In lockdown one, I watched a television show where Jamie Oliver cooked with ‘store cupboard items’. The dish he made looked delicious, but it’s fair to say that Jamie’s store cupboard is considerably more supplied than mine. I can knock up Spaghetti Hoops on toast as a ‘store cupboard special’ but not a Scruffy Veggie Lasagna, but I guess that is why he is a TV chef and I am a TV viewer.
Now as someone who isn’t a veggie, but doesn’t mind a meat free meal a few nights a week, I thought I’d give it a go. As I had a fairly free schedule that day, I spent a good deal of time on it so that I could delight my family. They were going to be like The Waltons, thanking me by singing and playing board games, and being wholesome and great, and brimming with vitamins and vitality as they gobbled it up and begged for more.
But what really happened was this:
“What’s this purple chunk?”
“Is the chicken in the bottom?”
“What are the leaves?”
“How much of it do I have to eat?”
“All of what’s on your plate.”
“Oh wow it’s filling isn’t it?”
“You’ve not tried it yet.”
“The steam is filling isn’t it.”
“No, the steam isn’t filling actually.” I’m getting shrill about here.
“Where did you get the recipe from?”
“It’s a Jamie Oliver one.”
“No wonder his restaurants shut down.”
Much laughter from the children and Him. I’m getting furious but they are laughing so hard they can’t tell.
I stand up, hands on the table “you are going to eat that even if you are sick. I’m trying to ensure you don’t get scurvy you spoilt …”
He butts in, “We are only joking, we will eat it.”
The kids look at him like the turncoat they fear he is, but then I see him wink and they smile.
“I’m trying to feed a conspiracy of gits, why I bother I’m not sure,” I shout and flounce off, because although I’d never admit it to them, the sage leaves on top have ruined the dinner and I think I’m not going to be able to get all of mine down either.
A little while later my daughter comes in, chewing. “We’re sorry,” she says sweetly.
“What are you chewing?”
“Dad gave us Mentos when we had eaten it.”
I wanted to laugh but knew it would be tantamount to declaring them right, so instead I said, “It’s okay, as long as you are open to trying new things we can move on.”
“We are happy to try new things but please remember that the purple chunks and the leaves have now been tried and don’t need to be tried again.”
Fast forward to lockdown three and I’m planning on delighting them again, this time with another Oliver family favourite.
Spring Chicken Pie. They’re going to love this, I just know it. I’m playing Centreforce radio (88.3 DAB) and bopping along while preparing the ingredients for my pie. Chicken, new potatoes, lemon, tarragon, butter, all mixed together with scrunched up filo pastry on the top – beautiful.
I called them and they actually arrived within the first five calls and there’s not even a headphone attached to either child. I’m feeling very cocky as I place steaming plates in front of them.
“Tuck in,” I say and they do. But then they stop and look at me.
“No.” I shout and take a huge forkful and it’s only after a second or two that I think there’s so much lemon in it that I’m afraid for my tooth enamel. But, hold on, what’s that coming? Oh wow, it’s tarragon/aniseed and yuk. I only used half the amount Oliver suggested. I’m ready to hop in my car and go round there daring him to try it. I chew slowly and smile at the children.
“Mmmm delicious,” I say calmly.
“Can I please have the ketchup?” my son says.
I hand it over because I think a bit of sugar might actually help get it down.
My husband arrives at the table after getting off a work call.
“Oh wow there’s a lot here,” he says as I hand him a huge plate piled high. “Where’s yours?” he asks.
“I’ve got plenty,” I smile.
He eyes me dubiously.
“Where is this recipe from?” asks my daughter.
“It’s another Jamie Oliver.”
“Mum, we will eat this because you went mental last time, but please, please can you never make anything by him again.”
“I can’t promise,” I say.
“Mum, his food is nasty.”
“It isn’t. It’s the nation’s favourite.”
“To look at in books, not to have in your mouth.”
“Conspiracy of gits, you really are,” I say washing my last lemony forkful down with water. “Tomorrow I’ll give you chicken poppers and twizzled turkey or whatever it is.”
“Oh yes please, can we Mum?”
“No we bloody can’t.”
“If you cover it in ketchup and try not to chew too much it will go down,” says my son helpfully.
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that we parents have rallied at dinner time, more than any other time, this past year to try to keep everyone healthy and fed, and what thanks have we had? None, bloody none! Dinner is a chore at the best of times and during a pandemic it has been a country mile from the best of times.
So as the Monday 12th April draws ever closer, and the prospect of going out is almost in touching distance, I can tell you that I have booked an outside table at our local pub, and even if it’s hailstones and blizzards, I’m going out for dinner. Oh the joy of not cooking for my conspiracy of gits, just one night off, just one.
And I’ve even got a new slogan for BoJo to use: