An old aunt of mine used to say, "If you can read, you can cook". At the start of a cooking session I always find this wonderfully inspiring. It's only an hour later, with an aching back, flour in my shoe and one failed attempt already in the bin, that I remember the old bat was totally barking. And that I detest everything about cooking.
I hate deciding what to make, shopping for ridiculous amounts of bizarre ingredients and then turning my kitchen into a warzone for a meal that takes five minutes to devour. So the Other Half and I live on simple, quick, unimaginative meals.
But when it comes to dinner parties, there's a right and a wrong way to do things. The right way is to get flustered, angry and violent over a hot stove while telling your Other Half "It's alright for you, all you have to do is pour the wine". It's known as Scratch Cooking - or in my kitchen Scream Cooking - and call me a traditionalist but that's the way it should be done. The Other Half vehemently disagrees. He thinks we should buy everything pre-cooked, pre-packed and preposterously expensive.
So when he invited a new friend from work - plus girlfriend - to dinner one Saturday evening, we'd done the legwork on this familiar row so many times we were able to leap in halfway through. Quite sweet really.
"I am not spending the day with you in a foul mood, so we'll buy it all," he said firmly. He'll never forget my amazing sinking scones ... flying towards his head.
"Don't be ridiculous," I snapped even more firmly, "you don't invite people over to humiliate them."
We compromised. We went for a simple starter - steamed asparagus with hollandaise sauce (shop-bought) and garlic bread (shop-bought) followed by a baked pasta dish - made by Other Half on the day - followed by apple crumble made by me the day before. That way I'd only be making one easy dish. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, let me explain. I got up at seven on Friday morning. I got all the crumble ingredients out. I rearranged them. I took the recipe book out. First horror-filled moment of the day. I realised that this recipe was just a basic guide, full of phrases like "if your recipe states..." I felt a knot of anxiety form in my stomach. I rearranged the ingredients. I took a deep breath. The guests weren't expected for another 36 hours. I'd cope. I'd do what any other mature adult would do in the same situation. I called my mother.
"You have to help," I said dramatically. "It's my dinner."
"Thank God," she said, "I thought it was important."
"It is important," I screeched. I am without a crumble recipe." I realised I'd stopped breathing. "Do you have one?"
"No," she said apologetically. I've never really used one. Crumble is foolproof."
I began to make small whimpering noises and picked absently at the sugar (soft dark brown) while a tear welled up in my eye (salty).
"Read it to me," she said calmly.
I read it out in full.
"That's a recipe," she said, "What more do you want, semaphore?"
There was a long pause.
I put the phone down. Mothers can sometimes find it hard to let go.
I mixed together the ingredients in a bowl - and then ate half of it. Why does it always taste so much better raw? I put it in the oven and within 40 minutes the smell wafted up the stairs where I was getting out of my shower.
A minute later, the knot was back in my stomach. Other Half and I were examining the crumble intently.
"It"s burnt," I whispered.
"No it's not," he lied firmly.
"I burnt it. I failed at the foolproof crumble. I'm crap. I'm going to have to make another one. It's alright for you, all you have to do" etc...
At that point Other Half went out for the afternoon to save our marriage. While he was out, I bought more butter and started again. This time I crouched in front of the oven and watched it cook. It wasn't just a load of ingredients in there, it was also my self respect. Oh yes, plus my sense of humour and sense of proportion. When it came out. I quality assurance tested so much of it that it looked like a ring doughnut. But it tasted good. I decided to serve it in the kitchen.
By the time our guests came, Other Half and I weren't talking. I always find that adds a certain piquancy to a dinner party. But amazingly, the food was OK. Or maybe our guests were just polite.
"I'm so impressed you didn't just go out and buy it all," said Tim. "If you came to us, it would all be shop-bought, you know."
Other Half froze. I laughed gaily. "How delightful," I trilled. And meant it.Reuse content