Before the Princess was born, I was a really dreadful cook. I could reliably burn instant microwaveable food. However, since the Princess’s birth a weird thing has happened, I have learnt to cook. There are lots of things you can’t do with an awake small baby including reading. One thing that you can do though is cook and, over the last nine months, I’ve been doing lots of it and, slowly but surely, I have been getting better. The one snag is that, so far, I haven’t managed to successfully cook anything for guests but when cooking for two, I really am pretty nifty. Or so says loyal Mr. Waffle. Larger groups are a problem, I lose my nerve and go to pieces.
Last Friday night, I attempted my most ambitious dinner (for two) to date. We had mashed potatoes (ok, so far so uninspiring, but with grated nutmeg note) with a Jamie Oliver roasted lentil thing and duck breast (with apple fried in butter and fanned around it on the plate) and a port sauce. I have to say this was ambitious, perhaps a mite too ambitious. It required lots of having everything ready at the same time, so when poor Mr. Waffle came into the kitchen to innocently inquire whether we needed more stands on the table, he found a snarling wife with a pan in one hand and a bottle of port in the other. That duck fat gets pretty hot, so when I added the port, it went everywhere, Mr. Waffle and I dived for cover in the hall (fortunately, Princess was in bed) and, you will be pleased to hear, sustained no lasting injury. Early Saturday morning, I found Mr. Waffle up a stepladder washing port stains off the kitchen ceiling. Still dinner WAS nice, although I spent the remainder of the evening recovering from the strain of making it.
Sunday night, I decided that we would have roast chicken, so far so easy you may say, but I have a problem with roast chicken, I can’t make gravy. I always just end up with lumps of flour on the whisk. So I followed a recipe I found in Nigella Lawson for gravy without flour. More a jus, apparently. Alas for the jus, I put the chicken on the bottom of the oven. Guess what, you’re not supposed to do that, that’s why they put in all those shelves in. Although the chicken itself was fine, even the addition of white wine and stock didn’t make the juices from the pan taste anything other than pretty unpleasant. No, I am certainly not above instant gravy, but the Belgians are. Bisto and the like are unobtainable in this jurisdiction.
I was reading Nigella Lawson’s thing about chicken and she said that she was a product of her generation and always got fresh organic etc. etc. but for her mother the emphasis was on making indifferent ingredients taste fantastic, mostly by the addition of lots of butter, as I understand it. This struck me as kind of strange, because my mother and I are just the opposite. Not that I look for indifferent ingredients, or that I can necessarily make them taste fantastic but I am not hung up on fresh organic, I mean, I will buy organic if I can, but, if not, then not (except for chicken, battery chickens are too terrifying). My mother on the other hand is a zealot (she is also an excellent cook and perhaps part of the reason I never bothered to learn, competition was just too fierce).
When I was growing up, we had a fishmonger who delivered fresh fish to the door, or sometimes we went into the market to pick up something. The fishmonger knew my mother well and they would have long chats about what fish we should have and what their respective children were doing, driving other waiting customers to the edge of reason. We had a chicken lady for fresh free range chickens. A couple of times a year, my mother would drive to Limerick (about an hour away from our house) and pack the boot of the car with a frozen cow, pig or lamb, cut into pieces (and bagged, and bagged) by the butcher she knew from Bruree near where she grew up. He was a farmer on the side and due to my mother’s local contacts, I suppose, he felt obliged to hand over his best animals. When the Limerick meat ran out, there was always Ashley, her butcher in the market. Ashley, knew a good customer when he saw one and always saluted her cheerily. She began to feel obliged to buy from him every time she passed. To avoid our house overflowing with dead animals, she used to send one of us children in first to check whether Ashley was at his stall and, if not, she would scurry in to make her other purchases. And then there’s the vegetable lady. She supplies organic vegetables and free range eggs. I suppose, when I first heard that there was a vegetable lady, I had certain expectations of what kind of person she might be. I mean, picture to yourself a vegetable lady. Anyhow, she turned up at our front door one day when I was at home, and in this terribly superior English accent said “I’m the vegetable woman, is your mother in?” Bizarre. Still I suppose, fair enough, why shouldn’t she grow organic vegetables in Cork? I was at home one weekend when I was about six months pregnant and she said to me “Oh you’re pregnant, jolly well done.” Very odd.
In other news, Princess has recovered from recent mystery stomach bug but has developed nasty cough. We discovered this last night when we let her cry for an hour between 10.30 and 11.30. One of us went to comfort her every five minutes but it still felt pretty grim leaving a sobbing inconsolable baby behind. Everytime we went in to her, she would wind her chubby little hands around our necks or grab on to hair, nose or ears. It was heartrending, and occasionally painful, disentangling her. Eventually at 11.30 she developed an alarming cough so, we abandoned our attempt and brought her into our bed for the night. Even I can see that we are sending out mixed messages. I am sure that Gina would not approve. There was an article in yesterday’s English Independent about her. Some unfortunate journalist had a two and a half year old who woke up to play every morning between 4.00 and 8.00. To summarise the article, not now post Gina he doesn’t. Gina said a revealing thing as reported in the article: “Mothers don’t like to apply my methods because it interferes with their lunches at Cafe Rouge”. I think that this is perhaps a little unfair. Firstly, because, I feel, most mothers are motivated by their child’s best interests and, if that means no Cafe Rouge lunches, then, I suspect, most mothers would say fine. Secondly, I think that the real reason mothers don’t like Gina’s methods is because they sound heartless (though I would concede that they may be short term heartless, but long term better for baby etc.). Finally, food in Cafe Rouge is kind of mediocre anyway, so why would you bother. Do you think Gina is a little disapproving of mothers?
Finally, went wild at sales and bought baby clothes that Princess does not need. Must stop buying baby clothes before I beggar us.
on 21 February 2004 at 18:19