Why I’ll Never Be A Good Cook

e2e2de800ad56d879c5de0e59c3b423aI always won the ‘progress’ prize at school – never the ‘outrageously gifted’ or abundance of academic and sports prizes that the beautiful head girl with the double-barrelled name won – the girl that all of us boarders had a secret crush on, because she was not only gifted, but surprisingly nice.


No, mine was always the prize for trying hard.


And deep down it was galling, not because I needed to win first prize to buff up my self-esteem because I’ve always been quite easy on myself, found it easy to convince myself that trying my best is what’s important, but deep down I knew that my dad’s chest would have inflated with pride to know that he had a ‘winner’ for a daughter.


It might also have given him with some justification for the fees.


I’ve grown up a bit since then and realised that you can’t be great at something just by wishing for it, or trying hard; that talent and ability actually count for quite a bit in the real world.


And that is the sad realisation I’ve been forced to come to recently with cooking.


You see, I’ve got this shelf of lovely, glossy recipe books that tempt me on a daily basis to do a ‘Gwyneth’ and knock up something perfect that everyone will hate me for; that trick me into believing that I can make something wonderful if I go all Disney and simply believe…


In fact, so keen am I to impress the family with my culinary skills, I’ve even managed to adapt to the Borrower-size limitations of the tiniest kitchen that isn’t part of a caravan – yet still nothing goes right.


Because you wouldn’t believe the things that can go wrong in my kitchen.


I mean, how hard can it be to follow a recipe? I hear myself shout at Masterchef almost every evening. It’s not like I’m trying to make Anna’s Mess or a Croquembouche with all seventy-four fucking instructions and a limited amount of time to knock them up in. I stick to simple, Nigella/Jamie home-style, throw-it-all-together cooking. Yet even that evades me.


I’ve never shaken off the reputation I got ten years ago when I made some new, exciting dish, threw the leftovers in the bin, and found a dead fox by the side of it the following morning.


After much deliberation I’ve decided that here’s where it all goes horribly pear-shaped:


The essential ingredient that I always forget and have to go without or replace with something nothing like it. It’s one of the fundamental reasons for my cooking ‘fails’, and one I’ve found can alter the outcome of a recipe quite dramatically, especially because my first rule of cooking is that a recipe should never have more than six ingredients in the first place. I always have the wrong flour, the wrong sugar, or in the heat of the moment I used the ‘close as’ approach eg. when I substitute a lime for a lemon, syrup for honey…


I never have the right equipment. Take the banana and peanut butter muffins I made last week, when I couldn’t be arsed to mash up the banana, then realised that I probably should and used a soup blender to crush them, filing down the inside of the plastic mixing bowl at the same time, so Kurt ended up with a shard of plastic in his mouth.


I always think I can improvise. I added potato to a curry last night, which was some kind of mutant potato that had the die-hard properties of a cockroach and refused to soften even after a desperate blasting in the microwave.


Timing – I’m a bit of a ‘wing it’ person, forget to put on the timer and still convince myself that five minutes here or there won’t make a difference. It does.


Instructions – Who knew that every instruction was important? I miss out certain instructions in the recipe’s method when I think they’re unnecessary, not time-efficient or I’ve already lost interest.


I’m a bit sketchy on my cooking techniques and believe that ‘stirring’ is fundamentally ‘stirring’.


I get distracted, because I pride myself on being a great multi-tasker – which I am – in any other location than the kitchen and in any other situation than cooking.



Outed By An Asian Salad

I might be wrong, but I suspect a bit of a cooking conspiracy in our social circle; foul play in the kitchen. And I only discovered this conspiracy a few weekends ago when my culinary fraudulence was finally ‘outed’ by an Asian Salad.

As a number of you are probably already aware, I am a huge advocate of the ‘faking it’ method of living your life, so I suppose that I knew that it was only a matter of time before I f*cked up somewhere in my careful camouflaging of shop-bought delicacies that I passed off as my own creations. Nevertheless, it is still mortifying to be caught out.

The family has obviously known about my general uselessness anywhere near a gas ring for some time; luckily for them (and me), they ‘eat to live’ rather than ‘live to eat’.

But I still thought that I had managed to conceal my ineptitude in the kitchen from my friends. So when we were recently invited to a friend’s house, it was a huge error of judgement on my part (in spite of a full risk assessment), to ‘make’ something, rather than bring the suggested cheese plate.

This close friend makes Donna Hay look like an amateur. So much so that I have been forced to ban my daughter from afternoon tea at her house on the grounds that my self-esteem can’t cope.  Her house smells of the Woolworths bakery section, ALL THE TIME; it is that intimidating. Freshly baked cupcakes, raspberry and white chocolate scones and fresh fruit smoothies are all on offer in her in-house café; my daughter gets a choice of cereal or toast in mine (and that’s if the bread isn’t green). This friend is such a domestic goddess that when invited to my house, I plan my whole menu around what I ask her to bring. Truth be told, she’s another one of my girl-crushes, but in a healthy, symbiotic kind of way; she loves cooking, so I let her do it and then she lets me eat it.

I have worked out why she only ever asks me to bring anything beyond a cheese plate to her house, of course, whilst our other mates are encouraged to bring those ‘every-f*cking-herb-in-the-garden’ salads or tantalizing desserts with asterisked ingredients that you can only source in Outer Mongolia.

So when she invited us recently, I foolishly decided, as a kind of friendship offering/coming-of-age in the kitchen ritual, to digress beyond the Brie and Camenbert. To give something back.

I mean, how hard could an Asian Salad be?

Bloody hard, as it turns out. The old man later described it as ‘special’; and I would probably agree. It  was ‘special’. And it seems that I probably do have some special needs in the kitchen, and probably require some sort of culinary IEP if it’s available.

And cooking is a potentially dangerous pastime, I discovered. Those matchstick carrots were bitches to chop and I almost decapitated my best nail several times. (Who knew that cutting a carrot required Samurai skills?). I also virtually blinded myself with several squirts of lime juice to my left eye and then followed suit with the right eye by rubbing it  manically with chili-coated fingers.

It’s not that I don’t have the best intentions when it comes to cooking, but recipes may as well be in Sanskrit for all the sense they make to me. My brain simply shuts down when either a stirring or blending technique is mentioned; and then I begin to improvise. Dangerously. And for some reason, my improvisations never quite turn out to be as creatively delicious as Jamie Oliver’s.

I do blame the family for part of my innate fear of new recipes. ‘Mum’s tried a new recipe,’ is speedily transmitted around the dining table in a panicked Chinese whisper, as I dish up anything new, and even the ADHDer is uncharacteristically silenced.

Which is why I generally stick to what I know, and what they know.

But occasionally, the stars align in just the right way, (like if Donna Hay’s magazine drops into my mailbox at exactly the same time as we receive a ‘bring a dish’ lunch invitation), and I ‘go boldly where I haven’t gone before’ and attempt to discover the untapped culinary genius that I know MUST lurk somewhere deep within me.

And a special Asian Salad is created.

The problem with the recipe was that, unfortunately, it required a few minor alterations from the outset, when I realized that I had forgotten a few minor ingredients. I could only find quite small red chilies in Woolies, for example, so I thought that doubling the quantities might work; and I thought that I had some lime juice in the cupboard but when I looked, it was in fact lemon.

And that chili proved to be a bit of a surprise to the palate, apparently, and the lemon was decidedly a little over-tart. Nevertheless, on the whole I thought that I had got away with it, even though no-one apart from my gorgeous friend, the hostess, ate the portion of MY salad that was on their plate. And surprisingly, a Niagara Falls of water was consumed, even though it was unusually chilly for October.

I was obviously a little concerned when my friend became very flushed at one point (almost to the point of hyperventilation), but I assumed that the stress of hosting was to blame; and she put it down to menopause.

It was indeed a very ‘special’ Asian Salad. And I had officially been outed.

‘I’m not saying my wife’s a bad cook but she uses a smoke alarm as a timer’. Bob Monkhouse

Coleslaw with Gingered 3-Seed Dressing courtesy of britton618 at www.flickr.com