The new oven…

Sunday 5 July 2020

The household rejoices this week, as our new oven finally arrives!

My old cooker… where to start? The door was permanently rammed shut with a long wooden pole. Even with this ingenious construction, it was slow, slow, slow! Pre-heating the oven? Well we did try but the poor, old thing never once reached temperature. A simple tray of french fries, with a packet guide of ten minutes would take forty-five. The year we attempted to host Christmas Dinner? Well, we’d seen off several gallons of Prosecco, two boxes of crackers and all our party games before there was even the hint of a ‘crisp’ on those roasties!

This weekend, I accept that enough is enough and cashing in on many months of saving up, Small Boy and I, hands sanitised and social distance observed, survey several new devices at our local appliance store and make the purchase.

Meal times are transformed! My heart is in my mouth as Small Boy and his ‘home made pizzas’ christen my shiny, new …. spotlessly clean oven. But, apart from the unaccustomed shock of eye-brow searing heat at we open the door, all goes without a hitch. We all marvel over the new, culinary experience of a pizza base that is ‘crisp’ and cheese that is ‘melted and bubbling’ on top! Throughout the week, the realisation that we can now follow recipe guidance on cooking times, frees us from the logistics of planning, even the simplest of dishes, hours in advance. Food is baked, browned and borne to plates in a blissfully timely manner.

So it is a happy ‘Farewell !’ to pale, underdone chip, luke-warm casseroles and finally sitting down to eat at 9pm at night! New oven – you are a very welcome addition to the house!

Lockdown week 12: The cooking rota

Saturday 13 June 2020

Twelve weeks of ‘Staying at Home’ and I finally wake up to the idea of a cooking rota! I may have been slow out of the starting blocks on this one but, even with a few hiccups, it is definitely worth the wait!

Did I say ‘woke up to the idea’? Meltdown moment would be a more accurate description! Over 2 months, of having to plan and serve up twice as many meals as usual, has weakened me. But with stress cranked ever higher by work deadlines and a battery of difficult decisions, someone bouncing into the kitchen and innocently asking,

What’s for tea mum?” finally tips me over the edge.

I rant. I shout. I despair. I blub. And, as even a trusty cuppa fails to revive me, the cooking rota is born. Small Boy nods and shrugs. My eldest whips up a spreadsheet. Prom dress daughter asks if she can choose her own recipe,

I am following this really great vegan YouTuber !”

In the end, they all opt to design their own menus. In fact they all appear quite excited. I career around the Supermarket, filling my unwieldy trolley with: sriracha, spring onions and balsamic vinegar and then wait for the week to unfold.

Small Boy is up first. If he’d only checked that we had some oil in the house before deciding to feature ‘home cooked fries’, things might have gone more smoothly! I am summoned into the kitchen to survey a mountain of carefully chopped potato pieces and one very empty bottle of frying fuel! I call up the stairs for my Eldest to run him to the shops and settle back down, for a rare moment with a good book.

Fifteen minutes later, she pops in to watch some TV. When I look a little puzzled and ask where her brother is, she tells me she told him to ‘walk‘. It’s quite a trek …and I am starving, so I take pity upon my youngest child and head out to collect him. It is a good job I do. I spot a disconsolate figure shuffling home empty-handed and discover that, despite two full circuits of the one-way aisles, a sorry Small Boy “couldn’t find any oil. I help with the shopping and we are soon home ready to carry on cooking. There is no deep-fat fryer, so we improvise with the vegetable steamer and by 7pm are all sitting down to our first cooking-rota meal.

It looks great. It tastes great. So good in fact that Small Boy wants to save the oil to use again. I make the mistake of pondering aloud, how we will store the vat of still-hot fat. None of us, alas, are quick enough to intercede as Small Boy, enacts his bright idea of re-filling the original containers and two plastic bottles meet their end in the oily heat. We recycle the unfortunate, shrunken remains in the blue bin and set the oil aside as a problem for another day.

Prom dress daughter’s ‘Bang Bang Cauliflower’ and ‘Sweet Potato Lasagne‘ from my Eldest are served up with far less drama and are also totally delicious. Their food is fresh. It’s flavoursome. It’s new. I realise that it has not only been a real treat for me to get a break from cooking but the three of them have also dragged our family meals out of the rut of my tired, old cuisine. Moreover, I think they enjoy it!

So, ‘Three Cheers‘ for vegan YouTubers and any other sources of my teens’ inspiration. Variety and creativity are definitely back on the menu. Let’s hope they are here to stay! Bring on week 2 of the cooking rota…

“Did somebody say…”

Friday 27 September 2019

“Anyone fancy a Dominoes for tea?” is all I innocently ask at 7am this morning. The house goes wild with joy. Smiling faces appear at usually firmly shut bedroom doors. My eldest starts belting out “Did somebody say…”, the well known refrain to Just East’s ad campaign, at the top of her voice. And before I know it, we’ve all joined in. There are harmonies, there is a congo and there is a lot of volume. Gosh they are easily pleased … or is my cooking really that bad?

Actually … it probably is. And I do try. In truth, I feel huge societal pressure to try. It began with the weaning years, when the ‘alpha mothers’, waving their Annabel Karmel bibles, briskly steered me away from those lovely, neat rows of supermarket food jars and persuaded me to embrace the messy, lumpy and thankless world of mashed sweet potato and spinach with potato goo. Ever since then, I have felt a huge pressure, not only to cook for the family ‘from scratch’… but to enjoy it too! And do you know what, “I dont!”

Ooooh, I’ve said it out loud. Might say it again. “I don’t like cooking! It’s a dull, dreary, chore sent relentlessly to ruin the loveliest of days.

“What’s for tea mum?”,

“When’s dinner ready mum?”

Is there any breakfast mum?”

It just goes on and on! One of the worst suggestions I ever listened to was ‘batch cooking’. Now there’s a day, of the Autumn half term of 2015, I’ll never get back! Lasagnes exploding all over the oven, seething pots of curry bubbling madly on the stove, triumphant vegetable bakes, collapsing into mush, as I tried to portion them into tupperware containers. Simply hell on earth! My children never have forgiven me, (and never should), for a hideous creation known as ‘vegetable crumble’. As for my recent pea and mint risotto, well the only place for that bowl of gloop was the food recycling bin!

Oh, fear not foodies and responsible parents of the land, I will, of course, continue to try. I accept that we cannot survive, nutritionally or financially, on take-away meals alone. But this Friday, which will drag on until 8 pm with various after school activities, I feel justified in casting my cook books aside and joining the teens in joyful song …

“Did somebody say….”