My shortcomings as a cook are legion. First I am slapdash about quantities of ingredients. An extra splash of oil? An extra bit of chilli? A bit more than half a cup? I tend to do it all and more. My attention to the printed word is erratic—I miss whole ingredients, or put in the oil before I’m meant to, or forget the bit about testing to see if more seasoning is required. Tonight I finished stuffing the squid tubes and sealing them with toothpicks, only to realise I forgot to season the mixture after processing, and before insertion. Much muttering, another swig of sauvignon blanc, unpicking and re-stuffing, then I’m ready to cook. At least this time I noticed before it was too late.
But I do have some successes. The slow cooker, for example, is so forgiving and so simple. It almost always turns out food that’s flavoursome and easy to digest. I do know how to barbeque most meats and vegetables, so I’m a male cliché—the guy you can send outside with that bit of the process. And Greek salad—I am proud of my balanced, refreshing, not too much onion, just enough fetta creations. Only really lovely olives. Maybe it’s because the ingredients are so simple, the combinations so easy to make palatable; or, mundanely, maybe just because I’ve done it hundreds of times.
All this is on my mind with my recent retirement. I have announced, surprising myself, that I will make several meals a week from now on. I’m a slave to my announcements—once made they have to be proven genuine—so now I have the cookbooks/computers out most days, looking for the next recipe that doesn’t involve complex processes like straining through muslin, or lengthy reductions, or whipping to soft peaks.
I have discovered the joys of the food processor. A brand new substance in a few noisy seconds; it’s more fun than a power drill or a water pressure cleaner, which is a big call. This may lead to new culinary heights I’ve never thought feasible for me—but of course I have to get the lack of discipline around quantities and recipe reading under control as well. Speedy mistakes are no tastier than slow ones.
Maybe soon I will be enjoying cooking. Millions seem to. I do hope so, because I can’t see any downsides. Except the nagging feeling that I’m supposed to be attending to weightier matters; that I’m starting to find ways to fill in retirement time so I’m not bored and restless. It’s early days—in a few months I may feel quite differently about this, and about gardening, and Mah Jong, and long walks. Who knows—as Bob Dylan said once, ‘I’m a stranger to my own desires’.