The Food of Love 

(This was first published in Le News 26 February 2015)

‘But I didn’t order this,’ the smaller child wailed the other evening, staring at her plate of oven-roasted vegetables with dismay. ‘There’s been some mistake in the kitchen!’

Normally, I’d be very sympathetic. I hate it when restaurants bungle my order.

But we were not in a restaurant, we were at the dining room table, and the child had not ‘ordered’ anything. She was just hoping for yet another serving of the house speciality: pasta, cheese and tomato sauce. It makes her happy to eat it, but I’m finding it somewhat boring to cook.

I tried to amuse myself for a while by thinking of it differently: on Monday, the child was presented with Gruyere Gratin on a Bed of Buttered Noodles; on Wednesday, Rehydrated Farfalle with a Tomato Sugar Reduction topped with Local Artisinal Cheese; and (least successfully) a deconstructed version on Friday – I called it White Cheese Sauce, Three Eggs and a Tomato.

‘They’re all the same ingredients,’ I told her. ‘It just looks different.’

But apparently she wants her pasta, cheese and tomato sauce to look like pasta, cheese and tomato sauce. How very pedestrian. And how frustrating. I only recently learned to cook, and I’m eager to try out my new skills. My husband is a very enthusiastic audience but it’s difficult to focus on his lavish praise when the other diners at the table are making vomiting noises and falling on the floor.

’Stop it!’ I said the other day. ‘You two have no idea what you’re screaming about. Those things in front of you are not ‘funny looking carrots’. Those are assorted heirloom root vegetables, so please show them some respect.’

‘Also, what you ate last night was a tomato tart tatin, not ‘a pizza thingie without ham’. And just in case you think my cooking is all show and no substance, I must tell you, everything in tomorrow night’s dinner – the sardine, the kale, the quinoa – is a Superfood.’

They looked at me blankly, unmoved. Except for a tiny flicker of horror in the small one’s eyes.

‘Sardine?’ she whispered.

‘You don’t even know how lucky you are to be eating real food,’ I went on. ‘At your age I was getting tinned-spaghetti sandwiches on white bread, for lunch, every day.’

‘Actually that sounds nice,’ the bigger child piped up. ‘Could we have that, rather?’

I didn’t only get spaghetti sandwiches. I also regularly opened my school lunchbox to find fried egg sandwiches (exactly what one hopes to find in a container that’s been standing in the African sun for four hours), polony sandwiches and, just to make sure I didn’t miss out on my vitamins, orange squash. Quite honesty, I’m amazed that I grew up with any bones or teeth at all. The madness is, I would have fainted with happiness if someone had given me … I don’t know … Moroccan lamb, and couscous with sultanas and apricots. My children regularly get the lamb et al, but would infinitely prefer a polony sandwich.

But I may have found a way to make all of us happy: molecular gastronomy! I found a collection of recipes online, and there’s something in it for everyone. I get to do weird and complicated things in the kitchen, and the children get their favourite meals, presented in exciting new ways: just show me the child who can resist a plate of bacon-infused agar agar spaghetti with frozen parmesan air and a tomato juice foam!

Moms On Mars 

(This was first published in Le News 19 February 2015)

Dear organisers of the Mars One Mission (M.O.M.)

It has recently come to my attention that you are planning to establish a human settlement on Mars, and I would really, really like to volunteer to be a part of it.

You may wonder why I – a very tired 40-something mother of two small children – am so keen to go. I don’t fit the profile of ‘explorer’, it’s true. But adventure is in my genetic make-up. I share the pioneering spirit that led so many of my ancestors to leave England and head to Australia; and then when that didn’t work out, leave Australia and head to South Africa; and then when that didn’t work out, leave South Africa and head back to England and Australia …

Anyway, it’s that: yearning for adventure, love of travel … and I won’t lie to you, M.O.M., it’s also the thought of spending some time alone on an uninhabited planet. Everyone is so obsessed with that saying, ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’. But, as I prefer to think of it, in space, you can’t hear anyone else scream, either. Or meow, or squeak. Or sing the first verse of I Love My Spotty Socks eighteen times in a row, and expect you to applaud with the same level of enthusiasm every single time.

There are some other compelling reasons, too: the Martian year is almost twice as long as an Earth year, which means I will age more slowly; and Mars’ gravity is 38% of Earth’s,  which means that I would be approaching my goal weight there.

M.O.M., I want to go. I really do. I’ve already started preparing myself, by watching every movie about Mars and space exploration that I can get my hands on, and they’ve been very helpful.  For example, I know better than to volunteer for the first or second waves of the mission: the first wave will inexplicably disappear, and the second wave will go in search of them, only to find that they have a) been eaten by space monsters b) been turned into zombies or c) slipped through a portal into Hell. Only one member of the second wave will survive to tell the story, and they will most likely be infected with Zombie Disease, or incubating an alien baby anyway, so their days are numbered. Subsequent waves seem to be fine, unless Sigourney Weaver is among the crew, in which case I’m getting off the spaceship. That woman is a magnet for trouble.

Speaking of getting off the spaceship: I would like to assure you that your ‘one-way’ policy is no problem. On your website, you state that the spaceships won’t go back to Earth, and that the Mars settlers are pretty much stuck up there. I have no intention of staying forever – it’s just a little break I’m after – but I’m happy to make my own way home. After all, it’s not like outer space is quite the ‘final frontier’ that it used to be, is it? Everyone and their Hello Kitty doll has been up there now; someone jumped down from there a while ago; soon, everywhere you look, there will be people landing on comets and chasing asteroids. I’m pretty sure I can catch a ride back to Earth.

Oh M.O.M., this mission is perfect for me! I read your requirements and I fit them to a T: I’m mature (44 and maturing daily); interesting (I’ve just finished listening to an audiobook about opera, so I’ll have lots to talk about with the other colonists); I like space (I love it, actually. The more the better.)

You also specify on your website that, ‘No particular academic or professional background is considered a prerequisite for selection.’ This is wonderful news, as those are my qualifications exactly!

Goodbye for now, M.O.M., but I hope to see more of you in the future, and I eagerly await your reply to this letter.

Yours, very sincerely

Robyn Goss