Standing in the pulsing mosh pit of ravenous scavengers, I clung onto my emerald green cooler bag for dear life. My tiny body was lurching in all directions, a helpless sea cucumber lolling around the ocean floor. We all gushed toward the open exit, met from the other direction by a cool breeze. Rays of sunlight pinched our cheeks with the warmth of a doting grandparent. Outside was held the promise of mindless bliss and a fleeting whiff of freedom. But the minutes were ticking away and before long the next bell would ring to signal the start of our afternoon lessons. Siting down in an already established circle of my classmates, I opened my cooler bag. Removing the ice pack diligently placed on top, I slid out my bright yellow lunchbox. It was brand new at the start of term, and I liked how everything had its place. My frozen water bottle was in the middle, snacks compartmentalised into little and big lunch suggestions. A note fluttered out from mum; Have the best day, I love you. I tucked it back under my sandwich. My morning snacks were usually a sad state of affairs, predominantly made up of apple and carrot sticks, maybe some grapes and a slice of cheese. The highlight would usually be 10 crackers - exactly. I would bargain hard with my mum every morning as I watched the meticulous accountant in her count them out, but she never once budged, or miscalculated. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried trading carrot sticks for a brownie in the schoolyard, but you may as well be asking for a car. So when I peered into the depths of my lunchbox that day I was surprised to find a huge raspberry, banana and white chocolate muffin practically winking back. My mouth fell open. Why was my own mum trying to poison me? But it looked so good. I gave it a sniff and figured I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. I got up to go and flaunt it around the sandpit. But in my haste I dropped it on its head. Tearing off the bottom bit, I shoved it in my mouth before putting the rest into my lunch box. Later in the afternoon I sat up at the bench chatting to mum while she chopped veggies for that night’s ratatouille. While it was simmering, she opened my school bag and went to empty my lunchbox. Oh, why didn’t you eat all your muf….? She asked as she picked it up and took a bite. The yelling, spluttering and carrying on that followed, you’d think she’d eaten her own eyeballs by accident.
Needless to say I opened my lunchbox the following day to a combination of celery sticks and an egg salad sandwich. It was some kind of grainy monstrosity. My mum would never make us white bread sandwiches because she said it was evil – both racist and heartbreaking. It seemed the sandy muffin debacle had so deeply vexed her she’d decided to get me back with my two least favourite lunch items. Honestly, an egg sandwich generally smells like a fart after sitting in your lunchbox all day and the all school Red Rover game happening on the top field was far more appealing. To hell with your egg sandwich mum, I thought, and flippantly chucked it in the bin. A few minutes later when I was headed to the bathroom, my principle intersected my mission. Ali, did you eat your lunch today. How did he know? Yes, I said. What did you have? He asked. A vegemite sandwich, I said. On white bread. Oh god. He knew my mum well, and he knew she would never pack me such a nutritionally redundant lunch option. Okay, he said and sauntered off. I was a nervous wreck on the way home. As soon as I got off the bus, I professed everything to my mum, who told me not to tell lies – obviously. She arranged a causal confessional with my principle on the premise that Ali has something she would like to tell you.
recently went to a cookbook launch in the East Village with my friend Celia, who was friends with the author Julia. She told me there would be free food, so I’d left work eagerly and arrived a little early. Hey, I’m here, I jabbered into my phone. Whoa, you’re early. That’s awesome. I’m in the park across the road testing out my new vape. I’m near the kids playing, she said. We passed the vape back and forth, discussing our lacklustre thoughts on religion and watching eight-year-olds attempt a slam dunk. After eight years you’d think they’d be a little better. I don’t know, I said. I mean, I’m totally agnostic, but I took these free rosary beads from a preachy monk outside the subway just now. I handed her the sky blue plastic string of jewels. Better to be safe than sorry I figure. They kinda look like candy, Celia said. I fucking wish they were candy, let’s eat. We giggled our way past the melting trees into the little boutique bar on Chrystie. The lobby was literally fifty shades of pink. Each plumbing pipe had been painted a slightly varied hue of fuchsia in attempt to disguise what were essentially cylinders filled with poo. I feel like I’m in a fucking fallopian tube, I moaned. It’s too much, I can’t go in. We have to say hello, Celia said in a kind of monotone that meant the subject wasn’t open to discussion. After climbing probably like one millions stairs, we arrived in the eye of the storm. Celia shot me an apologetic look. Welcome to the womb, she said. The whole thing was a sensory overload. There were piles and piles of toast squares swaying treacherously over what appeared to be a buffet of condiments. What? I said. I don’t understand? Are we at a sandwich party? Toast, actually, Celia said. The cookbook is called ‘Toast’. Let’s get a champagne and have a time out on the couch in the corner. As we sat, totally bewildered, on the leather couches, an emaciated model/waitress came over with one of the books. Would you guys care to take a look at Julia’s book? She asked. I thought it was kind of her to at least make it sound like we had a choice. We flipped through the classy matte pages. It was essentially an expensive flipbook of condiments. Oh, salmon and cream cheese on sourdough, I cooed. That is positively revolutionary. How is everyone so fucking skinny? Celia asked. They probably heard toast and fasted for a month, I said. We should have fasted. We were being unnecessarily bitchy, but even the karmic dog poops that were destined for our shoes didn’t deter us. Oh my god dude, she said. Look over there! I followed her jabbing index finger to what was essentially a wee coloured mattress on the floor fashioned like a piece of toast. It was covered in felt likenesses of an array of sandwich toppings – lettuce, egg, tomato etc – with the idea being guests would hop in and take a photo with the toast. Why was there no line? Ok dude, we are hitting that toast buffet, taking a picture, and then I have to say hi to Julia, Celia said. Then can we go eat ramen please? I begged. We chose our desired sandwich fillers – Celia a plump tomato, me a crispy piece of bacon – and fell back in a fit of hysterics on the bread bed. I felt a shadow cross my face and all of a sudden Celia was prodding me hard in the ribs from behind the tomato she was wielding like a shield. I cocked my head and looked up like a little chipmunk, cheeks stuffed full of salmon and cream cheese. Great book Julia, I mumbled as a little drool escaped the corner of my mouth. Particularly love the salmon one. Celia made a noise next to me that sounded like she was trying to gargle Jell-O. I couldn’t help think back to my little vegemite smeared lie as I lay on the toast mattress under a sheet of fake bacon. Here I was, a grown woman, still lying about sandwiches. This time the bread may have been white, but I still felt bad about it.
*I solemnly swear this recipe is not stolen from Julia’s book.
- 1 bag baby carrots
- 1 brown onion, roughly chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- ¾ cup cubed feta cheese
- Juice of 1 lemon + extra to serve
- About ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro + extra to serve
- Greek yoghurt and chopped walnuts to serve
- Toasted rye bread (or pita bread), to serve
- Toss the baby carrots, onion and garlic in olive oil, salt and pepper, ginger, paprika and garam masala.
- Spread on a lined baking tray and roast in a low-medium oven for about 1 hour. Remove and allow to cool.
- In a food processor, combine carrot mix with feta cheese, lemon juice and cilantro until smooth.
- Spread generously on toasted rye bread before topping with Greek yoghurt and walnut pieces.
- Serve with extra lemon and cilantro.