(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!