In a world where the celebrity chef reigns supreme there is one cook who needs a bit of love, a warm hug and a lie down. The family cook, the most unglamorous chef, rarely in the spot light despite beating the odds and dishing up family meals three hundred and sixty five days a year.
My mum was the family cook when we were small and my dad took on the mantle in our teenage years. He was home by 5.30pm every night and headed straight to the kitchen to prepare our family meal. I now sympathise with his withered look as he presented the wholesome meal to the table and saw our collective eyes fall as we weren’t quite feeling his vegetable curry. As we pushed the food around our plate for the next twenty minutes, it often became evident that some of us, may have bought a large kebab meal on the way home from school, and were no longer hungry.
I am now the family cook in our household, ain’t karma grand? I actually love cooking, I find it relaxing and would even call it a hobby. HOWEVER, cooking dinner for the family, everyday, is none of these! It is in a category all on it’s own. Most nights it feels akin to being a soldier trying to get through enemy lines.
Some meals are gobbled with gusto and there are resounding cheers for more, however, if I dare go off-piste and introduce something new, I fear the neighbours may call the authorities. Forget thinking about the ratio of protein to carbohydrate or wether or not the meal promotes good gut flora or has the appropriate amount of plant protein or utilises locally grown, sustainable produce. Some nights the mere lunge to the pantry door can often feel impossibly hard.
So, I’ve tried to prep more. The idea being, when hangry o’clock begins, I only have a couple of small jobs left to do; boil the pasta, and cook the corn. How hard could boiling pasta be? Cue middle child, ‘Mum, Muuuum can you help me stick up my gazelle?” Me: “Honey, I need to get the pasta on, I’ll do it after dinner” middle child: “I need the gazelle on the wall NOW, I need it above the ant eater on my mural, NOOOW” Me: “Please be patient, I will help you when I’m finished”. Eldest child “Which do you think is better….a threadfin snapper, a bat that uses echo location to try and catch a moth or a blue marlin slashing a fish in half?” Me: “What?! Honey, is this homework?! I can’t now, I need to boil the pasta” eldest child: “Mural mum, it’s for the mural”. A crash is audible below, the baby has gotten through my make-shift barrier of cushions and has rolled into the kitchen (I cannot install a safety gate because the layout of the kitchen doesn’t allow it, because, well, because of course it doesn’t!). Baby is now kicking the dishwasher and he’s dismantled the lower section so the pump is visible. Another bang, this one comes from the living room. “What’s that?!” I yell, not wanting to leave the boiling pasta and the baby who is now under the open pantry door. Middle child: “I fell off the chair trying to hang my gazelle up mum”. I quickly check with eldest child that middle child is ok and push on with straining the pasta, baby is now wrapped around my legs. Have not got to the corn yet, decide to scrap it. The bolognese has enough veggies in it, surely?! As I crane my head into the living room to call them to dinner I spy reams of sticky tape on the ground. On further inspection, the walls are covered with the kids pictures of animals that have been stuck on with said tape. Rather than admiring their ‘mural’, my mind suddenly wonders if all the wall paint will be removed by the tape. Baby is screaming, he has become stuck between pantry door and wall. As middle child and eldest child tuck into their bolognese they ask, where is the corn? And can they have a drink? And where are the drinks? And do I know what is for dessert? I can hardly speak as I’m prostrate on the floor, picking up nearly all the pasta I dished up for the baby. I thought those suction cup plates were supposed to stay suctioned to the table?!
Jools Oliver, wife of celebrity chef Jamie, isn’t immune to this kind of palaver either. In an interview with Zoe Hardman and Georgia Dayton she comments on the challenges of feeding her brood and the way her heart sinks when her youngest River, drops his jam toast face down on the floor. “How disrespectful” she says to herself, completely in jest of course, however, it taps into that relentlessness and exhaustion you can feel when you are preparing never-ending meals that can regularly end up straight on the floor.
Jessica Rowe’s instagram, The Crap Housewife, generously serves up her nightly dinner offerings, which by the way are really not that crap, my kids would be cheering for schnitty that regularly! Scrolling through her feed you’ll see many of her go-to dinner staples and in turn you can feel a little better if you find those Pinterest worthy meals completely unattainable. As any worn out family cook knows, it’s often the very simplest of meals that the family end up liking best. It is a cruel truth that the ones you’ve slaved over, like the special kale and fetta baby fritters, are most likely the ones to end up being frizbeed across the room.
To all the everyday family cooks out there, we salute you. In case nobody has told you lately, you are doing a FANTASTIC job. You are on the front line, growing the humans of tomorrow and are infinitely more important than you will ever get credit for.