Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Cooking For The Kids: A Sad Old Story

Today's post is a guest offering from Ryan Baxter. When he emailed offering a post on a subject close to my own heart - namely, cooking; specifically, cooking that doesn't always go to plan and cooking for the family - I couldn't resist. And, as I'm in no fit state either to cook or compose a post myself today, his offering is timely to say the least. He writes...

Cooking for the kids is something that sends me into a cold sweat. I can’t even cook for myself without burning it – and that’s just toast. No joke. This said, it’s fair to surmise that I’m no culinary whizz. Further still, I’d go as far to say that the word ‘culinary’ should never be associated with me.

However, from time to time I’m called into action. The kids hate it, I hate it, my partner hates it and each and every one of us in this household fears the worst. As far as I’m aware, I’m yet to actually cause the kids food poisoning. I’ve given myself food poisoning on many occasions, but never the kids. Yet.

Only last month I was off work for two days after reheating a slice of pizza that had sat on the bedroom windowsill for how long I couldn’t remember. I’m genuinely scared of cooking for anybody, including myself – I’m absolutely convinced that I’m going to make people ill.

Alas, I’m here today to face my fears. I’m going to share with you what I consider to be the turning point in my embryonic cooking career. What I hope to achieve by this is to ultimately humiliate myself so severely that I have no choice but to better myself in the kitchen.

Here’s what happened. Please try not to judge.

A Few Weeks Ago

This was my most recent cooking disaster and doubles as the inspiration behind this piece.

I followed the instructions, of that I’m convinced. But something went wrong. Something that caused our eldest to lose her first tooth. It was my inaugural attempt at this dish. I had voiced concerns but they were thoroughly laughed off. I believe the sentence went something like “any idiot can cook a pasta bake.”

Unfortunately though, I’m no normal idiot.

My suspicions were raised at around about the 20 minute mark, at which point the jar had instructed me to sprinkle cheese ‘generously’ over the pasta. The cheese wasn’t the issue. I’m a seasoned cheese sprinkler and felt comfortable in my ability to complete this task.

The issue was, before embarking on cheese sprinkling, I had noticed that 20 minutes of baking had turned the pasta a colour that I’d never seen pasta go before. It had changed from the yellowy-white substance that we know and love to an almost dark brown. I believe Dulux call it ‘Tan 4’.

Never having cooked pasta bake before, I brushed my trepidation to one side and continued with cheese sprinkling duties, believing that (and this is genuine) the sauce’s colouring had somehow fused into the genetics of the pasta.

As I’m writing this I’m acutely aware of how ridiculous I must sound. However,sharing is all part of the healing process, so please bear with me… I then placed the dish back in the oven for the final 10 minutes of its journey. 10 minutes passed and I returned to the pasta bake. It looked majestic and, I’ll be honest, I felt proud in some strange way that it actually appeared edible.

The first signs of distress came only seconds later. The girls were sat ready at the table and were presented with what was surely the best meal their daddy had ever cooked them. They love it when mummy cooks pasta bake and their eyes lit up at the feast that lay before them.

Eager to begin, I left them to tuck in while I returned to the kitchen to pick up my plate and join the girls at the table. However, before even reaching the kitchen I heard an almighty crunch, followed shortly by a burst of tears.

Turns out that it’s quite difficult to change the genetics of pasta. In fact, you can’t. What had actually happened was that I hadn’t read the instructions as diligently as my children’s health required. I had used the correct measure of pasta but, by omitting water from the sauce mix, the pasta to sauce ratio was simply untenable. Unprotected by the safety of the sauce and exposed to the full heat of the oven, the pasta had burnt so horrifically that it was essentially concrete.

Unfortunately the kids tucked in first. It wasn’t a royal situation where the kids ate it first to test for intoxicants – I was just so convinced that the food was edible that I didn’t see the need to sample it before serving it up. There was a fair bit of blood as the tooth wasn’t ready to come out yet, which also made our youngest cry.

What a juxtaposition of emotions. Pure elation at having created what I thought was a great-looking dish followed by that distinct sinking feeling. I had caused all of this. Two young girls crying their eyes out at the dinner table – one now prematurely sporting the Nobby Stiles look.

The only thing I could console them with was chocolate, but only on the proviso that mummy knew nothing of the events that had unfolded in her absence.  I know it’s not ideal and probably a little cowardly, but my partner was already wary of asking me to cook for the kids and this was my chance to prove that I’m not a menace.

Well, mummy walked in just before the kids went to bed. I was hoping that she might be running late so I could forget about the whole sordid affair for the night. But no. Upon arrival through the front door, our little one ran straight up to mummy and gave her a big smile to show off her new look.

“When did that happen?!” asked my shocked wife.

My little one’s response? “Daddy did it!”

She continued: “And he gave us chocolate for dinner!”

Thanks, Charlie. I suppose I deserved nothing less.

I’m now banned from cooking for the kids until I’ve “learnt to cook for myself properly.” That seems fair enough in my opinion – I don’t like cooking anyway. However, it’s a principle thing. No father should be banned from cooking for the kids. I realised that I need cookery courses and have already signed up for one that I found online through a vouchers website.

It’s a start but it’s probably going to be quite some time before I’m allowed or, more pertinently, want to cook for the kids again. I’ll get there eventually I’m sure.

In the mean time, wish me luck and hopefully I’ll be back with a success story somewhere down the line.
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