‘Mummy could I have a little word with you?’ said Josie. She's taken to addressing me like a busy but benign employer just lately. It’s part of GCSE over-drive; she’s the career woman, I’m the aged clerical assistant, past her best but too old to sack. I dried my hands on my apron, straightened my hair and stood to attention. ‘Yes’m?’ ‘I want to eat proper grown up food with you and Daddy in the evening from now on, vegetarian of course.’ Just like that, after 15 years of extreme pickiness.
This was a major development! Goodbye a la carte open all hours nursery food cafe, hello sit-down (vegetarian) suppers with older daughter! My imagination ran wild; I was Nigella Lawson, swinging through my state of the art kitchen, bestowing appetising plates upon my children, glossy smile, cascading locks, fullsome bossoms... We would have pies! We would have puddings! Oh the memories we’d have of convivial family meals, laughing and eating, happy and beautiful…I slipped my new Ottolenghi cookery book off the shelf, now let me see…My eyes lit upon ‘Cauliflower Frittata’ – I had the cauliflower but darnit the smoked scamorza (?) had run out…Leek pattie! Leeks I had, but no red onion….or onion…Here we go! – ‘Shakshuka’ – ‘meltingly soft and sweet’ red peppers, lightly spiced with an egg cooked to set in the middle, interesting side salad – Josie will love it.
I announced the new regime – dinner with Josie at eight! – to Alan, who was excited on two counts: first, the menu was to change from reheated childrens’ tea with a rasher of bacon on the top; second, he’d have a new (and captive) audience on whom to bestow the livelier Human Resources anecdotes of the day, instead of a slack-jawed wife in a dead doze in front of the TV. Before I knew it he’d transformed the kitchen into ‘Le Bistro Alain’- soft music, low lights, a candle! I told him the guitar was a step too far.
It was the teeniest bit annoying that Josie had to finish her TV programme before we ate, so the ‘shakshuka’ was a little tired, but we admired the sweet meltingness of the peppers anyway, and merrily chomped our way through the interesting side salad into which, with a surge of devil-may-care, I’d rashly cast my entire crop of five cherry tomatoes. We ignored the fact that the guest of honour was quiet, head down, plate untouched. Was she wretching? ‘What’s up Josie?’ I said eventually, when it could be ignored not longer. The flood gates opened: ‘Mummy I’m sorry you went to so much trouble, but…all these slices of pepper!...and the egg is in the middle!’. I felt slightly sulky, but we must not make an issue of food, must we, no matter how much we feel like saying EAT THE DAMN SHAKSHUKA or we will have anorexia on our hands, guaranteed, so I enquired: ‘Where would you prefer your egg?’ (it was a genuine enquiry) and ‘are the slices of pepper too large, too small, too sliced…or are they lying in the wrong direction?’ ‘I can’t do it, I just can’t!’ she wailed and took her leave. Alan and I blinked at each other, somewhat shocked. What would Nigella do? I appraised the middle-ness of Josie’s egg, then swallowed it in one (ouch) so I didn’t have to look at it any more. ‘She’s high maintenance,’ said Alan.
I was tempted to catch the last half of Dragon’s Den, but wired up with wine and work, Company Man nattered on past ten ‘..let’s face it, Soph, the strategy has to adapt..’ when Josie came back in for a hug (‘Mummy, what can I have to eat?’ Grrrr). He was still going as he climbed into bed ‘..you won’t believe the timeline on this proposal-’ but when his head hit the pillow, the snores. The usual pushing and punching brought no relief for ages, but then a megasnort followed by utter silence. He was dead. Now I wanted him to snore. I pushed and punched some more until finally I was rewarded with the teeniest little snuffle, building and building until – yes! yes! - the room was alive with the full glorious repertoire. Phew.