Sunday, 7 September 2008

An Angel At My Table

Twenty three years ago, on this very day (7th September), I woke up at about eight o'clock in a warm wet bed. It took me a moment or two to get over my disgust and realise what was happening, after all it wasn't supposed to happen for another fortnight. I got up, stripped the bed and phoned Stevie's office, he hadn't yet arrived, so I spoke to his boss. I then had a bath and phoned the hospital. It was beginning to hurt. But it was worth it (and the agony that was yet to come) because at five to three that afternoon Bob gasped his way into the open air all fingers and toes accounted for.

After living together for five years, Stevie and I had married on the 18th of August the previous year with the express intention of having a child. Being a bit of a 'by the book' sort, I had come off the pill six month earlier. I hoped to get pregnant on my wedding night. That wasn't to be, it took five months. Five months! It seemed like an age. By the time that little card stick turned blue I was convinced I was infertile. But no, so we went out and celebrated with champagne. Only one glass for me and no more for another nineteen months, until I'd stopped breast-feeding. That was worth it too, because although motherhood hasn't always been easy - to immunise or not? shouldn't he be home from school by now? Oh my god, what have you done to your hair? - it is by far and away the best thing I have ever done. So today we celebrate.

Like my mother, I express my love with actions rather than words. And, also like her, I believe the best way to show someone you love them, that you are thrilled by the fact that they exist, is to give them what they need to continue to exist: food. When it comes to my family food is my poetry. I have spent a great deal of my life labouring to perfect my skills as a cook. At first I struggled badly, although I followed recipes to a t they rarely came out looking like the picture in the book. Things usually tasted ok but I worried about whether they tasted as they were supposed to and suspected they didn't. If I hadn't had people to feed I would probably have given up, but I did, so I didn't. I cooked, from scratch, every day, and slowly got better at it. I began to understand how ingredients reacted, to each other, and temperature. I listened acutely to the reactions of Stevie and Bob, and those I considered more expert than me, to try to discern what worked for them, and at some point began to experiment, usually substituting what I had for what I couldn't be bothered to go out and buy. When I bought Nigella Lawson's first book, How To Eat, in the late nineties I realised for the first time that I no longer needed pictures to show me what a dish was supposed to look like. It had only taken me about twenty years to get to that stage. Now I only use other peoples recipes as templates, and I don't think I've made anything inedible or unappetising this millennium.

The cook gets a breakfast break.

We have developed a birthday meal tradition over the last twenty odd years: big breakfast with something fizzy to wash it down, no lunch, a favourite of the celebratee for supper with cake for pudding. Today I did pancakes with bacon and maple syrup for breakfast, Bob didn't want wine so we had that with supper instead. Which was Patatas Bravas (my version includes Chorizo sausage, as I once ate it in the south of France) with salad, followed by Bob's favourite NYLON cheesecake. As it's now way past my bed time I'm too tired to give recipes.


The World According To Me said...

Happy Birthday Bob!

I don't believe I've had NYLON cheesecake before? It looks good enough to eat though! Sounds like you had a lovely evening.

I love cooking for people. When I lived in my flat my idea of a perfect evening was cooking lots of food for my friends, with a few glasses of wine too. Sometimes we'd end up playing games, sometimes we'd dance to Wham! Or sometimes we'd just sit at the table all night, eating, drinking and chatting. Bliss.

Eryl Shields said...

NYLON cheesecake is a hybrid of two cheesecake recipes, one for New York and the other for London. Both to be found in Ms Lawson's Domestic Goddess.

If one morning I woke up to find I was living my perfect life, the first thing I'd notice would be my enormous kitchen with a huge oak table in it. Actually, it wouldn't have to be oak, I'd settle for plastic as long as it could seat twenty.

Kim Ayres said...


Hope he had a great day :)

I was going to ask how many Nylons needed to be killed to make the cake, but I see you've answered already.

savannah said...

happy belated birthday wishes, bob! xoxox (i am sooooo going to make a cheesecake this weekend! i love my children, but i am so glad to be back home, sugar!) xoxox

PI said...

My mouth is watering. Birthday wishes and what a pretty Mum!

Eryl Shields said...

I hope he had a great day too Kim, but you can tell less and less as they get older.

Savannah ~ There really is no place like home is there? xoxox

Pat ~ It was quite early in the day so my make-up was still in place.

Conan Drumm said...

Happy birthday to the young man!

Sorry, I just have to ask... what's that socket doing there beside you at the table?

debra said...

Happy birthday to you both! I hope it was a good one. And cheesecake? What could be better.

Eryl Shields said...

Conan - I have no real idea, but I guess there must once have been a kitchen counter there. I seem to remember that when we viewed the house there was a fridge, but we keep ours in the pantry next door so we can have a table. I have a lamp plugged in to it at the moment. Does that help?

Debra ~ there is nothing better than cheesecake, nothing!

Tousled Raven said...

Belated Happy birthday Bob!
Nylon cheesecake sounds like a recipe from hell, but it won't be if Eryl made it!
Good to catch up with your blog again Eryl.
Lol, hope to see you soon, xxx

Eryl Shields said...

Is that you Ony? Nylon cheesecake does sound hellish, I agree, which is, of course, why I called it that. Glad you came by, I'll phone you soon, promise. XXX