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!
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’