Thursday, 12 May 2011


“What’s for dinner?” as I have said before, is singularly the most irksome question a child can ask. This is the first thing they enquire as they walk through the door. Never a ‘hello’, or a, ‘how was your day? It wouldn’t even be so bad if, when I inform them of the menu du jour, they replied approvingly, tapping their tummies in anticipation of a culinary delight and laying the table without having to be pressganged into it. Unfortunately with so many palates to placate, one of them invariably groans in disappointment whilst another groans ‘but it’s not my turn’.
When I just had two children and they were little, it was fairly simple and very much nursery fare: fish fingers, sausage and mash, fish pie, that sort of thing. They went to bed early and Hubby and I ate, in fairly civilised companionship, a fairly civilised and sophisticated diet. They grew older and two more children came along which also coincided with us living in America. Soon, sophisticated dinners a deux were a fond memory replaced by the regular ding-dong of the pizza delivery boy or trips to noisy, ‘family’ restaurants and ‘take-out’.
More recently two more young people have been added to the family inventory and any dreams whereby the younger children hanker over the simple pleasures of fish fingers and chips or the teenagers an Indian take-away or where Hubby and I long for a nice steak are truly, delusional. With eight mouths to feed, I must be thrifty but considerate of nutritious value. I am more of a dinner lady than domestic goddess.
If I make spaghetti bolognese one or two offspring will complain, ‘that’s boring’, or, ‘I’ve gone off it’, or worse, ‘I’ve gone off mince’. Puts paid to - Tuesday: chilli, Friday: Cottage Pie.
Soup is met by the youngest with, ‘It tastes funny’, presumably because it is not characteristically orange-red and from a tin, but because it is instead freshly pulped tomato and basil. Leek and potato soup was eyed up dubiously by at least three of the six children, whereas my son voted it, ‘lush’.
Spaghetti carbonara is, my eldest daughter insists, ‘too squelchy’ and salad, Hubby protests, ‘is too vegetarian’. The tines of my fork pick out the chicken and bacon on his plate, but he is not appeased, ‘Salad is a side dish, not a main meal. Just ask the French’.
The newest members of the family it must be said are a little easier to please or perhaps they are still being polite. No-nos though are beetroot, bananas, coffee and kidney, but as I have yet to find a recipe that incorporates those ingredients then they are happy to give most menus a go. And so it goes on and if there anything more tedious in eating the same dishes week in, week out than it must surely be in the shopping for and preparing of them.
Beuof bourgignon and mash; lasagne (this was before the mince embargo) and chicken and pasta has been done to death this winter, along with burgers and chips and toad in the hole. The odd occasion where I pushed the boat out and made chicken enchiladas complete with sour cream, guacamole and salsa accompaniments was met with such a ravenous chorus of approval that I thought that at any given moment a Mariachi band would burst through the front door all ruffled sleeves and sombreros to serenade me.
So, what with the unrelenting tedium and monotonous routine of auto-pilot supermarket shopping and the unenthusiastic response to my dinners something had to be done; I had to finally break out of menu malaise and be more pro-active. Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals has been sitting with innumerable other cook books on my kitchen book shelf for months. Greasy and unread. Nonetheless, I love Jamie Oliver, I admire his enthusiasm and his integrity, so if anyone was going to inspire me to get back into cooking it was going to be him.
30 minutes though? Perhaps, if you have a bevvy of sous chefs to do all your chopping and picking and counter cleaning. It could be argued, that with four teenagers in the house they could be called upon to help in a supporting role, but curiously, once they have enquired what it is they will be eating for dinner, they scarper lest they are asked to assist towards its denouement on the dinner table. Still, shopping for ingredients has been more appealing, instead of just robotically visiting the fruit and veg aisle and chucking chicken into my trolley, Jamie has provided me with a list to follow. Now, where all other cook books ask for fennel seeds and star anise and you never use them again, finding Schwartz’s herbs from circa 1987 in the back of your cupboard, Jamie asks that you make dishes using the ingredients time and again, so nothing goes off. Take egg whites for example. I cannot remember the times that having made meringues I have been unable to throw away the yolks, intending to make mayonnaise with them. Two days later and they are still in a dish in the fridge, shrivelled and congealed. Such ‘waste not want not’ shame is not an issue in this book, the egg yolks are all used up for the Wonky Summer pasta recipe which is on the same page as the meringue.
I have cooked my way through several pages, some with more success than others, but generally speaking there is a hushed and reverential silence as my family eat.
“I’ll get the yogurts”, said my son, clearing the table, replete.
“No need”, I replied, beaming proudly, “I’ve made pudding” and there was a collective gasp as I laid it in front of them.
“What is it?” asked Hubby.
“Warm, individual frangipane tarts with a dollop of crème fraiche”. Mention of the word frangipane and dollop in the same sentence and you’re onto a winner.

1 comment:

DL said...

Same story chez nous - except it's 12 mouths to feed as a rule, with some regular extras who pass through at meal times. Goodness knows why, because they have a choice.

And the same incredulity when a pudding appears. What's frangipane, btw?

Best wishes,
D. x