This weekend I made pancakes. This sounds like such a simple statement, right? Millions of people make pancakes in March for pancake day. People make pancakes all the time. They aren’t really particularly complex. The thing is, I don’t. I am in my mid thirties and I have never made pancakes. In fact, I don’t really cook at all. I’ve ‘helped’ other people make pancakes. I ‘help’ Mr RDP cook often. ‘Helping’ generally means chopping, stirring, getting ingredients all over the floor and eating the tastiest raw ingredients when the person cooking isn’t looking.
I have in the past set fire to kitchens on at least 4 occasions. Two of those were within the same week, in the same kitchen, setting fire to something I’d placed on top of the grill while using it to cook veggie sausages. One was trying to make toast under the grill and forgetting. Others generally involve forgetting that I am heating something up, having wondered away and seen something shiny.
I have cooked meals for past partners so bad that they’ve suggested we get takeaway instead. One ex loves to bring out the hilarious tale of how, early in our relationship, I asked if he wanted some food before we went out to a club. I returned from the kitchen with 10 vegetarian frankfurters on a plate and a bottle of ketchup. Another enjoys reminding me of the time I tried to made a veggie spaghetti bolognese but didn’t rinse the sieve properly and the whole dish tasted of Fairy liquid. I tried to make cupcakes once for a charity bake sale. They tasted like jelly beans, with a not dissimilar texture. They bounced when you dropped them.
My inability/reluctance to cook, or in fact eat much at all, goes way back. I was a picky eater for most of my early years, working out rather early on that ‘moo cow’ and ‘baa lamb’ were both the cute animals outside my window and the meat on my plate. From that point on I would only eat meat as long as it didn’t look like meat, which meant that my diet consisted of processed things like chicken nuggets and fishfingers. I would also refuse all vegetables, convinced that I did’t like them. I’d only eat melted cheese. I didn’t like crunchy or crispy things as I didn’t like noisy food.
As I grew, my diet became more limited as I discovered what a ‘vegetarian’ was and started to insist I wanted to be one. It reached the point where the only things I would eat was soup or pasta and sauce. When after years of badgering Mummy Dinosaur finally capitulated. “FINE you can be a vegetarian. But seeing as you don’t like vegetables you’d better learn how to cook, because I’m not cooking separate things for you. What are you going to live on? Soup?”. And thus from the age of 13 to the age of 23 I pretty much lived on condensed soup and pasta, with the occasional veggie sausage. At university I would make a big batch of condensed-soup-pasta on a Sunday night and eat it throughout the week.
This continued up until I moved in with a close friend who, after several weeks of watching me eat nothing but pasta and veggie sausages, snapped and made it her life’s mission to get me eating vegetables. Each week she’d cook something delicious, place it in front of me and wander off. “Eat it, or don’t. But at least try it, because I cooked it for you so if you don’t eat it you’re basically a massive dickhead”. Within the space of a month, I discovered a whole new world of vegetably things that were actually tasty. Spinach! Peppers! Red Onion! Leeks! Who knew. I started to wonder why I’d refused so steadfastly as a child to eat all of these things, and how that stubborn refusal had turned in adulthood to a belief that I hated vegetables.
My inability and/or reluctance to cook certainly doesn’t come from the paternal side. My Dad’s family are part Italian – food is important. It must be tasty and plentiful. My Dad is an excellent cook – when my parents ran a B&B in my childhood I remember sumptuous meals – roast dinners, shepherd’s pie, faggots and mash.
My dearly missed Grandmother GG was known for her feasts. She’d make vast 3 and 4 course meals, make sure everyone had seconds and thirds of everything and there were always at least 4 choices of dessert. One Christmas of family legend everyone had eaten so much that no one could move, lolling on the sofas groaning and replete; GG entered from the kitchen and breezily asked “Cheese and biscuits anyone?” after a loaded silence my uncle J said “oh piss off mum”.
On the maternal side, Mummy Dinosaur can cook very well – but I’ve always suspected she doesn’t really enjoy it. She likes having cooked something that people enjoy, but she doesn’t like all the faff and preparation, and definitely doesn’t like the clearing up afterwards. She now runs a B&B in South Africa with Step-Daveosaur. He does the cooked breakfasts, she makes the fruit salad, they pay someone to clean up; a perfect arrangement. It appears I take after my mother.
Mr RDP loves to cook. He’ll get excited about recipes and ingredients, always slightly changing a dish to make it his own. He understands seasoning and temperatures and the difference between leaving a lid on or off. My approach to seasoning is to just put smoked paprika on everything. Even a BBQ isn’t a simple affair for Mr RDP. My BBQs usually involve me discovering that disposable BBQs are on offer in the supermarket, the weather is nice, RESULT, I don’t have to wash up later. He needs several days to prepare so he can make complicated marinades and sauces and an Excel spreadsheet with all the exact timings for each dish.
Mr RDP has, in the course of our relationship, gently encouraged, forcefully hinted and downright nagged at me to learn to cook. I’ve made the odd simple pasta sauce here and there but my repertoire remains basic. I can cook a veggie spag bol, a stir fry and a basic noodle ramen. It’s all I know and I am terrified of following recipes. Therefore it was with some shock and a fair amount of trepidation that he reacted to my announcement yesterday morning that I was “going to make PANCAKES. Proper ones. Dairy free. With wholemeal flour and almond milk”.
I don’t know why I wanted to make pancakes. I’d never made them before. I had a vague sense that they weren’t complicated. So I Googled, found a recipe and hit the supermarket. My very first pancake was too thick and didn’t cook in the middle. The second I left for too long and it burnt. The third was going really well until I over-enthusiastically flipped it and it broke in half. The fourth? LOOKED LIKE A PANCAKE. After 10 minutes, I had a little stack of small, unevenly sized and misshapen pancakes. I piled them up, added blueberries, maple syrup and some melted dark chocolate mixed with soy cream (we hadn’t been able to find nut & dairy free chocolate spread. I have low dairy tolerance, Mr RDP doesn’t do nuts).
I served them to Mr RDP with pride. He had the look of a parent that, having said “what a lovely picture” now realises that the picture will have to stay on the fridge FOREVER. Having encouraged me to take an interest in cooking, he now had to eat the result. We survived to tell the tale. Not only were they not bad, they were actually rather tasty.
This morning, buoyed by my success the previous evening I decided that I would make a pancake brunch and set to the ingredients with an enthusiasm I didn’t think I was able to muster when it comes to cooking. After a shaky start I achieved two breakfast brunch stacks. I largely gave myself the misshapen monstrosity early attempts, giving Mr RDP the ones that looked like pancakes you might actually want to eat.
I admit, there was a moment in Sainsbury’s where I was staring at a wall of flour, googling on my phone to check whether ‘wholewheat’ and ‘wholemeal’ meant the same thing, and wondering what on earth ‘baking soda’ actually was, when I was tempted to just buy the 99p bottle of pre-made pancake mix. I am glad I didn’t – not only because mine were handmade and healthier, but because now I have the ingredients in the cupboard I can make MORE PANCAKES.
Ok, it isn’t much. I follow a few food bloggers and to put these sad attempts next to one of Jack Munroe’s amazing austerity dishes or one of Cookwitch’s foodporn creations is just embarrassing. But I am unspeakably proud of having MADE something. I followed a RECIPE and didn’t set fire to anything, or break anything, or make anyone sick. I actually made something really tasty, and I enjoyed making it. I might even try giving cupcakes a go again. Hopefully this time they won’t double up as a squash ball.