I might be wrong, but I suspect a bit of a cooking conspiracy in our social circle; foul play in the kitchen. And I only discovered this conspiracy a few weekends ago when my culinary fraudulence was finally ‘outed’ by an Asian Salad.
As a number of you are probably already aware, I am a huge advocate of the ‘faking it’ method of living your life, so I suppose that I knew that it was only a matter of time before I f*cked up somewhere in my careful camouflaging of shop-bought delicacies that I passed off as my own creations. Nevertheless, it is still mortifying to be caught out.
The family has obviously known about my general uselessness anywhere near a gas ring for some time; luckily for them (and me), they ‘eat to live’ rather than ‘live to eat’.
But I still thought that I had managed to conceal my ineptitude in the kitchen from my friends. So when we were recently invited to a friend’s house, it was a huge error of judgement on my part (in spite of a full risk assessment), to ‘make’ something, rather than bring the suggested cheese plate.
This close friend makes Donna Hay look like an amateur. So much so that I have been forced to ban my daughter from afternoon tea at her house on the grounds that my self-esteem can’t cope. Her house smells of the Woolworths bakery section, ALL THE TIME; it is that intimidating. Freshly baked cupcakes, raspberry and white chocolate scones and fresh fruit smoothies are all on offer in her in-house café; my daughter gets a choice of cereal or toast in mine (and that’s if the bread isn’t green). This friend is such a domestic goddess that when invited to my house, I plan my whole menu around what I ask her to bring. Truth be told, she’s another one of my girl-crushes, but in a healthy, symbiotic kind of way; she loves cooking, so I let her do it and then she lets me eat it.
I have worked out why she only ever asks me to bring anything beyond a cheese plate to her house, of course, whilst our other mates are encouraged to bring those ‘every-f*cking-herb-in-the-garden’ salads or tantalizing desserts with asterisked ingredients that you can only source in Outer Mongolia.
So when she invited us recently, I foolishly decided, as a kind of friendship offering/coming-of-age in the kitchen ritual, to digress beyond the Brie and Camenbert. To give something back.
I mean, how hard could an Asian Salad be?
Bloody hard, as it turns out. The old man later described it as ‘special’; and I would probably agree. It was ‘special’. And it seems that I probably do have some special needs in the kitchen, and probably require some sort of culinary IEP if it’s available.
And cooking is a potentially dangerous pastime, I discovered. Those matchstick carrots were bitches to chop and I almost decapitated my best nail several times. (Who knew that cutting a carrot required Samurai skills?). I also virtually blinded myself with several squirts of lime juice to my left eye and then followed suit with the right eye by rubbing it manically with chili-coated fingers.
It’s not that I don’t have the best intentions when it comes to cooking, but recipes may as well be in Sanskrit for all the sense they make to me. My brain simply shuts down when either a stirring or blending technique is mentioned; and then I begin to improvise. Dangerously. And for some reason, my improvisations never quite turn out to be as creatively delicious as Jamie Oliver’s.
I do blame the family for part of my innate fear of new recipes. ‘Mum’s tried a new recipe,’ is speedily transmitted around the dining table in a panicked Chinese whisper, as I dish up anything new, and even the ADHDer is uncharacteristically silenced.
Which is why I generally stick to what I know, and what they know.
But occasionally, the stars align in just the right way, (like if Donna Hay’s magazine drops into my mailbox at exactly the same time as we receive a ‘bring a dish’ lunch invitation), and I ‘go boldly where I haven’t gone before’ and attempt to discover the untapped culinary genius that I know MUST lurk somewhere deep within me.
And a special Asian Salad is created.
The problem with the recipe was that, unfortunately, it required a few minor alterations from the outset, when I realized that I had forgotten a few minor ingredients. I could only find quite small red chilies in Woolies, for example, so I thought that doubling the quantities might work; and I thought that I had some lime juice in the cupboard but when I looked, it was in fact lemon.
And that chili proved to be a bit of a surprise to the palate, apparently, and the lemon was decidedly a little over-tart. Nevertheless, on the whole I thought that I had got away with it, even though no-one apart from my gorgeous friend, the hostess, ate the portion of MY salad that was on their plate. And surprisingly, a Niagara Falls of water was consumed, even though it was unusually chilly for October.
I was obviously a little concerned when my friend became very flushed at one point (almost to the point of hyperventilation), but I assumed that the stress of hosting was to blame; and she put it down to menopause.
It was indeed a very ‘special’ Asian Salad. And I had officially been outed.
‘I’m not saying my wife’s a bad cook but she uses a smoke alarm as a timer’. Bob Monkhouse