a social event). Nobody was mean to me or asked if I was wearing my school (or work) uniform. In fact I got a couple of compliments on my space kitty T-shirt and two people wanted my business cards. I enjoyed cooking, eating and connecting, It was a lovely evening. I think it is quite likely that I shall attend another Coking Circles event.