It was the August school holidays and I was 12 years old. My mother told Em and I that in a few days the two of us were going on a plane to Christchurch to stay on our cousins sheep farm for the holidays. I didn’t hear anything after the word ‘plane’. It was all I could think about. I was so excited to be going on a plane.
Em and I would be flying, all by ourselves, as ‘unaccompanied minors’. It was too good to be true. I could hardly count the sleeps. When the day of the flight arrived, my mother told us we had to be clean, neat and tidy because going on a plane was a special treat. We were showered and shampooed and rinsed and conditioned and dressed and styled, all for our one-hour flight to Christchurch. And it wasn’t just us; everyone dressed up to travel as it was considered a very luxurious and special thing to do and walking on to a plane well dressed was a sign of respect; nobody turned up unshaven or untidy in singlet tops and thongs.
And flying back then was certainly not the Jetstar experience it is today. Budget airlines did not exist. Traveling by plane was considered very special and it was designed to be an experience. All the air hostesses (there were no stewards) were young and beautiful and single – you couldn’t be an air hostess if you married! They were all dressed in tailored uniforms with little hats just like the Pan Am girls featured in Leonardo Di Caprio’s, Catch Me If You Can.
When arriving on board you were treated like you were very special with the air hostesses lifting your hand luggage into the bulk head compartments for you, as opposed to a mad rush of jostling and pushing and shoving for a little opportunity to self-serve yourself to an already over-stuffed compartment.
Once in your seat you were handed a hot fresh towel that had been scented with something like 4711 to wipe over your face and hands. A cool, refreshing drink quickly followed and it was served in a glass, not a plastic container. Activity books with complimentary crayons were handed to children and there was an opportunity to join the airline’s membership club where they would send you a personalised greeting card on your birthday! And, if you were an unaccompanied minor the air hostesses made an extraordinary fuss of you and with a gentle hand on your shoulder, asked if you would like to come up to the cockpit to meet the pilot and his crew.
Security wasn’t tight; my father once walked on board with a rifle and the air hostess greeted him with a warm smile and asked, ‘Sir, can I assist you? Would you like me to store that up the front for you sir?’ And my father was very much obliged and handed the rifle to the smiling hostess who placed it in an unlocked cupboard. No one even asked if it was loaded with bullets and the helpful air hostess kindly handed the rifle back to my father upon landing.
On this flight to Christchurch we weren’t served a meal as the flight wasn’t long enough so we didn’t get to experience the complimentary culinary delights of economy cuisine. But, we were given nuts and biscuits and crackers and cheese and many many soft drinks poured into a glass. And it was all included in the ticket price, you didn’t have to bend down under the seat in front of you searching for your handbag that contains a wallet that appears to have gone astray.
And as the plane descended silver trays of complimentary boiled lollies would be passed around and I was told by the smiling air hostess who couldn’t do enough for me that I could take a few extra to fill my pockets. And fill them I did.
It was an experience so wonderful and exciting you didn’t want it to end and arriving at your destination was almost a disappointment. Em and I spent two weeks on the sheep farm and we have many wonderful memories of that holiday however, the time we spent on the NAC flights to and from Christchurch as unaccompanied minors was, for us, definitely the highlight.
I certainly don’t have the same sentiments towards flying these days and I know it’s not just because I’m older.
Okay, so there wasn’t a lot of food on the NAC Flight but on the sheep farm we were given a lot of lamb. Here’s a great use for diced lamb.
Massaman Lamb Curry with Sweet Potato:
Degree of Difficulty: 3/5
Cost: A lovely comforting meal that won’t break the budget
- 2 tbspns vegetable oil
- 500g (1 lb) lamb leg, diced
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large sweet potato, cut into bit-size dice
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 2 tbspns Massaman Curry Paste (sometimes I make my own, today I didn’t)
- 1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
- 2 tbspns palm sugar
- 2 tbspns fish sauce
- 1/4 cup tamarind water (I used 2 tbspns tamarind paste)
Heat oil in wok and sear the meat. Add onion and cook for about half a minute. Add enough water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the sweet potatoes and cover with a lid or foil and simmer until potato is partially cooked, about 5 minutes. Strain out meat and vegetables, reserving the broth.
Pour the thick coconut cream from the top of the milk into the wok, stir in curry paste and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in the sweet potato, meat and peanuts. Stir in reserved coconut milk, add sugar, fish sauce and tamarind water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. If necessary, stir in a quantity of the reserved broth to thin the sauce. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
This recipe is from Spirit House, Thai Cooking
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