You might remember her from Better Homes & Gardens and almost everyone remembers Monica Trápaga from her years on ABC’s Playschool. In the five years since she last appeared on Australian television, Monica Trápaga has been busy raising kids, recording Jazz CD’s and writing a cookbook, inspired by her daughter Lil.
When Lil, now aged 24, announced she was leaving home, Monica Trápaga did what a lot of mother’s do, she presented her first born with a cookbook. When I left home twenty years ago my mother gave me The Commonsense Cookery Book. These days mums have a virtual smorgasbord of cookbooks to choose from, but Monica Trápaga wanted to give her daughter something more personal, so she presented Lil with a unique collection of tried-and-tested family recipes and stories, the contents of which are featured in her book, She’s Leaving Home.
Monica Trápaga told Australian Women Online, “It’s been about five years since I’ve done anything on television. So in some ways this book was created to fill the gap. I was thinking well I’m not doing anything right now, and I’d always wanted to write, so I started writing this book. Lil was moving out and I thought this is the time to actually do something about it – a nice little career change.”
“One door closes in your career and another one opens. Necessity is the mother of invention as they say and I’m one of those people who has got to keep moving. Writing is my way of reclaiming some time for myself and I really enjoy it.”
She’s Leaving Home is as much a true story of Lil’s transition into adulthood, as it is a cookbook. So putting aside all those delicious recipes for a moment, I asked Monica what Lil thought of her mother sharing so many details of her life with virtual strangers.
“Lil’s pretty open and independent. She’s a very smart girl and she’s never been one to keep things secret. When she was 16 she told us she was gay and I celebrated that with her. Lil’s no longer with Mon Chew who was her girlfriend at the time. But our family tends to adopt people along the way and we have a large family. Mon’s family adored Lil and they shared so much with her and they contributed to the book. Lil also contributed and she’s very proud of it.”
“When Lil was overseas she started writing to me and a lot of those letters are included in the book. The point of that was for young girls to have a bit of courage and to go on that adventure. But I also wanted to inspire people to cook and to write – it’s about nurturing and that’s what the whole book is really about. I think Lil feels she’s been a pretty nurtured person and there definitely isn’t much she won’t talk about.”
After eight years of living as a lesbian, on the day Monica received the first hard copy of She’s Leaving Home, Lil told her mother that she had fallen in love with a young man.
“She says to me all the time, I fall in love with the person. It’s not about the sex, it’s the person and I thought well that’s fair enough. At the end of the day, as long as they’re happy and they’re healthy that’s the best thing you can hope for.”
Drawing on her Spanish heritage and colourful family history, Monica Trápaga has created a recipe book with ninety seriously good recipes – from the classics (roast beef, bolognese and brownies) to the exotic (paella, san choi bao and gazpacho). Beautifully illustrated with drawings from artist Meredith Gaston and Monica’s own collages, She’s Leaving Home provides both culinary inspiration and sound practical advice.
Monica told me she ended up doing a lot of the collaging in the book herself, after the artist she was working with, fell in love and moved to Berlin in the middle of the project. Always the optimist, Monica said “I enjoyed doing the collaging so much I think I would like to do some children’s books with that whole style.”
Monica’s mother Margo was born in the Philippines and her grandmother was from the United States of America, which makes She’s Leaving Home one of the most eclectic collections of recipes you’re ever likely to find on the shelves at your local bookshop.
“When my parents migrated here, Australia was a very different country to what it is now. It was in a very young culinary stage and I think my parents were amazing in terms of what they created and my mother was smart enough to gravitate towards any other ethnic groups she could find. She loves Chinatown, the Fish Markets, the Fruit & Vege Market – she would seek out the Italians and the Asians – and that certainly influenced my cooking, my brother’s cooking, and Lil’s cooking. Lil’s a great cook and in fact I learned a lot from her.”
Like most of us I suspect, Monica’s favourite recipes from She’s Leaving Home are those that conjure up fond memories of times spent with family and friends.
“If you’re adventurous and you want to try an extraordinary cake the Sans Rival which means ‘without rival’, is a good choice. My grandmother has always made that cake for important celebrations – weddings, baptisms, christenings – and I’ve continued that tradition. I’ve made it as a wedding cake for many people and it’s really beautiful, it’s cashew nut meringue with butter cream.”
“I also love a recipe from Lil’s grandma called Rev Bev’s Refrigerator Cake, it is delicious. Chun Chew who is Mon’s grandmother, gave us her Hainan Chicken Rice recipe and I love that too.”
When she asked me if my sons, aged 18 and 21, can cook. I had to admit whilst the 21 year old is learning, his younger brother is passionately committed to ordering take-out.
Monica laughed. “What I’d like to do is a bachelor’s bible for the boys and I think there should be a chapter on ordering take-out because if you’re going to do take-out, make sure it’s good take-out.”
But the bachelor’s bible may be a long way off, as Monica is currently writing the follow-up to She’s Leaving Home for Australia audiences and is planning to write an American version.
“My family has an American background with my grandmother. I would like to spend more time there because I have a lot of relatives in America and I also have a lot of friends there too and Lil’s very keen to do that as well.”