There's a certain joy in looking back at our childhoods with rose-coloured glasses. It's one of my favourite things to do. No responsibilities, no mortgage, no mobile phone, no social media (I might be showing my age here). Everything just seemed so much easier.
Many parents want to see the fond memories of their own childhoods passed on to their children, but you can't just take something from another time and drop it unchanged into the modern day. Nostalgia is one thing, but we humans are a more advanced species now than we were even 20 or 30 years ago. We know more about health, medicine, science and just about anything else.
When I think about how I ate as a child, some of the foods we used to eat were less than ideal. I can recall birthday party tables full of soft drinks, potato chips, chocolate crackles, birthday cakes and lolly bags to take home. I probably ate more junk in an afternoon back then than my children would eat in an entire month these days.
I remember going to restaurants with my parents and siblings and all of us ordering "traffic lights", a tall glass layered with green cordial, orange juice and red cordial such that the colours didn't mix – a treat only made possible by the physics of serving barely diluted green cordial concentrate as the bottom layer, resulting in a drink with roughly double the amount of sugar than an ordinary fizzy drink.
Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not on a crusade to health-ify every meal your child eats. Not even close. Eating healthily is a good thing, but so is a bit of indulgence. Good food habits aren't taught around triple-choc birthday cakes, but those are often the centrepiece for a lot of good memories.
For every Saturday afternoon sugar rush we had as kids there was a hundred quiet family dinners where good food took centre stage, and where a relationship between food, family, health and culture laid a foundation for every meal I've eaten as an adult.
The older I get the more I understand that so much of who we are as adults is guided by the experiences we have around food as children. So, family dinners and special occasions are important, and so is minimum chips and potato fritters with your mates after school. And beetroot-filled burgers that dripped all over your shoes.
Our experiences and memories as children are what make us who we are, and our memories made over food are the strongest of them all. These recipes are all inspired by some of my fondest food memories but I've reinvented them for children – and adults – of today.
Today is World Children's Day and Adam Liaw is UNICEF Australia's national ambassador for nutrition.
Scallop ... or fritter? Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Sweet potato fritters with spicy chicken salt
Is it a potato scallop, or a potato cake? Sydney and Melbourne can fight about it all they like, but I grew up in Adelaide and we called them fritters. And that's exactly what they are.
4 golden sweet potatoes
1 bottle cold beer (330ml)
1 cup self raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1L vegetable oil, for deep frying
1 lime, cut into wedges, to serve
¼ cup light sour cream, to serve
Spicy chicken salt (makes extra)
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp chicken or vegetable stock powder
¾ tsp chilli powder, or to taste
½ tsp curry powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp turmeric
1. Scrub the sweet potatoes but do not peel them. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until a small, sharp knife can be inserted into a potato and withdrawn easily. Remove the sweet potatoes from the water and allow to cool until cool enough to handle. Cut into 1cm slices and remove the peel from the slices (it should come away easily).
2. For the spicy chicken salt, combine all the ingredients in a mortar and grind the mixture to a uniform powder. For the beer batter combine the cold beer and flour and whisk just until combined. A few lumps is completely fine.
3. Heat your oil to 180C. Dust the potato slices with a little flour, then dip them into the batter. Fry for about 4 minutes until the batter is golden brown. Season with the spicy chicken salt (reserving the leftover salt in an airtight container) and serve with lime wedges and sour cream.
Discover joy in the layers of the Aussie burger with the lot. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Aussie burger with the lot
The challenge with any jam-packed Aussie burger is to keep it compact enough to allow it to be eaten without having all the fillings drop out. The secret to success is to have everything very thin, from making thin patties to halving the pineapple rings horizontally. The joy is in the layers.
400g plant-based mince, or cheap beef mince
salt and pepper, to season
1 tbsp olive oil
4 slices tasty cheese
4 thick rashers of bacon, halved
2 slices tinned pineapple
1 whole cooked small beetroot, sliced, or 4 slices tinned beetroot
1½ cups shredded iceberg lettuce
1 avocado, sliced
½ small red onion, thinly sliced into rings
1 roma tomato, thinly sliced into rounds
¼ cup barbecue sauce, to serve
¼ cup mayonnaise, to serve
1. Divide the mince into four equal portions, season with the salt and pepper and roll them into balls without pressing them together too much. Squash the balls and mould them into four thin patties about 1cm in diameter larger your burger buns (they will shrink as they cook). Chill the patties in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.
2. Slice the pineapple in half horizontally to create thin rings. Place the pineapple and beetroot onto a piece of absorbent paper to remove excess moisture.
3. Heat a large frying pan or hotplate over medium heat and add the olive oil. Fry the pineapple rings for a minute on each side until browned, then remove from the pan. Add the bacon and fry until cooked and browned, remove it from the pan, then add the patties and fry for about 3 minutes on one side, flip them over and add a slice of cheese to the top. Cook for a further 2 minutes until the patty is cooked through and the cheese melted. Cut the buns in half and place them, cut-side down, directly onto the frying pan or hotplate for about 2 minutes until toasted. Fry the eggs over low-medium heat for about 4 minutes until the white of the egg is set, but the yolk still runny.
4. Spread a little mayonnaise onto the base of the bun. Add the lettuce, then place the cheese-covered patty on top. Add the bacon, pineapple, beetroot, tomato and egg, then add your barbecue sauce and secure the top of the bun with a skewer. Serve immediately.
Passionfruit pops are simple to make. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Passionfruit had a golden age when I was a child. There were passionfruit soft drinks, there was barely a pavlova eaten that didn't have it covering the top, and yes – there was even a certain fruit-flavoured sparkling wine beverage in the mix when we got a little older, too.
2 x 170g cans passionfruit pulp in syrup
350ml coconut water
*Note: you will need 8 icy pole freezer moulds
1. Combine the entire contents of the cans of passionfruit pulp with the coconut water and mix well. Strain through a sieve to remove the seeds (but push through any pulp). Divide the mixture between the compartments of icy pole moulds, but do not fill completely to the top. Add a few passionfruit seeds to each compartment, then add wooden sticks and freeze for at least 6 hours.
Gaytime tiramisu offers a twist on a classic that should make it more appealing to children. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
It's testament to tiramisu's evergreen popularity that savoiardi biscuits and mascarpone can be found in just about every supermarket in the country. The great pity however, is that the coffee and fortified wine included often rules it out-of-bounds for children. This Golden Gaytime tiramisu isn't just kid-friendly, it might end up being their best-friend forever.
3 tbsp Milo, or cocoa, plus extra to serve
500ml thickened cream
½ cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
500g sponge finger biscuits (savoiardi)
12 Malt'O'Milk biscuits (about ⅓ of a packet), crushed, or ¼ cup Golden Gaytime crumbs
¼ cup caster sugar
¼ cup soft brown sugar
100ml thickened cream
1. For the toffee base, combine the caster sugar and ¼ cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until the sugar forms a dark caramel. Stir in the brown sugar and cream and simmer for a minute, stirring constantly until the caramel is dissolved. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge until ready to use.
2. Combine the remaining 500ml of cream, mascarpone, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and whip to soft peaks. The mixture should not be too stiff. Remove one-third of the mixture to a separate bowl and add the cold toffee base to the remaining two-thirds. Fold the toffee base through the cream mixture until well-combined.
3. Mix the 3 tablespoons of Milo or cocoa with 100ml of hot water and add the milk. Place the Milo mixture in a deep tray and dip half the savoiardi biscuits for just a few seconds. Arrange half of the biscuits in the base of a 24cm square serving dish, and then cover with the toffee cream mixture, ensuring there are no air pockets. Repeat with another layer of dipped biscuits in the same direction as the first layer, and a final thick layer of vanilla cream. Tap the dish against the bench to flatten the top and remove any air pockets. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. To serve, dust the top of the tiramisu with Milo or cocoa and scatter over the biscuit crumbs. Serve immediately.