‘My dishes are the Russian roulette of too bland or inedible’
It’s something special. Something you can’t buy in the shop. Something that makes you feel warm and comfortable and safe.
I forgot what safe tasted like. Safe is a hard flavour to reproduce in international student accommodation. It’s hard thing to cook up in a tiny kitchen with two stoves, filled with at least 10 other people chopping and slicing and dicing.
But even under better conditions, it’s not something I know how to make. I don’t know how to make something taste safe, but my mum does.
I’m a terrible cook. Really, really terrible. I wish it was funny, or a joke, but it’s utterly horrifying. I’m the worst. I can’t touch a piece of meat without overcooking it.
My pork chops have the texture and consistency of sawdust or on the flip side, I have been known to attempt to serve up chicken with a red, wet centre, bloody at the bone. I have been the cause of many a case of food poisoning.
And the taste. My God, the taste. Watery, sour, putrid flavours are a regular for all my kitchen concoctions.
My dishes are the Russian roulette of too bland or inedible. I over-salt, under-salt, and also regularly forget to actually buy salt. One should hope that as a student, I would have at least mastered the fail proof recipe of boiling up some pasta by now, but alas, I have managed to also ruin pasta too many times to count.
A few weeks ago I tried to boil up pasta, and I actually managed to burn it. I didn’t think it was possible, but apparently anything is possible when you have cooking skills as shocking as these.
I hate cooking. I actively loathe the act. It’s boring, repetitive, and never seems to end- I’m meant to do this three times a day, every day, for the rest of my life? A ceaseless, cruel act of torture.
My mum says this is the reason I’m a terrible cook. She thinks the food can sense my hatred. ‘You need to cook it with love, it knows when you’re not putting any feeling into it,’ she says. In my defence, I am putting a feeling into the cooking, and that feeling is a deep, fierce disgust.
She told me this last week, over dinner. It wasn’t anything special; chips, beans, eggs. Nothing to Instagram about.
I had flown home the night before, and the day had been spent catching up with everyone, unpacking, sorting things out, so there hadn’t been much time for fancy cuisine.
Mum whipped up some eggs and poured beans into a pot when we complained about being starved at the end of the day, and shoved them on to a plate.
Slightly soggy chips, a bright, runny yolk, a tin of beans found at the back of the cupboard that had been gathering dust for who knows how long.
We ate on the couch, because everyone was tired from me waking them all up in the middle of the night, suitcase in hand. There was rerun of some soap on the television; ‘EastEnders’ or ‘Coronation Street’, I can’t tell the difference.
It shouldn’t have been a special meal. It really shouldn’t have been. But it was probably the nicest thing I’d eaten in months.
It had been so long since anyone had cooked for me. She probably could have handed me a plate of gruel and I would have gobbled it down with delight.
There’s just something about the act of cooking for another person. For having someone cook something for you, making something for you, because they care. Because they want to look after you.
I sat on the couch next to my mum and little brother, some soap I don’t like on the TV, a piping hot plate of grease burning my lap, and dug in.
It was better than any sad bowl of pasta I’d tried to scrape together in my overcrowded kitchen in Groningen. It was better than any fancy dish I’d been served a café in Strasbourg or Bremen or any other city I’d passed through during the year away. It was better than anything I’d eaten in so long.
It was a meal made by someone I missed so much, who had missed me too. It was a meal made by someone who knew I was jetlagged and grumpy and all over the place and wanted to do something for me. It was a meal made by someone who cares about me. It was a meal made because they care about me.
Mum thinks I’m a terrible cook because I don’t cook with love. In general, I think that’s a hippy-dippy nonsense, a typical mummy-ism that I immediately roll my eyes at.
But my mum cooks with love, and she’s a much better cook than me, so maybe that’s just yet another thing I still have to learn. I’ll add it to the list.