The cook, the chief, the wife, the mother

 I think I’m pretty damn rounded as a person, as a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend. I think I’ve done OK most of the time. I’ve had a full and fairly varied life. I’ve travelled a bit and I’ve had many interesting jobs but best of all I have been a part of, and had a part in raising, a wonderful family. My children are happy and healthy, intelligent and independent. I am a good mum and I’m confident that I have done a good job where my family is concerned. I am also going to begrudgingly admit that I’ve had my moments of Queen Bitch Mum. I just hope that in some way my girls have learnt from those moments too. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger so they say.  

Anyway, they still love me so I must have done something right! But I do have one huge regret as a mother….When my kids look back on happy childhood memories none of these memories are going to be soft focus visions of us all covered in flour while baking together, or of those heavenly kitchen smells wafting from the kitchen luring us night after night to a Bisto Family supper table. Feeding your family good food equates to feeding them love. I love my family dearly but I could never claim that I have been the provider of good food. For those of us old enough to remember the 70s sitcom Butterflies (1 min 28), I am the modern day Ria!

I can’t cook. 

I really, really can’t cook. I hate cooking. Everything I touch turns to carbon. Or sludge. Tasteless, unrecognisable sludge (last week’s fajitas). Overly salty, unrecognisable sludge (my bacalao experiment). Although usually my efforts have brought much hilarity and even a post or two on Matt’s Facebook it’s a case of if I don’t laugh I will cry. Actually, on occasion I have cried! 

I have my ‘staples’ which I can fall back on. Thank you God for inventing fishfinger sandwiches (nice bread and a bit of garnish makes it a meal in my eyes!) and baked potatoes. (Although I have managed to cock up baked potatoes too! Twice. On consecutive nights!!) And for some reason I am a whizz at making eggs. Any eggs. Even poached. But my repertoire is not extensive. When the girls were little I relied heavily on pasta, stir fries, pasta, various Quorn products for vegetarian Isabella, pasta and various non Quorn products for carnivore Millie. Oh and pasta! I remember feeling ashamed when someone said to me reproachfully, “pasta again? Can’t you give them something else for a change?” I was good at pasta. Dried spaghetti or fusilli in boiling water, easy! Opening a jar of pesto, easier! Quite frankly there was no point in making something from scratch when no one in my family ever liked anything I made for them. At some point when the kids were between nursery and year 2 I threw my hands up in surrender and admitted defeat in the kitchen. I stopped making family dinners and stopped trying to be an earth mother. Despite this, I managed to feed my kids enough nourishment and they grew up healthy and strong and Matt, refusing to join the pasta gang, got used to being chief cook and often came home from a long day at work and a tiring commute to knock up something tasty for the two of us grown ups. 

Isabella discovered the joys of cooking in her teens (probably as a way to eat something other than pasta) and would happily make delicious looking vegetarian food for herself. Consequently I only had to worry about feeding Millie. Now people who know us well would think that feeding Millie is the most difficult thing in the world. She knows what she likes and she likes what she knows. No deviation. I think that makes it quite easy. The only difficulty for me was to try to mix up the limited diet a bit and not burn the few things she would eat! I cannot multitask when it comes to cooking, although I do remember stirring something on the stove while breastfeeding which can definitely be called multitasking. I need to stay with the cooker or I get too easily distracted. I have tried to serve Millie burnt bacon on more than one occasion. You may be able to scrape the burn of the toast but you can’t scrape the burn off the bacon… just snaps….believe me….I tried!!

Somehow I managed to keep Millie alive until she went off to uni and started looking after, and cooking for, herself. I was an empty nester and my time was my own. I came to Madrid full of good intentions and renewed enthusiasm. I was going to crack this cooking thing once and for all. With just me and Matt to cook for I was going to experiment and try new dishes using fresh ingredients bought daily from the markets!

Pah!! It’s been six months and I still hate cooking. I’ve made some hideous meals and we are both bored of my ‘go to’ fail-safers. I still hate supermarket shopping especially after the initial excitement of seeing exotic looking European fare on the shelves wore off. I’m terrified of the markets where my Spanish lets me down to the extent where I buy the wrong bits of meat or end up with ridiculously priced fish because I don’t really know what I’m asking for. I’ve seen tv programmes which show tourists in Spain visiting and shopping in the markets. It all looks so easy, so cosmopolitan, so romantic, with women dressed in floaty dresses with straw baskets over tanned arms, gently thumbing and inhaling the aromas of gorgeous looking vegetables to test for freshness before buying. I get told ‘no toca’ when I try to do this. Maybe it’s because I’m dressed in jeans and a baggy sweatshirt, no floaty dress or straw basket in sight! 

So I keep going, keep trying, keep cooking. We can’t eat out every night. I’ve decided to stick to one market, my local. It’s small and relatively uninspiring but they are getting to know me there. I’ve made friends with the meat man. He knows what I’m asking for when I ask for mince. The veg man is always helpful when I bastardise the names of things I just can’t seem to remember (avocado…think Watergate…waterKate…”aguacate”!! Carrot…zany hour…zanahoria!! My strange system of word learning is slow and laborious but I’m getting there!). I know there will still be cooking disasters and stupid culinary mistakes but hopefully I will learn from them. Last week’s fajita disaster was because the spice mix I used was a pale greyish, mild powder which looked vile and very different to the vibrant red, hot spicy one I’m used to. Lesson learnt – don’t use a packet spice mix. I need to make my own. Make my own?? That is surely another disaster waiting to happen!!