When I read a story recently about a bespoke purveyor of sweetmeats closing his doors, it gave me such a jolt that I decided to come out of lockdown and share with you my very own Covid-19 conspiracy theory.
Poor, maligned bats – I am very fond of bats – and those appealing little pangolins have nothing whatsoever to do with this wretched pandemic. The only species involved is, unsurprisingly, homo sapiens and of that kingdom, the orders of dentists, bakers, chocolatiers, vignerons and dieticians are chiefly responsible.
You can see them, can’t you, gathered for drinks somewhere – my bet is the cellar door of the vigneron – a random gathering where one bright spark (possibly the vigneron herself who used to be a brilliant chemist) comes up with the great idea. What we need is a bit of a pandemic … bad enough to bring on a lockdown! When people will stuff themselves with rubbish and drink too much for weeks on end. The dentist and the dietician were visionary enough to see where this would end and hopped on board.
This, of course, is where the mysterious “lab” comes in. It may have been in Wuhan, it may not. It could have been in the Hunter Valley or Bordeaux or Huddersfield. It matters not.
The catastrophic results were presumably not exactly what the conspirators intended; nevertheless, they were doubtless among the few who got richer while everyone else – those who didn’t die, that is – got poorer and fatter.
They were right about one thing: in the household in which I dwell, somewhat more alcohol and very much more rubbish have been consumed in the last two-and-a-half months than we could possibly have anticipated. And no, we are not looking better for it. But yes, it has helped the time to pass and tempers to remain unfrayed in a most delightful way.
To put you in the picture, we have had five people – three adults, two teenagers – working from home. I include myself because I have been cooking for them all. I have also been in charge of the cellar. (The quality of our wine does not warrant the term sommelier.)
Let us start with the aforementioned confectionery. For most of the lockdown period, something most unusual has occurred: the daily appearance on the kitchen bench of packs of lollies or blocks of chocolate. Or both. Bullets, jubes, jellies, mints, freckles, party mixes with milk bottles and false teeth, sour squirms, strawberries-and-cream, even musk sticks. Someone deemed this necessary and it was found to be good.
I have been baking, of course, when flour and sugar have been available, channeling my mother who made two sorts of biscuits and a cake every Saturday morning for as long as I can remember; things like ginger nuts and jam drops, yo-yos and rock cakes and countless others. So with that upbringing, I felt I should make an effort because I guess it’s nice to have a biscuit or a muffin with your fifth cup of tea. (It doesn’t seem to matter so much with coffee). I don’t drink tea but the others feel the call constantly – much as I get called to the wine cask around 6.00 p.m.
Apart from the biscuits, there are the boxes of donuts (donuts!) which my son-in-law thoughtfully brings home, not to mention the magnificent croissants and bagels and orange cake and the heavenly bread he has managed to find nearby. Who would bother to wrestle with sourdough when that is available? Added to which, my granddaughter has taken to making cupcakes. And pikelets. And pancakes. Oh, the temptations. My sympathy for Eve has grown daily. All these goodies have been aberrations from our normal eating habits, brought on by the apparently widespread feeling that current circumstances mean we’re entitled to whatever little treats we can find.
This has naturally extended to my job as chef de cuisine. I really enjoy cooking. But how to make the average family meal a little bit more exciting? How to add fun, delight, joy, how to make it special and exciting and even a bit of an adventure for these difficult, dare I say, unprecedented times? No, delete that, I will not say u………..d. Poor word must be exhausted.
I have tried. I have tried very hard, bearing in mind that one of the family doesn’t eat fish, one dislikes lamb, and one would be happiest living on vegetarian noodles. There have been some interesting disasters. Take fusion cooking, for instance. Nice, awful or just plain peculiar. Chilli con carne lasagne falls into the last category. We won’t be having that again. On the other hand ….
Jill Dupleix, you are a gem. I have never before in my life eaten mac and cheese. I have certainly never cooked it. But there was your recipe in The Age. I saw it and giggled a bit and thought how my grandson would really, really like it. Pasta and cheese, a bit of bacon, what’s not to love? There are a lot of bad things about America right now but this didn’t sound like one of them. I made mac and cheese. Everyone smiled and laughed and was happy. So I made it again. Same result.
If anyone has a recipe that will produce the same result, would they be kind enough to share it? And I’ll send you a box of chocolates and a big bag of snakes.