I was never very good in the kitchen. Despite my own mother’s ability to magic the most wonderful culinary inventions out of a simple pressure cooker, her skills were sadly to remain in the annals of our family history, for they never arrived with me. These gastronomic inadequacies are never more apparent than when my now grown-up children return to the nest hoping for a bit of cosseting but never (ever) assuming it will be of the foodie variety. They have learned, you see, from experience.
It began with good intentions twenty-five years ago. A new house. The promise of a spanking new kitchen where I could finally display the cooking flair I knew was only waiting to be unleashed. Well, I got the new kitchen but in the intervening years I can only say that things have gone from bad to worse. After some thought, I’ve come to realise where the problem lies. I’m just not interested in food – in the slightest.
It was probably something my domestic science teacher at Portadown College spotted pretty early on when, for the O level practical, my shah biscuits were a smidgen on the large size i.e. six times the norm and spilling out over the edges of the baking tray. The resulting Grade 9 was not entirely unexpected (that’s a dismal failure for all you young folk) and needless to say the subject wasn’t on my agenda of A level options. Nigella Lawson I was not.
But cooking, I have come to realise, is not only about personal enthusiasm or passion. It is apparently about your utensils too. Some time ago my daughter had invited a girlfriend over for a cookie-baking session. I left them to it until I was called to locate the kitchen scales which had bafflingly been overlooked in a cupboard. It turns out that they actually don’t look much like kitchen scales at all and it had to be explained that I had received them as an engagement present (before a subsequent disengagement) forty-five years ago but had kept them ever since. They may not have resembled normal modern scales but they were perfectly adequate for me even though converting from pounds and ounces to kilos, could sometimes prove tricky (maths was never my best subject either).
Knives. It seems that these are important as well and they need to be of a particular weight and sharpness in order to do the job. My son pointed this out to me after he had made a number of cutting attempts with my ‘world’s sharpest knife’ which I had bought in good faith some years ago from a store demonstrator in Cardiff. I remember how, at the time, the chap had used the knife to deftly slice a tomato into twenty unbelievably skinny slices, but it has never lived up to its dazzling performance since. To save further embarrassment to my offspring I went out and purchased a brand new Sabatier knife that waits expectantly for my son’s next visit.
Something that never changed in the kitchen of my childhood was the chopping board – singular. I can only ever remember there being one which was used relentlessly for any item of food that needed cutting up and strangely none of the family died of food poisoning. So when a friend generously bought me a set of coloured boards from M and S I used my own logic for their use without realising that there is actually a proper coding system going on there. Consequently, I have been chopping the veg on the meat board, meat on the fish board and fish on the fruit board. Still keeping up?
Once, my daughter brought a boyfriend home for a visit. He just happened to be a chef, so for four glorious days we had gourmet type food appearing as if by magic from the innards of my kitchen cupboards. Dear love him, he never uttered a single word of complaint about anything, including the magi mix that had to be resuscitated after years of hiding at the back of a closet. The same empathy cannot be accorded to my son who turned his nose up at my shop-bought carbonara and insisted on spending a fortune on the ingredients for the fresh variety. However, I had to eventually concede its superiority and may actually have a go at it myself the next time I cook en masse.
Which brings me to my final admission. Entertaining. I can whole-heartedly say that I’m fairly safe when we invite friends over for dinner, for on those occasions I make Persian food. Or rather my version of Persian food. Some confident bluffing has taken me through many a meal, for who’s to know, if they’ve never been to Iran, what Gormeh Sabzi is or how basmati rice is supposed to be authentically cooked? That is unless our guests are themselves Persian, whereupon I’m really snookered.
Anyone for carbonara?