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.