Cooking was never my thing
It didn’t interest me. I was never taught to cook at home (I didn’t know food can be love on a plate). Except for a few ‘Home Economics’ lessons from which I proudly returned with a ‘sausage stew’ that had somehow miraculously ‘worked’, I never managed to produce anything remotely edible. I was labelled from a young age, maybe seven, as not being able to cook. Perhaps it was after the time I tried to bake fairy cakes but used salt instead of sugar. They weren’t pretty, in fact, they looked pretty bizarre. I’d also mixed in blue food colouring to give them that extra… blue(?) factor.
Little sunken blue alien plops!
I had to laugh along, but at the same time, they looked about as deflated as I felt.
Which came first – my inability to cook or the ‘can’t cook’ label stuck on me?
Whatever, after leaving home, if left to my own devices, I’d most likely eat Super Noodles with a few frozen peas – super easy with a bit of green (despite not cooking, I was always aware, in an obviously twisted kind of way, of ‘healthy eating’). I just didn’t really think about learning to cook. It all seemed so… complicated. Another world.
Round at my best friend’s house, I’d watch, dumbfounded (sorry Mel, I mean, in awe 🙂 ) as she’d seemingly effortlessly whip up a spag bol (The Dish in them days!) or a sponge cake.
‘Just give me a job’, I’d say, lamely.
I simply didn’t know how to take the initiative.
My mother ‘hates’ cooking
She sees it as a chore and she always let us know about it.
‘Why spend so long making something that is eaten so quickly?’ she said.
‘Good point,’ I agreed at the time. And then thought about something else.
She spent very little money on food. But we did go on holidays abroad, and part of the experience was sampling the fresh local produce.
Holidays – good times, good food
Our very first exotic holiday was to the yet unspoilt island of Crete.
My mouth still waters when I conjure up memories of juicy plump tomatoes and spikey cucumbers from local markets in Crete, or the fresh creamy sheep’s cheese. Not to mention the deliciously gooey honey and almond pastries. I can almost taste them now… and I was six back then! We also ate out, as a treat, at the local ‘taverna’. Meat was never my thing, so if the memory of the aroma of lamb meat on kebab sticks wasn’t what charmed me, the whole exoticness made up for it. The rustic and charming ‘taverna’ itself, lit up at night with us eating al fresco, the folk music that was completely new to my ears, the generous nature of the waiter, the whole magical island.
Memories come flooding back and many of them are warmed (or cooled) by food, like the home-made ice cream I sampled while playing with local children around our white-washed thick-stone-walled apartment. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed an ice cream as much since. Perhaps I never will.
It was holiday time. Special time. A time to enjoy food and a time to feel pure joy and love.
French family food
Some years later, I had a French boyfriend. Every Monday morning he’d leave his mother’s nest and land up in his uni digs laden down with home-cooked Tupperware-filled delicacies to last him the entire week. Then he’d return home at weekends and was expected at the table for Sunday lunch, which would last for hours.
There’d be friendly pleasantries over aperitifs, a dash of heated debate with the first course, wine-fuelled bickering and squabbles during the main (I was amazed at how the French – warning: huge generalisation ahead– talk about all the things I used to be discouraged (read: banned!) from talking about), to finish with (usually) satisfied rambling discourses over dessert and coffee.
Who can be angry while eating cake? Throughout it all there was a sense of… this is how it should be.
Needless to say, his mum loved cooking. And it was her way of showing her love to him, to us, to whomever crossed her threshold and sat at her table. Perhaps it was also validation for her. She excelled at something. And by golly (Jeeves!), she really did. I still fantasise about tasting her chocolate brioche again…
I certainly couldn’t compete, and I don’t remember even trying. While I lived with her son, we ate a lot of pasta. His mother, I’m sure, despaired.
Like my own mother, I saw cooking as a chore to fumble through.
Love on a plate
Then my current partner came along. All those years ago, I was in my kitchen with him. It was one of those firsts. The first time I was making him something to eat. And it was going to be (drum roll)… a cheese sandwich.
He looked at me from his stool across the breakfast bar, smiled, and half rose.
‘Do you need a hand?’
Woah – memory trigger (I can’t cook!)
‘You do it then!’ I might have snapped.
So he came around and took over and made cheese and onion toasties. They were all melty and with that bit of extra care (the onion, the toasting), they couldn’t have been more delicious. They tasted like love.
When a friend of his used to come around with food to cook with him, and I watched them enjoying the process, it was, again, all a bit alien to me. But I could handle it! I got to enjoy their company, and eat the proceeds.
‘Just give me a job,’ I’d sometimes mumble, a little awkwardly.
Fast-forward to parenthood
Roll the clocks forwards a few years, and the kids (mysteriously) showed up.
Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It’s all about the memories.Buddy Valastro
On my youngest’s second birthday, he’d been at his childminder’s, a wonderfully kind and caring woman. They’d already had a birthday cake with candles because she makes one for every child she looks after.
She asked me, ‘What kind of cake have you made?’
I replied, nonchalantly. ‘I haven’t made a cake as I can’t bake.’
The shocked look on her face, for that split second before she remembered herself, is engraved in my memory.
That was the day I vowed to learn to bake. At the weekend, I produced a teddy-bear-head-shaped chocolate cake. It was far from incredible. But it was made with love and he was delighted. And the weirdest part – I felt like a good mum.
I may not be cake-maker supreme (like my awesome friend, Faye), but I have never looked back. In fact, baking is something I have enjoyed doing ever since. Maybe I just needed that boost of seeing something I put in the oven come out looking more like cake than sunken alien plop. And who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked cakes?
Since then I’ve made Pirate Ship, Peppa Pig, Spiderman, Princess, Castle, Pigs Playing in Mud… They don’t always work exactly as planned, but part of the fun is in the trying. And my daughter, to my huge relief, was just as accepting (in fact, her verdict: ‘the best cake ever!’) of her crashed asteroid cake as she would have been of the planned planet!
Top tip: if you try those sphere cake dishes, have a trial run before The Birthday, particularly concerning getting the chocolate shells out of the moulds 🙂
Nourishment for body and soul
More recently I completed the Homecoming programme (watch this space for a blog post) and many things fell in to place.
One of the eight weekly themes was ‘Nourishment’. I had naively believed it would be a few cooking lessons, and of little interest to me. But how wrong I was! It was surprisingly tough (for me) to learn that the relationship we have with food is directly linked with our own self worth and how we nourish ourselves.
Do we eat well? Do we take responsibility for ourselves?
Sweet mother love
Food, and sweetness in particular (remember that cake!) can be viewed – or sampled – as mother love. Feed yourself right, and you’re nourishing your very being.
I have a lot of progress to make on the cooking front. But there are so many exciting (yes, I even sometimes get excited about food now!) recipes and ingredients to try these days. Roots and Shoots is one of my favourite sites for inspiration, Kal Ratcliffe Nutrition gives great tips, and I couldn’t not mention the revolutionary Bosh!
I am encouraging my children to make healthy choices as to how to feed their bodies. But just as importantly, to help them enjoy and have fun with the whole nourishing process.
When they are ready to fly the nest (Never!), I hope they go and discover that big world out there, with bellies full of nourishment and hearts bursting with self-worth.
I do my best to serve them – and me – love on a plate.
I’m a bit poorly as I write this, and craving something sweet.
Mum just came in and plonked a croissant on the counter for me. How did she know?
Thanks Mum! 🙂
How is your relationship with cooking? Do you take responsibility for nourishing yourself? I’d love to hear any comments you may have 🙂