E Jane Dickson: 'Eye of newt and tongue of frog might look more appetising'

My breakfast tray would not shame the kitchens at the Savoy; laid out on white linen, there is a small bowl of Cheerios, a saucer of strawberries, hot chocolate served in a chrome teapot ("the way they do it in hotels"), three aesthetically overlapping rice cakes, and a brimming glass of red wine.

"My goodness, girls," I tell Clara and her best friend Elena, who have devised this treat for me on the morning-after-a-sleepover. "What an elegant repast!" (My daughter likes her attempts at sophistication to be dignified by suitable language.) "We weren't sure about the wine," says Clara, flapping a a napkin, "but Conor drank all the juice."

"It's supposed to be champagne," says Elena, who knows about these things, "but we couldn't find any."

"And red wine," says Clara firmly, "is better for you. It was on the news."

Clara has been exercised of late in the matter of healthy eating, informing me earnestly that salt is poison, except for the kind found in crisps; because crisps are basically vegetables and therefore full of vitamins. Thinking to capitalise on the fad, I declare a new regime of healthy eating. When the children come home from school to find me boiling up bones for soup, I am shining with virtue and rendered chicken fat.

"Cool, Mum!" says Con, peering into the seething depths of the stock pot, "you're making a potion!"

"It's not a potion," I tell him. "It's dinner. I'm making soup like Granny's."

"Granny's soup doesn't have bodies in it," points out Conor, poking dubiously at the bobbing chicken carcass with a wooden spoon, and I have to admit that at this point in proceedings, eye of newt and tongue of frog might look more appetising. Still, after an hour's faffing, what with straining and clarifying and cutting the black bits off knobbly organic vegetables that look as sinister as mandrakes dug up by moonlight, the three of us sit down to a reasonable facsimile of my mother's home-made broth.

"Delicious," says Clara, encouragingly. "An elegant repast."

"Disgusting," says Con, subjecting each spoonful to forensic examination. "I think I've found a chicken eye."

"It's barley," I snap, pushing a gizzardy looking object to the bottom of my own bowl. "Eat it up. This," I announce, as much for my own encouragement as the children's, "is a delicious, health-giving and economical meal."

Three days in to the new regime, Clara and Conor can barely suppress their relief when they're invited to friends' for tea. On their return, they find me virtuously finishing off yesterday's rice and ratatouille and Conor eyes my plate with sympathy.

"Health-giving and economical?" he asks understandingly.

"You bet," I answer.

Just for his own satisfaction, Conor checks that the industrial-sized ratatouille pan really is empty. "It's over now, Mum," he says, patting my hand. "Isn't it?"

I pat him back, not trusting myself with an answer, but in my heart I know he's right.

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