Saturday, 20 October 2012

Food for Thought

        My Mum always knows how to salvage something gone wrong. Whether it was turning a ripped pair of jeans into fashionable shorts, turning a collapsed sponge cake into the base of a delicious trifle or soothing hurt feelings into laughter, she does a pretty good trade in fixing up. If life is a rubbish dump, Mum would be Steptoe.

        Sometimes, there are things she can’t fix right away: broken teenage hearts, smashed ornaments, tiny chain filaments that require Dad’s pliers and steady eye. Yesterday, it was my almond macaroons. I’d gone over to Mums to make use of her company and her eye-level oven, and after following a difficult online recipe the end result was a bowl of pink yop that looked like I’d melted down Mr Blobby. I consulted with the elder of the tribe to see what went wrong. Mum and I took the bowl out into the kitchen for surveillance.

        She hovered over the bowl as if it were the Pensieve from Harry Potter. “Did you put eggs in?” She asked, spooning the mixture out and watching it plop runnily into the bowl again.

        “It’s gotta be about eighty percent egg,” I reasoned. “The recipe said so.”

        “Caster sugar or icing?” Mum hovered over the pink bowl like Mystic Meg.

        “Er…both? Icing for the almond paste, caster for the sugar syrup.” I was beginning to sweat. This was like a final exam: if I’d made a rudimentary mistake, I would shame myself as - gasp! - a rubbish cook. I started running through the process in my head; first I’d done this, then this, then that. Then I’d whisked it. Had I whisked it enough? I was sure I’d whisked it enough.

        “I whisked it enough,” I said pathetically.

        “Maybe a little more couldn’t help,” said Mum brightly, grabbing the electric whisk and shoving it into the quivering pink mass. “After all, it’s about eighty percent egg.”

        As I watched her at work (noticing she had the same stern expression of concentration as my Dad), I had a thought about wisdom and skills. When it came to cooking in the ‘W’ family, Mum was unanimously crowned Queen. In my own home, I reigned supreme. While I’m cooking, Brawny will often hover around, asking questions that usually follow the “Are you supposed to do that?” mould. Once I’ve given him a few logical answers, he leaves the kitchen, vowing to never again question my cooking ability ‘because I’m always right’.

        I mentioned earlier that while Mum can salvage most things, Dad can make light work of a broken necklace. Similarly, Brawny can recover failed hard drives, unblock sinks, re-wire faulty consoles and manage our finances.

        I know what you’re thinking. I know that it takes different kinds to make a world, and not everyone’s the same, and you must have compromise in a relationship blah blah blah. But what if there’s something you can’t salvage?

        In the past two years, Brawny and I have gone through a fair amount. Just like Mum’s whisk couldn’t save my macaroons, even our joint efforts couldn’t always help our situation. And then there’s the doubt: Why couldn’t we fix it? What did we do wrong? Why didn’t the mixture peak like bloody meringues are bloody supposed to?

        After ten minutes of fruitless whisking, fifty grams of icing sugar and a rather dirty worktop, Mum and I were about to write off Project Macaroon as a big fat failure. I was feeling as sick as my mixture looked: I’d toiled for three hours, making a mess and several mistakes as I went, and now I had nothing to show for it. As Mum shut off the whisk, shaking her head like a doctor calling the time of death, Dad came in and eyed the gloop on the table.

        “What is that?” he snorted. “Did someone's brain melt?”

        And I laughed. I kept laughing as Mum spooned the goop up again for Dad to see, and as he picked up the crystallised lump that had been my first attempt at sugar syrup and described it as “mutant poo” I kept hooting and hollering with mirth.

        As I went home, I reflected on my achievements. I could have been miserable; three hours’ work had been poured down the kitchen drain, and I had nothing to show for my efforts. I didn't even know why it went wrong and how I could have saved it. But all it had taken to cheer me up was Dad pointing out that my cooking looked like effluence.

        “So what did you do today with your Mum?” asked Brawny while I was cooking dinner (curry - something I’ve cooked from scratch a zillion times). I thought about how rotten I’d felt about my situation until Dad had encouraged me to laugh at it. I then thought about all the times Brawny had made me chuckle through my tears when we couldn't find a solution to a problem. As long as we could see the funny side, it gave us the will to try another day.

        “I learnt that I can’t make macaroons,” I said, before adding with a wink, “Yet.”

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