About a year ago I returned to life as a full time mum for reasons which are largely irrelevant to the point of this story, but which involved a health crisis in the family. At the time I was completely consumed with the situation at hand, and I didn’t miss my ‘part time job’ one bit! Of course, my ‘part time job’ had become ‘full time on part time hours and pay’ and unmanageable with the Shangri La of the ‘best of the both worlds’ rapidly descending into a living nightmare.
In my mind, most things happen for a reason, which is slightly unfortunate for my mother who ended up having a truly horrific experience and an extended stay in hospital following a routine operation. But, on the plus side, she ended up in a lovely little apartment in Central Chichester, and I ended up being able to walk away from a job that was no longer working for me, with my head held high, knowing that I had done my best, and now had other priorities!
I was so behind with life in general at the point where things started to return to ‘normality’, that I feel like I’ve spent the last 8 or 9 months doing ‘nothing’ – just keeping on top of laundry, doing jobs that have long needed doing – and that doesn’t include the filing which is still sitting there staring at me, lopsided and about to topple!
Okay, so I will confess that this period of doing ‘ nothing’ has also included organising a school jumble sale, summer festival and bonfire event – not single handedly but nonetheless, and managing a garden re-landscape which is still on-going! Just making coffee for the workers takes out a chunk of your time. Oh and looking after two dogs, one very elderly and recently departed, 7 chickens, two guinea pigs, a husband and an eight year old…not necessarily in that order!
But for me, quite a lot of the time that feels like ‘nothing’, mainly because it all feels very mundane, and at times goes completely unnoticed. My ‘me time’ tends to consist of running and writing, both of which give me massive mental and physical boosts, but ultimately I feel guilty about doing either of them because they feel self indulgent! And even though I now have more time than ever to do all the things I’ve never had time to do, I still like I’m failing at everything..not doing anything properly!
With that in mind, I decided I needed to up my game in the kitchen…at least until I’ve decided what to do with the rest of my life! I decided that I needed to at least feel like I’d achieved the ultimate ‘perfect mother dream’ of providing nutritious meals for my family! I have NEVER been a fan of ready meals – not for any moral or philosophical reasons – I just don’t like them. And even through my less encumbered years, the most I would succumb to was a jar of ‘Chicken Tonight’ jalfrezi sauce for a dinner party, living on toast, Marmite and Sauvignon Blanc the rest of the time – but never a microwave meal!
I blame my mother for this of course! Despite being a full time working single mother, she always delivered a home cooked hot meal for us in the evenings – or at least until I got so fussy I lived on chicken noodle packet soup and Bird’s Whisk and Serve custard! In my most formative years, we always had roast on Sunday, cold meat and chips on a Monday, and a combination of spag bol, home made soup, and other family favourites the rest of the week! I dare say there were probably more chips on the menu than might be politically acceptable these days, but at least they were home made, real potato and cooked in a deep fat fryer! In fact I learned to cut chips before I could ride a bike!
So for me menu planning has become a regular part of my weekend activity – always in consultation with the end consumers of course, and around their busy play and work schedules. I even re-signed up to the veg box subscription malarky to push myself to use new ingredients – having failed on three previous occasions to make it work, I have this week cooked with fennel and venison and I’m about to knock up a spicy red pepper and lentil soup! So already, I feel like progress is being made! Masterchef here I come – or even a modicum of self satisfaction is good enough for me!
Or not…because blow me, if I haven’t spent this week on two of the most ridiculous culinary missions of my parenting journey! On Saturday I found myself trying to persuade my daughter that my home-made spaghetti carbonara is better than the Marks and Spencer’s microwave version which she absolutely loves! I suggested a blind taste challenge to prove my point, and set to work creating identical looking carbonaras without so much as a stray dot of oregano out of place! But un-fooled she was, immediately identifying the imposter and refusing to eat it! Happily, my husband preferred mine, but that felt like a hollow victory!
And last night we came home from gymnastics, and I had that sinking feeling that I really didn’t have anything in! The loss of the dog has sent me off kilter a bit this week, and my menu planning has gone to pot! But she was keen on some Heinz Tomato soup with bread rolls and vegetables, which all sounded very do-able/acceptable! Until I got home to check the tinned soup stash – no Heinz Tomato!!!! Ultimate parenting fail!
All was not lost, however, as I did have a punnet of cherry tomatoes and a good deal of determination to create a healthy replica of Britain’s best loved branded tomato soup! And it honestly didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to do it! It would have taken longer to open the tin! I did go through the extra process of ‘passing’ the soup through a sieve to eliminate the risk of a stray tomato seed betraying me, and I even did something which I loathe, adding a bit of flour to the soup to thicken it up – but ultimately all it had it in was good and fresh!
And it did indeed go down well! She knew it wasn’t Heinz but she ate it, and so did the equally fussy Heinz Tomato loving husband who actually didn’t believe it wasn’t the real thing! Yes, that does deserve a mini air punch! Although he does suspect me of some sort of subterfuge.
So that’s ‘one all’ to Ella and I on my mission to provide more wholesome grub to my daughter! Although I duly recognise that the greatest challenge of all is to even get close to re-creating the ‘school child’ Ambrosia which appears to be school macaroni cheese! What they put in it I don’t know, but it’s the crack cocaine of school meals! I have yet to meet a parent who has found a reasonable alternative for their child, despite many many attempts and methods, including ‘just add water’ packets, frozen, microwavable, take away portions from the pub, even Pot Noodle’s own attempt, you name it – I fear it is impossible!
But above all it seems ironic to me that things have come to this – faking tinned soup! What a way to get your fulfilment in life…apart from folding pants, and unloading the dishwasher of course, all of which just fill me with joy! Never mind, I hear there’s an aubergine on the way in my veg box this week, and I’m not afraid to use it!