Eating all the food in the house

The challenge is done, and the cupboards are bare. We have had some highs and lows!

All the usual favourites were gone in a handful of days. The children began to feel the lack. No pain au chocolats for breakfast. No more crunchy cereal. No ‘proper’ toast. No pitta breads left for the packed lunches. No more chicken nuggets, or bolognaise.

Breakfast was not a disaster for some time. We still had porridge (with sugar or syrup, once the honey was gone), and Weetabix. Even after all the favourites are gone, these 2 are acceptable alternatives.

Lunches were more challenging. They quickly deteriorated to a mix of dry bread, buttered crackers, and hunks of cheese. But we still had fruit. And the box of chocolate treats will outlast all our other supplies, so the lunches can end on a happy note, even if the main content is bleak.

Dinners have been the difficult time. A bag of rotting carrots was salvaged and souped, with lentils. A sack of frozen bread rolls converted into croutons. A disappointing risotto was fashioned from nothing but rice and frozen prawns. A strange Catalan fish curry with some frozen Pollock and more prawns (An enormous value-pack of prawns has haunted us for some time, you see). My tuna and olive pasta sauce was a surprising hit with the children, once they finally tasted it (after they had stared at it miserably for 40 minutes and eventually realised it was not going anywhere). All the beans in the cupboard created a flatulence-enhancing casserole. Then school requested donations for the local foodbank, and that pretty much cleaned us out of tinned produce!

My parents came for dinner, and I almost cracked, but realised I could make pastry and therefore a quiche with the last of the eggs and a lump of blue cheese that was in truth a little past its best. Quite remarkable hospitality!

A christmas pudding was a surprising choice for June, but it was taking up valuable cupboard space. (It didn’t seem right to give it to the foodbank!)

Once we were down to a sack of rice and a shelfful of spices, I declared the experiment done. No one was malnourished, and we have found a few more dishes and combinations that are acceptable to the small people.

But most triumphantly, I avoided the supermarket for nearly a month. I have just been again, and proved my theory that simply crossing the threshold of Tesco is enough to relieve me of £100. I don’t think I have ever escaped for less!

#91: Light a fire and cook my dinner on it

This was entirely brilliant. We were on the south coast of Cornwall, on a totally beautiful and empty beach, ready to bivvy for the night after an afternoon’s boating, and my task was to make fire, and cook dinner. (Luckily we had anticipated failing to catch any fish, and packed some ingredients from the cupboards at home).

So, entirely unilaterally, I foraged for wood, built my fire, lit it, and tended it into a roaring toasty blaze. I prepared my ingredients and brewed up a remarkable pasta /pesto extravaganza, with mushrooms and chorizo. The fire blazed. The waves crashed. The sun was setting. All was right with the world.
cooking on fire

fire
As I tended my quite brilliant fire, I realised I was indeed, doing everything entirely myself. And I wondered how on earth it could be, that Dave could bring himself to leave the fire making to someone else. (For that is why it is on the list: I have become so accustomed to him taking over all such endeavours, that I rarely have any need to test my own survival skills.)
dinner from fire
But now, I have done it, and no doubt you’ll agree that I am clearly gifted at outdoor living. I will probably be asked to do a TV show soon, a kind of female Ray Mears. Such were the happy thoughts going round in my head as I assembled the meal. But when I looked around to summons David for his tea, I realised why I had been allowed to proceed unbothered. For he had been building his own fire, except he had built a fire that he could charge his mobile phone on. I am not joking.
davids fire
Still. No one likes a smart arse.

#72: Make a Baked Alaska (for guests)

This dish has been my nemesis ever since my early teens when I tried to make one for a surprise dinner and it melted all over the oven. (Consisting, as it does, of a load of icecream covered in meringue and then baked). So that is how it got on the list.

We went for dinner at a friend’s house (the legendary Hectic, whose patio I assisted in laying not long ago); and I offered to bring a pudding. I had to bring it in several parts, as the Baked Alaska cannot be assembled nor baked until the last minute.

Anticipation was high as I assembled cake base, chocolate icecream, and covered it all in meringue looking like an enormous delectable snowball… into the oven it went – an anxious 4 minutes, and then: Triumph! It survived! (Ignore the odd head coming out of my armpit; that is not relevant to the culinary achievement)
me, hectic and baked alaska
Applause abounded, and we ate a generous chunk each. That got through half of it, and left everyone slightly bilious. (This dish is not light on sugar.) Then we realised it couldn’t easily be saved or re-served, and it was down to the five of us to do it justice. We struggled through a second slice each. Compliments slowed a little. Hectic managed to eat a full quarter of the thing singlehandedly, but the rest of us were beaten. It did sit rather heavily.

Soon afterwards there was considerable competition for the toilet facilities of Ampney Crucis. But let us not dwell on that. The dessert will be remembered (by me at least) as an unmitigated triumph. Hurrah.

#42: Cook a proper meal every day for a fortnight (no chicken nuggets!)

What a relief that this one is over! It was supposed to be the beginning of a whole new era of taking pride in my domestic duties, but au contraire! I am heaving a mighty sigh of relief and popping the fishfingers on.

The last fortnight has seen: spaghetti bolognaise (x3); vegetarian lasagne, pasta carbonara (you’ll notice a penchant for pasta in our house); prawn risotto, jacket potatoes (does that count as cooking?); a freestyle chicken stroganoff creation and a curry.

Each new dish brings forth fresh wails of dismay from the children. The eldest falls to the ground in teary distress if confronted with anything other than pasta and cheese. Each night when I shout ‘Dinner!’, it has been with heavy heart; the word heralds an hour-long stand-off while we negotiate miserably over the exact quantity of each item that must be consumed in order to qualify for pudding. Doleful faces grimace; anguished sobbing fills the air. Cups of squash are at the ready to banish the fearsome taste of my cuisine. A mouthful is reluctantly accepted, only then to be rejected, and sprayed all over the table. The manners agenda is dropped entirely, in favour of getting anything eaten at all. They can eat it off the floor tiles with their hands or even feet, if they would only eat it.

Stickers are promised, sticker reward agreements brokered. Daddy is called home from critical meetings to present a united front at the battle scene. No workplace demand could compete with the level of urgency, of knowing our trio is about to be confronted with a vegetable lasagne.

It is a sapping business. But at least I have done it.

#27: Cook a pig’s head

Good heavens.  This is among the most unspeakably grim undertakings that I have undertaken for some time!  Vegetarians and those of a squeamish disposition should probably read no further.

 

Ok, well don’t say you weren’t warned. 

It was all quite amusing at first.  I wasn’t at all sure how to come by a pig’s head.  One doesn’t really see them in the butcher’s display cabinet as a general rule.  First I tentatively looked on a couple of websites.  Then I got braver and made a phone call or two.  Then went into town, and made enquiries at every butchers I could find.  One took my number and promised to call when he got one in. 

This week the call came.  My head was in.  Into town I went.  To Jesse Smith Butchers.  I was relieved of £8, and came away with a head in a bag, (2 bags, thankfully, so it could not be identified by passers by).  ‘Mmmm, nice porker’s ‘ed’ observed the butcher cheerfully, as he wrapped it up.   ‘Making brawn, are you?’ he asked.  ‘Mmmm’ I acquiesced, and with considerable self-discipline, I refrained from elaborating on the 100 things, (and thus sharing far too freely about the Brazilian, the Bananaman, or any of the other bizarre endeavours that seem to pepper my conversation these days).

I got home, stuck it in the garage, and ignored it for the rest of that day.

Today though, it was time to tackle it.  I brought it into the house.  Took it out the bag.  Sat it on a chopping board on the kitchen table.   We studied one another, for quite a while.  It was a little unnerving.  He still had eyes.  And whiskers.  I kept looking, and then looking away.  He stared back.  It took a good half hour for us to get the measure of each other. 

Image

 

The whole escapade is enough to make a former vegetarian somewhat bilious.  The recipe on www.downsizer.net is very matter of fact about it all.  I am to make bath chaps from the cheeks, crispy pigs ears, and brawn from the rest.   Oof.

I made him face the wall, and started on the brine mixture.   Then I readied all the vegetables for the stock.  So far, so good. 

But then there was no avoiding the unpleasantness.   Having no blow torch I used a lighter to try and rid him of whiskers; not very effectively.  Then I held him by the snout and stuck a knife in.  A too blunt knife as it turned out, but we made the best of it.  I lopped off his ears and cheeks.  (Had to turn his face away while I did it).  Once he wasn’t looking, it was easier.  Then I stuck the radio on and it was just like trimming fat off of any other meat.  Though there was rather more fat than meat.  And a lot of bone.  Bleeeuuuugggghhhhhh.

Anyway.  Cheeks and ears put to one side. Covered in brine.  Leave in the fridge for 3 days it says!

Then to the stock.  Even without ears or cheeks, the head was rather too large for my pan.  Help! I can’t have a snout sticking out the pot when the children come home! 

Image

Luckily I found a bigger pot.  Still some snout protrusion!  But better.  I put it on to boil.  And oh God, the stench!  The entire house was filled with the most chunderous aroma imaginable, as skin, flesh, eyeballs, snout and lord knows what else began to boil and disintegrate. 

My husband came home and almost gagged.  ‘What the f*** are you doing?’ was not an unreasonable question.  I explained the various dishes that were underway.  His bafflement was absolute.   ‘But I don’t want to eat a pig’s face.’     I switched off the stockpot and we all had pancakes.

Later on, I studied the carnage in the pot, and with heavy heart  I’m afraid I have had to give up on it.  Aside from the utterly rancid stench which now pervades the entire house and probably neighbourhood, I found a gelatinous mulch of fat, meat, vegetables and God only knows what else… with a skull sticking out the middle of it.  It is unthinkable that anyone will eat any part of it.  So I have scraped the whole lot into 3 carrier bags into the dustbin.  I know it is kind of wrong to eat the choice bits of an animal and waste the rest, when it has made the ultimate sacrifice, but what can I say?  I tried.

#22: Do something unique and special with each of my children (part one)

First up, no. 3. A bonus 2 hours of alone-with-mummy time meant either watching the Lion King for the third time this week, or, some sort of project.

The conversation this morning ran thus:
No. 3: what is happening after school today?
Me: It’s just me and you, coming home together.
No. 3: Can I do something? Wiv you?
Me: Of course we can. What would you like to do?
No. 3. Um. (thinks about it). Make a zebra cake?
Crikey. I am not sure what that even is.

6 hours later, I collect her from school, and realise too late I have not given our project a moment’s further thought.

Which is why it is particularly satisfying to now report THE most triumphant zebra cake I have frankly ever seen! (though admittedly I am not sure I have ever seen another one)

Cobbled together from general household ingredients, we fashioned this:
photo
It would be tempting to go into business and sell them, except I fear the food hygiene folk would have something to say about this:
food hygiene
But all in all it was a thoroughly satisfying afternoon’s work. She was absurdly chuffed with it! We have been high fiving and talking of nothing else since. Now in the name of ‘fairness’ I will probably have to spend all weekend fashioning a menagerie of baked goods with one child after another. But for now, this will do.

Coming up soon: the drastic haircut. Eeek!

#4: Battenberg

Good lord, what an almighty faff this has been!  Making a Battenberg cake didn’t sound that hard, I admit, and it hasn’t exactly been terrifying, but a thoroughly frustrating business that has revealed all manner of holes in my housekeeping skills!

I meant to do it a week ago.  Didn’t have the ingredients so made a list of what I needed.  Next day went to the shops, but forgot the list.  The day after: finally managed to buy the ingredients.  Great, I thought, I will bake it tomorrow.  But the weekend came and went, with alas no spare 3 hours to attempt Battenberg.  By the 6th day, I was determined.   Looked again at the recipe.  Oh bugger.  I don’t have the right sized cake tin.  Oof.   Never mind.  Borrowed one from a friend.  Started assembling ingredients.  But hold on – I don’t have enough eggs!  How can that be??  I checked all the ingredients only last Thursday…. Oh.  We ate the eggs for tea last night.  Bugger again.  Assembled everything but the eggs; eggs to follow…

Finally, got eggs, got tin, got everything – and spent a peaceful couple of hours in my kitchen, radio on, baking and assembling, nibbling the offcuts, sticking all the bits together – et voila!

battenberg

I took it along to a play date, to the astonishment of friends who are more accustomed to me turning up with a packet of Happy Shopper digestives (at best!)

All in all I am quite pleased with that one.  Which is lucky as I could be eating it for weeks, since no one else in my house will touch it.  Grrr.