kitchen And then I set fire TO THE EMPTY OVEN

If you are regular and observant, you may have noticed I didn’t post yesterday. Except for a new frockwatch. This is because it was a public holiday in NSW, SA and ACT and I was trying, TRYING to stay away from the computer because this website, she’s a hungry, demanding, voracious little thing and I needed a break. Much as I love her, she is always demanding to be fed.

Fortunately, Mamamia does not require actual food because if she did, I would be screwed. Words? Images? HTML code? That I can do. That’s the EASY stuff for me. Food? Not so much.

It’s hard enough feeding my children and myself and if you read my column in the Sunday papers a couple of days ago, you will understand. Before I post it, I wanted to share with you a little installment from My Life In The Kitchen that occurred yesterday.

Husband had made the kids cheese on toast as a snack. Son had made some potato wedges. Small Children were still hungry so Jason asked me to take the remaining piece of toast from the toaster, whack some butter on it, put a piece of sliced cheese (already sliced thanks to Mr Kraft and sitting in the package on the kitchen bench) on top and whack it under the grill – already on.

It wasn’t that hard. Except it was.

First, I put the cheese on toast in a baking dish I found that was lined with baking paper because I assumed that’s what had been used before (WRONG – it had been used to bake the wedges, the toast was just meant to sit directly on the oven shelf). Then I put it on the high shelf, directly under the griller and promptly set fire to the baking paper.

I reacted very calmly to this and simply took it back out and blew out the flames. Fortunately, at this point, there were several people shouting instructions to me which is always terrific fun.

When someone told me to put it on a lower shelf, I did that, until it was suggested to me that I was an idiot for putting it in the baking dish in the first place and should just put it directly under the grill.

So I did that and then proceeded to forget about it until someone noticed smoke coming from the oven. Charcoal cheese on toast, kiddies?

Just when I thought my culinary torture was over for the day and the toast had been dumped in the bin, someone else noticed more smoke coming from the oven. Is this NOT OVER YET?

The melted cheese, before it had turned to charcoal on the toast had dripped down to the bottom of the oven. When I extracted the toast and binned it, I forgot to turn off the griller so the charcoal sort of burnt more and the oven filled with smoke. Are we having fun, people?

I wonder if I am the first person to set fire to an empty oven. Do I get some kind of prize for that? I should.

Anyway, so with that very timely introduction, here is my Sunday Life column about….food:

I have a fairly tortured relationship with food preparation. I can’t stand it. Which is a fancy way of saying I’m a lousy cook. If you’re ever invited to dinner at mine, may I strongly suggest you BYO. Dinner. Some of my friends do that and I am not offended. Are you kidding? I am delighted. It’s win-win. All I have to do is open wine and set the table and nobody goes home with food poisoning.

Getting the picture? So when my editor called to gently remind me this was the Food Issue and asked me to write my column with that in mind, I tried to squirm my way out of it. “Look, there will be so much other food content in the magazine,” I pointed out. “I have nothing of real value to add.”
Silence. Editors do this sometimes instead of coming straight out and saying “no”. It still means “no” but somehow it’s scarier. Regardless, I blustered on with my pitch, trying in vain to keep the whine out of my voice and replace it with words pulled optimistically from my backside. “So! I was thinking! You know, with food covered so well by everyone else in Sunday Life, I could write about something different!”
More silence.
“Like…I don’t know, the perils of writing silly things on Twitter! Or something!”
I don’t know how to spell the sound a game show buzzer makes when your answer is wrong but I know you can hear it in your head so just insert it here. And that’s basically how my phone call with my editor ended.
So. Here goes my column about food. Written under duress.

Food and I have not been friends for quite some time. Sure, I had my Masterchef moment, just like everyone else. But it didn’t inspire me to cook, just to sit on my aforementioned backside and watch other people chopping, sautéing and plating (even though I don’t cook, ‘to plate’ is now my favourite verb and I fling it about with gay abandon, for instance, to describe the transference of takeaway noodles into a bowl).
My attitude to cooking is like those who enjoy watching the swimming but don’t actually get wet. Or those who go to Beyonce concerts but don’t re-enact all the moves from the “Put A Ring On It”. Oh wait. I was there and many do.
Anyway, the point is that I’m prepared to watch cooking and even cheer from the bleachers, just don’t expect me to participate or bad things will happen.
It wasn’t always like this. I used to bake for pleasure and relaxation and to nurture those I worked and lived with. I baked with my eldest child from an early age and it was a beautiful time of bonding for us. Now, he cooks and I watch. And eat.

With the younger kids, meals are far more fraught. Small children are not compatible with cooking because they hoover your time, are not great with boiling water or sharp knives, and detest everything you feed them. The harder you work to prepare their meals? The more love, effort and food groups you place tenderly on their plates? The more they detest it. They tell you this and then they throw it to the dog. This breaks your spirit because all you want in life is to see them chew and swallow something green. They understand and refuse to comply, eschewing anything mildly healthy and taunting you by, instead, choosing to eat their own snot. Thanks for that. Not the type of green I had in mind.

My friend Kerri has a non-eating child and she uses the usual sad parent-tricks. “I offer milk drinks at bedtime. I hide bits of meat in his mashed potato. I shove chunks of banana into his mouth when he’s not paying attention. I find packaged foods with movie characters on the wrappers and trick him into thinking they’re really exciting.” Remember that game show wrong-answer buzzer? It’s back.

The paltry culinary confidence I have left was annihilated this year right around the time my interest in Masterchef was peaking. Quite suddenly, I began burning things. Several times recently, I’ve left the porridge on the stove and then wandered off to make a phone call (remember that old insurance ad: “Oh my goodness! The chips!” – I am “Oh my goodness! The oats!”). And then twice in a fortnight I burnt a lasagne. Not even lasagne I made from scratch as I used to do. Oh no. It was Pasta Pantry’s lasagne. All I had to do was pre-heat the oven, remove the plastic lid, put the lasagne on a shelf and set the timer.

I did all these things and yet still I burnt the bastard. Twice. Eating burnt store-bought lasagne was a low moment at our dinner table and inspired me to blame the oven. And you know what? I was right. When the repairman came he took a quick look and pronounced “ Broken thermostat”. Unfortunately, he offered me no absolution for the porridge.

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Having thought about it a little more since writing the column and burning the oven, I have realised that my problem with cooking is that I am not present enough. You cannot afford to be vague or distracted when there are things on stoves and in ovens.

Do you ever have kitchen/cooking disasters? Is everyone in the world but me a capable cook?

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