May I take your or­der?

From rustling up five meals to cater­ing for fussy eaters, au­thor Cathy Kelly feels like she’s run­ning a restau­rant – with no tips for good ser­vice!

Prima (UK) - - Contents -

Writer Cathy Kelly feels like she’s run­ning a fam­ily restau­rant – at home

The or­ders come in thick and fast. ‘Chips,’ says one. ‘I want mash,’ chimes an­other. ‘Is this lasagne?’ com­plains a third. ‘You know I don’t eat lasagne…’

Cue fran­tic search­ing in the freezer for some­thing that can be cooked from frozen in un­der four min­utes.

Yes, folks, I’m run­ning a restau­rant, and I sus­pect you’re do­ing the same. Only de­spite the hours spent in su­per­mar­kets and de­vel­op­ing cru­cial skills such as stir­ring pots while over­see­ing home­work, we’re not get­ting paid. And the re­views are rarely glow­ing. Worse, I know it’s all my fault for try­ing to please all of the peo­ple, all of the time.

In my house­hold, by far the hard­est part of fam­ily meals is try­ing to find a com­bi­na­tion of in­gre­di­ents that works for ev­ery­one. One fam­ily mem­ber is coeliac, an­other thinks green veg are the work of the devil, a third will eat fish, but only if it’s cooked in a cer­tain way

– a way that makes it ined­i­ble for the oth­ers. And no­body thinks spaghetti hoops are suit­able for din­ner.

In their de­fence, I’m not quite up to the restau­rant stan­dard I clearly need to be. I over­cook food to within an inch of its life out of fear of killing peo­ple with sal­mo­nella. My chicken is of­ten so tough it could be used in hand-to-hand com­bat, and you could re-sole your shoes with my roast beef. I should add that years of med­i­ca­tion for a bad neck has left me with a con­sti­tu­tion that needs Zan­tac thrown into it sev­eral times a day, and no rich food at all. I can’t eat cream, which means I can’t use it to dis­guise my mis­takes. And a dodgy thy­roid means my spe­cial­ist has sug­gested I try avoid­ing gluten and dairy. The re­sult is a restau­rant Basil Fawlty would be proud of.

I’ve tried ini­ti­at­ing a weekly menu – ‘Mon­day, cold chicken, Tues­day, bolog­nese…’ – only to get side-tracked in the su­per­mar­ket aisles. Some­times I cheat and buy ready meals, but I feel guilty at both the cost and the con­tent. ‘It’s prob­a­bly full of salt and sugar and MSG,’ I sob to my­self as I put it on to the ta­ble. ‘It’s not pa­leo-what­sit or care­fully glycemic-in­dexed.’

Some­times I think mist­ily back to my child­hood hol­i­days with my grand­mother in the west of Ire­land. We all ate the same thing, there were no ar­gu­ments, and of­ten the chicken we ate had been run­ning round the gar­den hours ear­lier.

(There is no room for sen­ti­men­tal­ity in a farm­ing com­mu­nity.)

As a child, I hated red meat, but in­stead of com­plain­ing, I’d chew a bit, then spit it out and leave it on the back of the chair for the dog to hoover up. This plan was dis­cov­ered the day the dog was sick and didn’t do the hoover­ing.

We didn’t go to restau­rants, pub food didn’t ex­ist and a take­away was a bag of hot, fat chips once in a blue moon. You ate what you were given. Prunes float­ing like ugly is­lands in cus­tard, sand­wich spread… If you re­mem­ber sand­wich spread, you won’t be sur­prised that it’s yet to make any kind of come­back with trendy food­ies.

But I think the prob­lem with fam­ily cater­ing to­day is that chil­dren are used to choice. In our house, if some­one doesn’t like din­ner, I’ll make them a toasted cheese sand­wich. This is typ­i­cal mum be­hav­iour, and it’s hard-wired in.

There is, of course, one huge ad­van­tage of be­ing the chef: you don’t have to do the dishes! I leave my three men to ar­gue over fill­ing the dish­washer while I sit down to Pin­ter­est-surf for new and ex­cit­ing din­ner ideas I can burn to a crisp…

Cathy’s book, Se­crets Of A Happy Mar­riage (Orion, £7.99), is out now

‘As a child, I hated red meat and would leave it for the dog to hoover up’

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