29. Get out of my Kitchen!
As an unashamed reader of Saga Magazine – well I am that age! – I found my thinking kicked in this direction of what goes on in the kitchen by Emma Soames who writes a column in that magazine. She tells how she’s just had a back operation that has left her housebound and dependent on others and who, as she is recovering, is discovering cooking, and talks of how she’s getting a friend to teach her how to make pastry. My honest reaction was, where has she been all this time, but when I passed that on to my wife, she replied dryly that not everyone cooks. That set me thinking. Somebody said, “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” What that missed is what comes before that in the kitchen!
So do you cook? I am aware, looking back in my life, that I have no memories of my dad ever doing anything in the kitchen. My wife’s father was marginally better I believe (“he could boil an egg and make toast”), but when I look back to my mid-twenties, before I got married, I was quite capable of cooking a roast Sunday lunch for a dozen – and did on occasion. Our generation started to change, but was that true of all of us, I wonder? My own sons and son-in-law all cook in different measures, even more than I have ever done. Changing trends are obviously ongoing generational. I have mentioned father and sons because historically the kitchen was the domain of the woman of the home, and the changes that have taken place largely affect the men – but I suppose if they do more cooking that means the women of the family do less.
So what, I wonder, goes on in the kitchens of us silver surfers? Are some of us males left-overs from the past generations who still can’t boil an egg or, having watched so many cooking programmes on TV, are you Rochford’s gourmet chef? Probably not, because the other day I met a proper chef who I knew when he was knee high to a grasshopper and, still a young man, he’s now running the kitchen of a classy restaurant. Oddly enough I’ve known a number of guys during my life who were chefs and mostly they gave it up after a number of years because they were fed up with the ghastly anti-social hours. I hope this one won’t because Rochford will lose out.
I think the face of cooking – no, the face of what we actually eat – has changed dramatically over recent years. I often consider the incredible technological changes that have taken place in my lifetime, but the changes in our eating habits seem just as great. Now it might have been different for you but when I was a child we never ate spaghetti, or pasta generally, we never ate stir fry and the thought of a Chinese or Indian takeaway coming to our village was un-thought of! When did they all arrive? I look around the centre of Rochford and there we have at least three Indian and three Chinese restaurants and we’re better off for it. But I guess that much of the revolution has been the ability to perform mindless cooking, although perhaps ‘cooking’ is not the appropriate word to use. Sticking a packet meal in the microwave for seven minutes and then three minutes isn’t exactly cooking is it?
So let’s step back from instant or takeaway and consider the ‘do-the-whole-thing-yourself’ approach. Yes, I can do pastry but I can’t remember the last time I did it because pastry is fattening and we have to watch our waistlines, don’t we! I can do some sauces but I’m afraid the fact that you can buy virtually any sauce in a packet or jar these days – and I do – marks me out as someone who is not a dedicated chef. Dedicated chefs start from scratch. OK, that rules me out, but I could do it if I followed a recipe!
From sauces it’s only a small leap to move to think about curries and spices and so on. We were sitting around a table last night with some friends and one of the men (our age!) does quite a lot of cooking. The subject of butternut squash and sweet potato soup came up (what was that, we would have asked ten years ago!!!). I always make mine a little spicy, said our culinary friend. What constitutes spicy, queried my wife who has a very English stomach that doesn’t handle spicy food at all. It depends on whether you have spicy food often, another friend put in, and that’s the truth – the more spicy food you eat, the hotter you can eat it. It’s funny that, because countries that originally used curry were, I believe, countries that often had poor meat, and so they used curry to cover up the taste but here we are in modern Britain, with quality meat, covering it up as fast as we can go!
If you are someone who likes doing the stuff in the kitchen, what sort of ‘chef’ are you? I quite often find that guys who pride themselves on being culinary experts do take on the ‘gourmet expert air’ and create total havoc while they are creating and then walk away and leave the clearing up, washing up, etc to others of us. Me, I’m a clear-as-you-go sort of guy, but then I’m not in their category! If I was, I suspect I’d also exhibit that other tendency I see of these guys – “Get out of my kitchen; give me space to create!” OK, so the end result is usually pretty good so perhaps we’d better cut them some slack.
I watch young couples getting married or simply getting together, and I think this whole area of change in who does the cooking seems to create some interesting tensions. At least my Mum and Dad knew where they were: she did it and he watched. Clear demarcation there! When we got married I’d had more experience cooking but my wife clearly had a greater penchant for it and so there was no big issue there either. But then I watched my daughter getting married and, for whatever reason, her cooking experience was strictly limited while her husband had been a chef in an alpine holiday chalet for a number of months over a couple of Winters in the past. Definitely an uneven match there! They’ve been married ten years now and I think I see signs of them balancing up a little more in the kitchen but I get the impression it’s been a bit of an uphill battle for her (sorry darling if you should read this but I think you agree).
Having just been called away from the computer with a call, “Could you come and do the fruit?” I realise that there is another of the big changes of the recent years: we are more health conscious and therefore we tend to eat fruit far more, and so over the past week I’m aware that I’ve eaten strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas, grapes, apples, melon and pears, all courtesy of the big stores that now carry them all throughout the year.
It’s a new day when it comes to life in the kitchen and I’ve covered just a few ways it is different from when we were young. Is it better now? I think so. Of course some of you may wryly grin and say, “Well it would be if my taste buds were still as good!” Yes, I understand, and that is what so much cooking is about today, isn’t it: creating new tastes, different tastes, tantalising tastes. So yes, if your taste buds are not what they once were, I’m sorry. For those of us for whom this has not yet happened, enjoy! And there is so much to enjoy out there today, with this wonderful world of taste!