An unexpected result of my son leaving home is that I have rediscovered cooking. Of course, I’ve had to cook for 20 years and it’s been, most of the time, pretty soul-destroying. For starters, my husband likes to eat veggie and avoid red meat in partiucular – but also he won’t touch mushrooms, legumes (beans), onions (make him fart) or cheese (migraine trigger). On top of that, my son is highly allergic to dairy. Plus he has quite a few psychological issues with food, or at least he had when he lived at home. He ate an extremely restricted diet and became abnormally distressed by even the smallest change in the way food was prepared or presented. If you’ve ever read "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) – all the issues the narrator has with food (won’t eat brown food – colour of poo, won’t eat yellow food – colour of pee, nothing on the plate must touch anything else), you’ll recognise some likely symptoms of high-level Aspergers. Caught in the middle of all this, my daughter tended to demand attention by being faddy, too. So I dreaded mealtimes. Most evenings I cooked and cleared away four separate dinners.
It’s easy to say I was an idiot to let myself drift into such an unsustainable situation, but a lot of it went back having severe PND, being hospitalized and feeling that food was the only way I could show love to my baby son. Eating disorders carry a huge amount of guilt and emotional baggage. I worried terribly that DS would starve without my daily supervision, and of course he’s absolutely fine. In fact, he’s taken to cooking pancakes for his flat-mates at college.
With DS gone, DD has become much more adventurous in her eating habits, and much more accommodating if there’s something on the menu that she doesn’t care for. The sense of liberation has been enormous. I am revelling in cooking again. I’ve spent more on cooking equipment in the last couple of months than in the preceding 10 years. I’ve treated myself to an electric grill, a wonderful solid griddle pan that I use for fantastic drop scones and tortillas, a revamp of my dinner service and some really nice serving platters and, my pride and joy, a Le Creuset casserole, worth every penny of its admittedly terrifying price. I’ve discovered the pleasure of shopping for silicone baby bundt moulds and wicker proving baskets and tarte tatin tins on eBay. In fact, I love my LC buffet casserole so much that sometimes I open the cupboard just to reassure myself it’s still there. I broke my toe a week ago – a pizza stone fell on it sideways on, but I’m still cooking. Even baking my own bread.
I’m quite an old fashioned cook – like nothing better than filling the oven with aromatic cherry cake, fish pie or a really rich casserole. My dream is to have a Le Creuset cocotte big enough to get a chicken in (I think that would involve a mortgage – the cocotte, not the chicken). Definitely a winter cook. DD and I unwind by sitting down and watching TV cookery shows. I’ve a very soft spot for the River Cottage stuff – all that gorgeous West Country scenery, even though the endless Agas and thatched cottages are awfully twee and aspirational. At the other end of the social spectrum, I’ve enjoyed seeing Jamie Oliver cut corners, though I think calling his latest offerings 30 minute meals are pushing it a bit. He starts every recipe by telling you to have everything chopped and ready, and lined up on the counter. Sound advice, but I could probably cook most things in 30 minutes if that was done for me first.
One thing I like about JO is his laid-back attitude to serving nice food. As a kid, we were far from being well off but despite (maybe because of) that very fact I remember hours being spent doing things that were anachronistic even for the 1960s, like starching masses of napkins. Everything had to match and it’s taken me a lifetime to get over that. Now I’ve realised that a few really big nice plates are fine – you can pick them up at Oxfam if needs be. It’s the food we ought to be admiring, not the vegetable dishes. Food is beautiful.
I can’t wait for my proving basket to arrive in the post – I’m going to have a go at sourdough!