Isn't my Christmas cactus pretty?
I’ve been married for 32 years and 9 months, and during that time I’ve done a lot of cooking. I say this in my defence, not wishing you to believe, as you read the following, that I’m a complete idiot.
However, I do occasionally fail to give my entire attention to my cooking. My mind is, I like to think, on higher things from time to time, and the result has been, once or twice, that I’ve missed out a vital ingredient. There was the time, for example, when I made cheese soufflé without the cheese. Or at least, I put the dish in the oven and, while clearing up, came across the grated cheese in its bowl. So I fished the soufflé out of the cooker and stirred in the cheese. It was fine.
As a variation on this theme, I once made a cheese soufflé without the egg yolks. This was when my mother-in-law was living with us. She had terminal cancer and had become unable to live by herself – she was a widow – so of course we had her to stay with us. My husband is an only child. I liked my mother-in-law but she was quite a formidable lady who didn’t suffer fools particularly enthusiastically, and though she was always very nice to me, I was always faintly worried that I wasn’t quite what she had in mind for her only son. She had been a teacher of cooking and sewing. She was a fantastic cook as well as making all her clothes, curtains and cushion covers and reupholstering her furniture. However, she wasn’t a reader. Though I could cook all right and make curtains that stayed up, I wasn’t hugely skilled or interested in those areas compared to my interest in reading and the arts.
When ill, she had very little appetite and so I thought to tempt her with a soufflé. On this occasion I didn’t come across the bowl with the yolks till too late. I have to report that yolkless soufflés rise very well. But they’re a little lacking in substance. I dare say they’d be very popular with size 0 filmstars, though I imagine that the really slender people would insist on the cheese being omitted as well. (I can do that too, as I’ve said.) Of course, I would have to make a dud soufflé for my MIL, the supercook. But she was very good about it.
We always have my parents (and now also Daughter 1 and her husband) to a meal on a Sunday. A short time ago I was musing about dessert and decided that, to accompany the raspberries and cream that I’d already bought for tomorrow, I’d make brownies. SIL is very skinny and needs calories, and Son is energetic and lean. Because cooking is boring, I was listening to a tape of Garrison Keillor telling one of his tales of Lake Wobegon – heartwarming tales of people to whom slightly sad (but funny) things happen, but it all turns out right in the end. This story was about Bob Anderson, who goes to New York to be a dancer, and for whom show business turns out to be a difficult and unprofitable business.
This made me think about a conversation that Daughter 2 and I had the other day. We’d been to the theatre, and I later said something about the strange life of an actor – its peripatetic nature and its uncertainty.
Daughter 2, correctly inferring the subtext of this (“Why on earth does your boyfriend want to be an actor? Why can’t you marry some nice lawyer or doctor?”) looked lovingly at me and made the following little speech:
“Oh, Mum. You need to realise that everyone’s not like you. You wouldn’t like to be an actor, but then you wouldn’t like to be a fire fighter or a mountaineer or a politician either. If everyone was like you, the world would be a far better place. But there wouldn’t be any fire fighters.”
Well, there was considerable daughterly bias in this assessment, but that last bit’s certainly true, and of course she’s right in many respects. But it’s just that I want her life to be safe and easy and perfect! And she understands this. She’s so lovely.
And as I considered all these things, I spooned the brownie mixture into the prepared, lined tin, thinking to myself, but only very very vaguely, that it seemed a bit… not quite right. I popped it into the oven, ran water into the mixing bowl and – only then – looked over the ingredients. I’d missed out the sugar.
Sugarless brownies would be a lot healthier, I’m sure, but would they cook properly?
I took the baking tray out again, scraped the mixture with considerable difficulty off the baking paper and into a fresh bowl, added the sugar, cut more paper to fit the tin and put it back in to cook. It’ll be fine. Cooking’s an art, not a science. Luckily.