Thanks to my father’s eccentric views on store cupboard necessities and general tidiness, I can make a meal out of pretty much anything using a workspace barely big enough for a dinner plate.
He taught me to experiment with recipes and cuisines, while my mother taught me to cook from scratch. So all in all, I’m well set for making edible, if sometimes odd, meals out of whatever I’ve got to hand.
But – that’s not to say I always want to.
Last Thursday was one of those days. In fact last Thursday was one of those days when I didn’t want to do anything at all.
Feeling positive and upbeat in the coronavirus world seemed as impossible a task as putting ten people in a lift and telling them to socially distance themselves.
Things that pushed me over the edge:
- Waiting for ages in the pharmacy
- An irritating working day when the work laptop kept crashing
- Knowing it would be the weekend before I could get on with editing my novel which had been in the process thereof forever
- Missing my son who’s fifty miles away
- Worrying about my sister and niece who are both in the nursing profession.
On Thursday, I just had enough of feeling positive. What I wanted to do was throw the work laptop out of the window and delete my novel. What I most didn’t want to do was make another wretched meal. What I really wanted to do was stomp to the hotel and order one instead.
Only of course, the hotel and every other eating establishment in the country is shut for the duration.
Perhaps I’d burnt out my cooking mojo over the previous seven days. I’d made some very inauthentic but tasty ‘pakoras’. I’d made some even less authentic but tasty ‘samosas’ (they were more sort of curried vegetable pasties really). I’d made some successful flatbreads despite having only half the right ingredients. I could argue that I’d had no imagination left to put into anything, but actually I’d just had enough.
I suggested we ordered an Indian take-away. My husband pulled a face. ‘What were we going to have if we don’t get a take-away?’ he said.
‘Stir-fried pork and stir-fried whatever veg is in the bottom of the fridge and egg-fried rice,’ I said.
‘Yum,’ he said. ‘That sounds much nicer than take-away. We’ll have that.’
‘But it takes longer to prepare than it takes to cook and eat,’ I argued. ‘And there are always so many cooking utensils involved in stir-fries.’
‘I’ll cook it then,’ he said.
The thought of that was even worse. Where I can use three utensils, he can use ten. Plus he puts enough extra chilli and soy-sauce in his stir-fries to fill the kitchen with high-blood-pressure-inducing toxic fumes.
In the end, I said I’d cook it after all and sent him off on his daily walk while I sliced the living daylights out of some rather limp vegetables until I felt marginally better.
These are peculiar times when the whole structure of the normal lives of most of the world’s population utterly changed more or less simultaneously (give or take some governments’ prompt responses to the situation or lack thereof).
The skies are now clearer than they’ve been for decades, maybe in some parts of the world, for over a century. And yet none of us knows if at any time, we might catch somehow the virus, whether or not we’ll be badly affected and either way, whether we’ll unwittingly pass it on to someone else who might subsequently die.
Not being able to eat out, not being able to buy a specific ingredient aren’t really very important in themselves, many people can’t usually – but they’re reminders that life is not normal, that hospital staff like my sister and niece have to dress up like spacemen to work, that there’s nowhere anyone can go to ‘get away from it all’, that no-one has the least idea when we’ll be back to normal or even what normal will look like when it’s all over.
Sometimes, all that is overwhelming.
On Thursday, I felt overwhelmed and in the end I told myself that that was ok. I decided to give myself space to feel overwhelmed and then start afresh the next day. Which I did. Then, I spent the weekend getting to grips with my novel.
I’m glad I didn’t delete it. I’m not quite so sure whether I’m glad I didn’t throw the work laptop out of the window.
Somewhat less overwhelmed today, I’m feeling more cheerful about making tonight’s dinner out of what’s available. It’s not as if we can’t get nice food, and enough of it. We just can’t get it as often or as easily as we could a month or so ago.
I thought of those memes that refer to WWII rationing and remind us that things could be worse. Out of curiosity, I extracted my research copy of ‘The Victory Cookbook’ . Flicking through to see what sort of things were suggested to British housewives during the war, I found a recipe for Pilchard Layer Loaf which was apparently ‘new and very exciting’. It involves, basically, layers of bread and tinned pilchards with a sort of mustardy béchamel poured over and then baked in the oven. Well, I have bread, I have tinned mackerel, I have the makings of a mustardy béchamel…. Could I? Should I?
I also have some poultry, some rather wizened tomatoes, some garlic, some grapes and some olives. A sort of cacciatore I think, only perhaps with a little chilli to keep my husband happy.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all this, that’s ok. None of us have to feel upbeat all the time, including you dear reader. But this will be over one day and we have to hold on to that even if we can’t hold on to each other.
In the meantime though, I’m sort of hoping things’ll never be so bad that I try making Pilchard Layer Loaf.
It sounds utterly disgusting.
Words and photograph copyright 2020 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.