I absolutely do not know what to do with pine nuts, pomegranate syrup or star anise
March 11, 2023 7:00 am(Updated 7:01 am)
Here’s my advice: if it’s your dad that does the cooking in the family, don’t let him die. Mine did, and now we’re all starving.
It all used to work so well. Dad used to feed Mum beautiful home-cooked meals Monday to Friday, combing endlessly through Nigel, Nigella, Jamie, Marcella and countless others’ recipe books, the internet, magazines and frequently supplementing the fare he discovered therein with his own ideas, or amending them better to suit his own and Mum’s preferences.
He would spend happy hours in Waitrose, at farmers’ markets or wherever foodies gather online to source the right ingredients and then conjure up magical dishes every evening. He knew what to do with toasted pine nuts, pomegranate syrup, star anise and sensible things too.
At the weekends, the grandson and I would descend. “Here!” I would say, booting my child through the door. “Fill this hollow-legged 11-year-old with something nutritious and delicious at least thrice daily until school on Monday, couldya?! Because I sure can’t!” And off my son would happily trot to experience the world of texture, flavour and ironed napkins (the latter admittedly Grandma’s contribution to the project).
Granddad died seven weeks ago and I can see my son’s bones softening with every plateful of fish fingers (about 847 of the buggers so far by my reckoning, 845 of them burned) and pasta that he has ingested since.
I need to rise to the challenge, to fill the void left. But. But. I loathe cooking. I hate it beyond measure, especially when you have to convert those measures from imperial to metric or decide what “a cup” means or consult the oracles to discover what counts as a “dash” or, God forbid, “a drizzle”.
And what I loathe most is that there is no escape from it. Usually when something doesn’t speak to us, when it doesn’t happen to arouse the slightest flicker of interest within, we can just… not pursue it. There are plenty of activities that some people like and others do not. But no one HAS to read, exercise, abseil, knit, paint in oils, watch The X Factor or have sex three times a day if they don’t want to – let alone in the service of other people. Only cooking – and by that I mean the assembling of any meal, hot or cold – pulls that goddamn stroke.
As with anything you have loathed for long enough, I now find myself in a state of such profound ignorance about the endeavour that it further hampers the possibility of change. I absolutely do not know what to do with pine nuts, pomegranate syrup or star anise. What’s a Kaffir lime leaf? Is it superior to all other lime leaves? If so, how, and – further question – what is a lime leaf and can I substitute lime juice? Or lemon juice? Or fish fingers? How close are we to meals in tablet form? Is anyone working on this or did everyone go over to the convivial dark side during the Jamie Oliver-bish-bash-bosh revolution? Did no one think of those left behind?
I know what you’re saying. You’re saying one of two things (or possibly, if particularly garrulous, both). You’re saying: “Oh, but cooking is wonderful! It’s relaxing, it’s an expression of love, it’s nurturing, you just need to find the right recipes/book/silicone spatula.”
Or you’re saying: “Gendered roles! Sexism! Boo! Pass the cooking over to other members of your family!” And believe me I would, except that this particular allotment of domestic labour (we will talk about loo-cleaning another time) is nothing to do with sexism and everything to do with the fact that my husband is never home until late and I no more have the time or patience to teach the 11-year-old to cook than I do to produce a three-course Ottolenghi dinner. So that’s a bust.
The only solution is to go back 20, 30, maybe even 40 years to the formative years. It’s clear to me now that the thing most to beware of in life is incuriosity. If I had my time again, I would fight against my lack of interest in things. I would demand of myself that I acquire a basic competence in everything so that at least I could perform even hated tasks with an ease that means they impinge – at least three times a day, lest we forget – less powerfully on my life than they currently do. Or, I suppose, if I’m time-travelling, I could just marry someone who enjoys dicking about with capers, black garlic and all that nonsense.
If you have any better ideas, please do write in, ideally on the back of a lifetime subscription to Gousto. Many thanks.