It’s no secret I hate cooking. The only good thing about sticky summer weather is that nobody really wants to eat anything. You can be sitting there at 9pm sponging perspiration from your face with your legs spreadeagled over the coffee table (a charming vista from almost any angle) and nobody’s likely to say, ‘How about some roast suckling pig and a dozen treacle dumplings (with custard).’ They’d sooner die. Not only do they lack the capacity to plough into such repast – they’re also well aware I’d have to kill them.
My friend Jules, whose claim to fame is cooking ‘from scratch’, is quite astounded when I’m game enough to mention convenient things like fish fingers. I do it sometimes purposely when I feel she’s being too smug and needs stirring up. I have no doubt Jules makes her own fish fingers, forming hand-minced flaked flathead into artistic oceanic shapes with her bare hands and crumbing them. With crumbs made from scratch with … yes, bread. Probably home-baked and grated with her own toenails. Opening a frostbound box from the freezer department of Food-o-rama is probably as foreign to Jules as a working knowledge of what to do with a Brussels sprout is to me. Furthermore, I just don’t care. Some of us were put on this earth to nurture our families – and the rest of us weren’t.
There is something mind-numbingly boring about going to the supermarket anyway. Filling your trolley with vegetables, taking them home, nuking them – then scraping them from your children’s plates into the bin. If you took them straight home and binned them immediately, you could cut out the middle man completely. It must be the ‘guilty mother’ syndrome which keeps you battling away – so when the doctor tells you your family has scurvy and every nutritional deficiency known to man, you can say with complete honesty, ‘I tried giving them vegetables, sir … but they wouldn’t eat them!’ It sounds lame, but you’ll get away with it because it’s no longer legal to jam things into kids’ mouths and tape them shut.
I once remember cooking something – but it didn’t work. It’s tempting to try again when winter sets in and the aroma of the neighbours’ pot roast comes wafting through the kitchen window. Tendrils of gastronomic extravagance curling through the barren wastes of my non-productive kitchen. Sadly, the Hunter Gatherer sometimes thinks the aroma’s ours. He looks hopeful and asks what I’m cooking. I tell him to stand near the open window and breathe in. It’s called ‘passive eating’ – it’s inexpensive and you won’t gain weight. Our neighbours have no idea how many of their meals we’ve enjoyed by osmosis. If they cook something really hideous, we just close the window and the HG is forced to endure yet another dalliance with fish fingers.
A very convenient tool in the art of feeding your family is the knowledge nobody will ever let themselves starve. When they start making whimpering sounds, you point to the loaf of bread. Your only contribution to the scheme of things is to make sure there is a loaf of bread. The survival instinct will then take care of the rest. If you’re really fortunate, one of your offspring will discover they have a flair for cooking and will shove rudely past you to get to the spice rack. You may be lucky enough to get quite a few years’ mileage out of this before they leave home.
But the best invention since sliced bread (or any bread, really) is the packet of ready-rolled puff pastry sheets. You can wrap them around just about anything and people will be incredibly impressed. Just open a tin, bung it on the pastry, do a bit of artistic crimping … and voila! Your family thinks you’re Nigella. Not only that, you can use up those tins of Pal you don’t need anymore since WoofWoof moved down the street to where the dogs are spoiled rotten with home-made beefy numnums.
Necessity being the mother of invention, feeding the family need only be limited by your imagination. You will find you can fool almost all of the people most of the time with the pastry trick. I was telling Jules about it the other day and she refused to believe there would be any call for such a product. Fortunately for some of us, there most definitely is. Due to consumer demand, the packs of ready-rolled pastry now come in an economy pack of 10 sheets. Bliss on a stick, and bring on the dog bowl!
Eat your heart out, Nigella …