I am in charge of all the food provision in our house - planning, shopping, preparing. This is because a) apparently I am control freak and b) I can’t trust my husband to do it.
It’s not that he won’t. It’s that he won’t do it to my satisfaction. But my satisfaction is not something he could ever learn to achieve in the kitchen because it follows a pattern only comprehensible to me, by myself; it changes according to arbitrary factors even I can’t predict. I regret to say that he, like most men I have observed cooking, is enragingly leisurely and inefficient in the kitchen, in that way that only someone for whom cooking is purely optional can manage. It is infuriating to watch as he starts to peel the potatoes before getting the water boiling in the pan.
He is not interested in making dinner flavoursome. At least, that is not the priority. He is practical about it. He tends to think of meals in terms of items sitting side by side on a plate. So if I say “What shall we have for dinner?” he will list things we have in the fridge or the cupboards, and envisage a meal where they are cooked separately, only to come into contact on the plate. "Er, how about, carrots, broccoli, some mackerel and some rice." No mixing, overlapping, combining or seasoning really feature. So I decide what we eat and boss him around the kitchen, and he is mostly happy with that.
We have a few points of serious disagreement about food. The thing is, he isn’t a lover of food, and this makes me frustrated and a little sad. He doesn’t like mushrooms. Ok, I can sort of accept that. But he isn't fussed about cheese. Any cheese. He will eat cheddar if it’s in a meal, or perhaps a sandwich, but he will never seek cheese out. Plateau de fromage? Makes him grimace, and this makes me want to weep - mostly with pity.
But he doesn't think he's missing anything so perhaps it doesn't matter. EXCEPT IT DOES! It took me two years to get him to like olives (resounding success by the way) and he doesn’t like seafood. I don’t know if it’s my French side that appreciates these things, or my rational side, with a tongue, but he cannot be enthusiastic in the way that I am about food. And he is amazingly obliging and open-minded about it.
Bullied into eating roquefort and camembert a dozen times, he has borne it stoically. But he is unmoved. I heard you needed to eat something at least eight times to develop a taste for it, but I think cheese-wise I have taxed his patience enough.
He had a different upbringing to me culinary speaking, which perhaps meant that food was functional rather than an event. A healthier approach, you might say in terms of the general attitude to consumption, but I do think it’s a shame. A missed opportunity, and from a health point of view not conducive to the variety which makes for a happy gut.
His appreciation of food has definitely developed since we have been together, but it’s still a no go on the fromage. He likes to drink condensed milk out of the can as a treat. He has been known to microwave slices of bread. It’s stuff like that that mean I don’t rely on him to organise any aspect of our home food life. Plus, I love doing it, so it's win-win.
That is not to say that I haven’t learned some things from him. I have learned to love quinoa as he does, for example. But the main thing he has brought to my kitchen is stir fry. When he first suggested it I rolled my eyes. “Why do men always want to make things you can cook in one pan? Bolognese. Chili con carne. Stir fry.”
Well, I stand by those words. But I revise my opinion of homemade stir fry. We eat it every week or two. Along with soup it is one of our staple meals. Sadly little Flora can’t eat it (won’t eat it…) but it’s a great way to eat lots of not overcooked veg. I always make tons, as it’s difficult to make something which has so many fresh ingredients and be economical. You just end up having to make another stir fry to use up all the veg a couple of days later. So we just make a huge one and I try and make people come and eat it with us. I usually have some for lunch the next day, or we maybe eat the leftovers the following evening.
It’s a great meal for a crowd as it makes a lot of food very simply. You need a co-host though, or an open plan kitchen-dining situation, because it’s a last-minute dish and not very sociable to prepare. Here is what we usually include, but you can of course add/remove to your preference. Beansprouts, mange tout, asparagus... We used to buy those sad little bags of pre-prepared stir fry mix, but pre-chopped veg are not exactly optimal nutritionally speaking. Great for a quick meal, but we use this as a delicious way to get in lots of crunchy veg and load up on nutrients. I am not mad about pak choi but it is ridiculously good for you, I gather, so we eat it pretty much every week in the stir fry. It’s frankly tasteless, so it just tastes like stir-fry. You can also dump a tablespoon or two of peanut butter in it. Forgive me for teaching you to suck eggs, but this is such a versatile yet easily forgotten dish.
A word here about organic food. We buy our fresh vegetables and fruit organic as much as possible. It’s expensive and not always possible to find stuff, but we go to the local farmer’s market each week. It’s a nice ritual for Flora and we get to buy local seasonal. The rest we get between Sainsbury's, Waitrose and our local place, As Nature Intended, which is excellent.
There are some foods you should avoid eating unless they are organic due to the levels of pesticide residue they harbour, like strawberries for example. Others, like avocados, are ok. For the stir-fry we use all organic as they are all veg with the skin exposed and edible. That’s the main rule. I try to stick to the clean fifteen/dirty dozen lists.
I discovered tofu this year. I have never found it appealing, but I buy this delicious roasted garlic stuff from our local organic shop, and I love it. I try to avoid soy as much as possible, having read a lot about how damaging it is,
occasional tofu is fine I think. Only organic though. Soy has many health benefits when fermented.
Sometimes we have that, or you can use prawns, which I have mostly stopped eating because apparently they are quite toxic due to their feeding habits and the way they are farmed. Or fry some chicken of course. I have yet to master frying chicken. You can also chuck in a few eggs to scramble quickly towards the end. We often have it as it comes.
Here are noodle we use. They are fantastic.
We also use tamari - gluten-free soy sauce basically. Another thing other half doesn't like.
tablespoon of coconut oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
bunch of spring onions, chopped
fresh ginger root, about a thumb’s length, grated
1/3 of a small red cabbage, chopped
1/3 of a small pointed/savoy cabbage, chopped
a pointed red pepper or two, deseeded and sliced quite thinly
some tenderstem broccoli
a couple of heads of pak choi, chopped
a couple of handfuls of coriander, chopped
a handful of cashew nuts, chopped
a couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds
toasted sesame oil, optional
soy sauce/tamari if gluten-free
roasted garlic tofu/prawns/chicken/eggs
half a lime, optional
Have all the ingredients chopped up quite thinly and washed and ready to go. It doesn’t need to be wafer thin but the idea is to not cook it for too long, and the longer you cook it the more soggy and the less nutritious it becomes.
Cook the tofu according to packet's instructions and keep warm.
Prepare the noodles so they will be ready to serve in about five minutes.
Place the ginger, garlic and spring onions in a wok or large frying pan with the coconut oil and heat on medium for about 2-3 minutes until soft, stirring regularly.
Now turn the heat up. Add the broccoli and cabbage and pak choi, a handful at a time.
Stir constantly until veg starts to look cooked enough that it isn't raw. This happens more quickly than you might expect. You want to do the whole thing quite fast or the stir fry will end up soggy.
When it's done add the coriander, the nuts and seeds and give it a final stir, then serve, adding the tofu and some soy sauce and sesame oil if using. Add a squeeze of lime if you fancy it.
And the following day's lunch - delicious cold or reheated quick in a pan with a dash of water.