Getting steamed up

Lucy Mangan talks getting steamed up

If feeding your family is a basic instinct, then how come some of us get all steamed up over dinner?


When I win the lottery, it won't be a new house, or car, or wardrobe, or Jon Hamm that will be top of my list of purchases. It will be a full-time cook.

Not a chef. I don't need a fancy dan. Just a cook. Someone who will come in every day or so, rustle up a lunch if anyone's home, cook
a reasonable, meat-and-two-veg type meal in the evening, or a casserole or lasagne that will last us a couple of days, and then leave. Because, of all the domestic arts, cooking is the one I most loathe.

Cobbling together somewhere between seven and 21 meals a week for three people – one of whom doesn't eat mushrooms, rice, onions, 'weird' tomatoes (I think he means sun-dried), garlic or cucumber, and the other of whom is my three-year-old child – is unspeakably boring, time-consuming and hopelessly unrewarding.

I hate it. I hate the planning. I hate the buying. I hate the chopping, the boiling, the grating, the frying, the grilling. I hate all of it, passionately,
with the heat of a thousand suns. And now, of course, I hate the guilt.

When it comes to the expression of maternal love and concern, there is nothing more freighted than food. Making sure we feed those we love has been a basic, primal urge since the dawn of time. And like most basic, primal urges in the modern age, we have found innumerable ways to twist, pervert and corrupt it until it brings us nothing but misery, panic and rage.

Are you organic or non-organic? All food groups, vegetarian or vegan? Can your child pronounce 'quinoa'? Does he eat fish fingers or homemade fish goujons? Does a treat in your house mean Haribo, white bread or spiralised courgette?

I can resist most of the competitive nonsense a certain type of parent engages in. I don't think a tiny child particularly wants or needs to go to 17 different extra-curricular activities a week or be able to do his times tables backwards in Latin or whatever the status symbol du jour is. But it does gall me that I can't do the cooking thing – specifically, the effortless-looking, tasty, bounteous, joy-filled, love-infused cooking thing.

My son gets either plates of, I dunno, just stuff (stuff I found in the fridge or snatched unthinkingly from the supermarket shelves on the way home) pushed at him – at which we both level equally dubious stares, or he gets beautiful slow-cooked lamb shank stews, or delicious tiny portions of risotto full of
a rainbow of vegetables and scattered lightly with Parmesan shavings, slaved over for hours: them simmering in homemade stock, me with unconcealable resentment.

These are uniformly, instantly rejected. And that's probably because I slam them down in front of my by-now starving (these meals always take so LONG) child, practically screaming, 'Love me! Love me for ever, enough to make all of this worthwhile!'

Even if I add spiralised courgettes to every platter, this probably isn't healthy. So, come on, Thunderball. Make momma a millionaire.


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