A Family Dinner Favourite – Sausage Noodle Bake

Because there were often a lot of people to feed at our house – kids staying over, friends over for dinner – and because we’re weren’t exactly financially flush, Mum would serve these ‘Family Dinners’ which seemed to be made out of nothing. She could stretch 1/2 kilo of beef mince to feed 12, or two chicken breasts to feed 10 – it was an art of cooking that I am glad I watched and learnt.

One such Family Dinner favourite was Sausage Noodle Bake. This meal would often grace our table – especially when we had friends over. Mum would plonk the big casserole dish in the middle of the table and we could help ourselves. It was delicious. It was also a good way to get us kids to eat beans.

Sausage Noodle Bake

6 sausages

tin of tomato soup

tin of baked beans

a rasher or two of bacon

a packet of pasta (spirals preferably, but any old bits and pieces are fine)

some grated cheese

Cook the sausages (or use leftovers from last night’s bbq) and cut them up into bite size pieces. Cut up the bacon and cook that until just crispy. Cook the pasta.

Then mix everything together – pasta, baked beans, bacon, sausages and the tomato soup. Put all of this in a casserole dish – sprinkle the cheese over the top and pop in the oven for 10 minutes until golden brown.

You could serve with a salad – and this would make it go even further. But trust me – this could feed an army. It certainly fed all of us!

 

May I Leave the Table, Dinner was Nice?

After setting the table, we would all sit down to eat. Usually this started with a yell of ‘Dinner’s Ready!’ – from Mum or from whichever of us kids was helping with dinner. One of us always helped. Sometimes because we wanted to, sometimes because we were asked to – sometimes just because we wandered past the kitchen and Mum would say: Here, stir this or Here, taste this or Here, grate this.

The first to the table would pour the water for everyone. Never starting with themselves, always starting with Dad or Mum and then making their way back around the table – pouring their own glass last.

We would come to the table and sit down in our usual seats. I don’t really know why we had our own seats – but we did.

Mum would usually serve dinner in the kitchen – so The Helper would then bring the meals out. Again – a ritual here: it started with the youngest and finished with The Helper, and then Dad, and then Mum. Mum would bring her own meal out to the table.

We would all have our plates in front of us – taking a whiff of the yummy dinner wafting up to greet our faces. But we wouldn’t start – not yet. Not until Mum had come to sit down at the table.

We weren’t religious – so there wasn’t a prayer to start. But sometimes Mum would say “Cheers” and raise her glass of water. But mostly Dad would say: “Two, Four, Six, Eight – Bog in, Don’t Wait” and that would be our cue to start eating.

A few mouthfuls in, Mum would kick off the conversation – asking one of us kids: “What was the best and worst bit of your day today?” – and we would then take it in turns to tell a bit about our days. Mum and Dad would also tell us about their days.

This created a little safe space in which we might mention somewhere we needed a little help. We might say – “The worst part was eating my lunch by myself today” or we might say “The worst part was my maths test today”. And this would prompt some questions after dinner from Mum or Dad. Gentle questions of course, but because we had the safe environment to slightly open the door into our own day-to-day world – this allowed Mum and Dad to get a glimpse and they would peak inside and see if everything was ok.

Dinner would continue with a talk about what tomorrow would bring – what we had planned for the weekend.

At the end of the meal, we had to wait for everyone to finish everything on their plate. It was only in exceptional circumstances that you could leave the table before everyone else. I remember my little sister having to stay at the table once to eat all her peas. She was there for a very long time.

When we were very small, and in order to leave the table – we had to politely say: “May I leave the table, dinner was nice?” and Mum or Dad would say Yes.

This little phrase became infamous – due to my little sister (the one who wouldn’t her peas), being very brave one night. Perched on the end of her chair, she started to say the little rhyme: “May I leave the table, dinner was…” and before Mum or Dad had a chance to react she yelled out “YUCK!” and bolted from the table.

Let’s just say that Mum served peas with every meal for a while after that.

Setting the Table

Dinner was nearly always at the table. Breakfast rarely was, and lunch only occasionally. But dinner – almost always. The only exception was having hot chips on a rug on the floor if we arrived home late. Or if we had visitors, and the adults sat at the table and us kids were relegated to the rug on the floor. But even that rug had precision – it had etiquette. There were expectations about how to set the rug and the table.

I remember being very young and carrying plates to the table. I remember the moment Mum let me carry a glass to the table, and when she let me carry two – one in each hand. I must have only been about four.

We always started with a tablecloth or placemats of some sort. We also always had napkins – even if they were just squares of paper towel folded in half. We did have cloth napkins and napkin rings with our initials on too. But sometimes a slice of pizza works best with a paper towel napkin.

There would be cutlery – and not just a fork – the whole kit and caboodle: fork, knife and a spoon for pudding. Yes, we ate pudding most nights – generally fruit and custard, ice-cream or a baked dessert like apple crumble or rice pudding. Sometimes just bread and jam. Not a gigantic bowl – we’re talking a small spoon of ice cream and a couple of pieces of fruit.

There would be a jug of water and glasses.

And often a centre-piece – it might just be a candle, it might be a flower from outside in a little bit of water. It might just be an ornament. But we would have something in the middle of the table.

Lastly – condiments. Salt, pepper, tomato sauce, hot sauce, mustard, olive oil, vinegar.

These were The Basics.

This is how we sat down to eat dinner. As a family. Perhaps it sounds strange now because one of the saddest things some families have absent-mindedly misplaced – is the Family Dinner.

To set the table, is to set your intention. To set your family a place to come together and share a meal – to break bread, to talk and listen. To set the table is one ritual I am glad Mum instilled in all of us.

Does it still sound formal? It wasn’t. It was normal.

Ironing

You really must do the ironing. And you must tidy the linen press. Fold the towels this way, so that the fold is on the visible side. It’s neater that way. If you’ve got some, pop some lavender in there. Smile – you’ve done a good job.

Mum ironed all our clothes, table linens and doilies. She even ironed tea towels and dish cloths.

When my father left, and money was tight – this is how Mum earned some extra cash. It seems not everyone loved ironing as much as my Mum.

She ironed by the hour, not by the basket. A basket of shirts is faster than a basket of fiddly baby outfits, she would say. Smart woman my Mum.

Stab him, Strangle him, Push him off the Cliff OR A Lesson in Knitting

Mum made most of our clothes when we were younger. I think originally because it was cheaper, more economical – but also because it was the thing to do back then. Now – it is kitsch to make your own clothes. Not neccesity anymore, sadly.

She would also knit us jumpers and things. I mainly remember her knitting for babies though – and I vaguely remember her attempting some socks for Dad. I never did see the finished product though, so I’m not sure what happened there. Did she finish them? Did Dad not like them? Or did she not make it to the end?

When I was about 8 or 9, we had been doing ‘french knitting’ at school – you know, where you have the toilet roll cardboard tube with paddle pop sticks around the top and you ‘knit’ great long columns of wool. At the same time, Mum was knitting something too. Her needles clicking away on the couch. I remember sitting next to her with my ‘knitting’ and wanting to be like her.

She offered to teach me her knitting. I jumped at the chance to learn grown-up knitting.

She got some needles and some wool, cast on a few stitches and worked a few rows for me. And then the lesson began.

“This is how my Mum taught me. First – you stab him.” She put the needle through the first loop. “Then you strangle him.” She wrapped the wool around her needle. “Then you push him off the cliff.” And she moved the loop off the needle – having just knitted one stitch.

I still now mouth these words while knitting: stab him, strangle him, push him off the cliff; stab him, strangle him, push him off the cliff. It has a nice rhythm to it, don’t you think?

Mum wasn’t always conventional in her lessons. Bless her.

Sticks and Stones

We all know the saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

When I was 5, and had just started school – I was being teased by the kids at school. I came home crying to Mum. She told me this saying and sent me to school the next day with these words as my protection.

At lunch, when the kids teased me, I shouted these words at their faces.

For a moment, there was shock – then laughter.

Then – they walked away.

Aha! I had done it! Those words really did protect me. I wasn’t teased again for a long time, and by then I had made some friends who could stand by side and protect me.

Of course, it’s not really about those particular words. It is just the need to stand up to those who threaten you – and to defend yourself by declaring yourself as present. I am here, and I will be heard.

When You Think You Can’t Open A Jar Yourself

You can.

Run it under the hot tap for a minute. Put a rubber band around the lid. Whack it a few times with a knife around the edge and break the seal.

But it is always a good thing to occasionally ask a man to help, as Mum would tell us.

I needed to do this the other night – I was flying home from a work trip interstate and asked for a wine from the drink trolley. I then struggled to open the damn thing. So I had to, reluctantly, ask the man next to me to open it for me. He beamed, and I think he felt a little needed at that point.

Maybe Mum is right. We really do need to occasionally ask a man to help. My experience on the plane also explains why the next line of this lesson was always: ‘it makes them feel better, love’.