Adventures of a newly single girl: Part I: The Moussaga.

This morning is not going particularly well for me so far. It’s the one morning of the week that I do not have to get up and do a school run and I am still awake at some godforsaken hour. Why does that always happen? And to make matters worse I don’t even know where I am. The thing next to me tells me that I am in Wadworthshire. Or at least I presume it does because it says ‘Welcome to Wadworthshire’. Where on earth is that?? I’ve never heard of it before. In addition to which I am having to write this sitting in front of a mirror which, after last night, is not a good thing. There are a whole load of teabags next to me as well, with improbable sounding ingredients. Sanguinello orange, for example. Since when did that form part of the basis of tea? As far as tea is concerned – and this is the one time in my life I will ever say the next part of this sentence – I am a builder. I like it plain, strong and mostly unadulterated with milk. And certainly unadulterated with sanguinello orange. Actually, tea is one of the main things I have noticed about being single. For ages I continued to get up in the morning and automatically make a pot of it. And then a few weeks later I noticed that I was only having time to drink one cup and the rest was being poured away. Gone are the days when I had time to leisurely sit around drinking tea in the morning; now I am in sole charge of breakfast, hair-brushing, locating uniform and referee-ing the early morning fights, which clearly is a glorious way to start my day. Yesterday’s fight was about Valentine’s Day. Molly (11) was busy teasing Alice (6) about which boy she would send a card to. Alice was getting more and more irate at the idea that it was compulsory just because Molly said so, when she said something that stopped Molly in her tracks. I actually felt the pause from where I was getting dressed as the whole argument hung and spun in the air for a moment like so much dust. And then Molly shouted “Mummy! Tell Alice that she can’t send a Valentine’s Day card to a girl!” Alice: 1, Molly: 0.

Another big thing I’ve noticed about being single is the cooking. I know I mentioned this in my last blog but that’s because this is a major thing for me. For years I have neglected what is traditionally viewed as part of the female role and now I am determined and eager to pick it up again and become better than I ever been at catering. Before the girls get gout.  So this week I decided to make moussaka. Don’t ask me why, I have only a vague recollection of eating it once, about twenty years ago, and I’m not sure I liked it then. But I found a recipe online, scanned it for ingredients and transferred them into my Ocado shopping list which was delivered on the Monday. I knew it was going to take a while so I set aside most of Wednesday afternoon to make it so I could enjoy the anticipation, and I dedicated myself to the experience properly. I put the radio on, tied my hair up, changed into loungewear and my wonderfully soft Joules slipper boot things and when it was a nice relaxing atmosphere I brought the recipe up again on my iPad. Or I thought I did. The first issue was that I couldn’t actually locate the initial recipe that I’d used. But no matter – one moussaka recipe is the same as another, no? No would appear to be the answer because the one I found when I needed to cook had about five extra ingredients that the other one didn’t. But never mind! When you have bay leaves and cinnamon who needs fresh thyme and allspice? I’d already had to go to the butcher earlier in the day and buy a significant quantity of minced lamb because I discovered that the amount I’d bought from Waitrose online roughly fitted on a teaspoon when it arrived. So I lined up my ingredients; chopped tomatoes, two onions because I didn’t have a ‘large’ one, lamb, all manner of herbs, aubergines and whatever else there was, I can’t remember the rest. I began ‘browning’ the lamb and sautéing the onion and then realised that I needed to chop the aubergines up. Do you know how long it takes to chop four medium aubergines? Because I do. Then they need to be sprinkled with salt and sit in a colander to draw out any bitter juices. Well I hunted through the cupboards but no colander could I find so I settled on a sieve and piled up four medium aubergines sprinkled with salt. By which time I’d burnt the lamb. So I added it to the onion anyway and began administering the herbs that I had. Garlic cloves were called for, three of them, but I didn’t have any of those so I grabbed the garlic salt instead and shook that in. How much garlic salt equates to three garlic cloves? I had no idea. Then next I added the chopped tomatoes, registering as I did so that I needed ‘2 x 400g’. I examined the one tin I had and swiftly realised that I needed two. So I climbed onto the worktop and hunted through the cupboards for a second time. My luck was in! I found a second tin lurking at the back of a shelf. It had expired in 2010 but really, who was going to know? No-one that was going to eat it, I’d make sure of that. In went the tomatoes and the next thing I had to do was de-glaze the pan I’d burnt the lamb in. With wine. De-glaze? I stared at the words for a few moments wondering if it was strictly necessary and then remembered my fresh commitment to cooking and googled ‘de-glazing’. I discovered that it basically meant boiling the wine in the pan. Which seemed an awful waste of 6 fl oz of wine, but far be it from me to argue with Antony Worrall Thompson. So de-glaze I did and added that to my bubbling moussaka mixture. It was about this point that I remembered that I really don’t like minced lamb. Properly don’t like it. The smell from the moussaka was a bit of the herbs and garlic (nice) but mainly the lamb (vile). But perhaps it would be better with the aubergines? After drawing out the bitter juices I had to rinse and pat dry the sliced aubergine and I can honestly say that I was more careful and tender with the vegetable than I am when drying my smallest girl after her bath. I had high hopes for this aubergine; it was make or break for the moussaka. After frying the aubergine (in wholemeal flour because I didn’t have any plain stuff) it was rapidly approaching the pinnacle point where I would construct the dish! Create the moussaka. Put together my lamb mixture, aubergine, béchamel sauce, parmesan and gruyere cheese and bake it for an hour. I’d thought by this point that I would be able to relax. Cooking would be done, I could clean the kitchen and await the results of my endeavours with a certain amount of pride. But no. Two things happened at this point; one I remembered that I had to go and collect Alice from school, and two I spied a lone onion sitting unchopped on the side. My plan for two onions masquerading as one large one had failed at its inception by virtue of the fact that one hadn’t made it into the pan. What to do? Child or onion? Abandonment or  dinner?  Swearing, I picked up a knife, dealt with the onion then picked up my keys and drove the mile to the school. It was as I fled across the playground that I realised that I was still wearing what were essentially pyjamas. There was little I could do however except front it out, which I did – not even batting an eyelid when the mother who opened the door for me gave me a very strange look. I marched in, grabbed my child and left.

The end of this story is something of an anti-climax. I did create the moussaka, I did bake it and it was eaten. But not by me. I found the entire taste completely revolting and the only bit I could bear to consume was the cheese on top. But like a good mother I did insist that the girls finished theirs and I’m happy to report that they’ve survived. However I think it’s best for all if I retire gracefully from the field of experimental cooking and go back to where I naturally belong – on the sofa, Domino’s menu in one hand and 6 fl oz of wine in the other.                           

One Response to “Adventures of a newly single girl: Part I: The Moussaga.”

  1. Anne Mackle says:

    I’m sorry about your break up Sarah but you seem to coping wonderfully. For someone who doesn’t cook you picked a slightly complicated dish. You don’t have to soak aubergine a in salt anymore as they don’t need it these days. Don’t give up with the cooking it’s good for your children to see you doing it. My friend Catherine who I met through twitter has a cooking blog just google Noble Nourishment her recipes are so easy and she takes photos of all the ingredients as well as the cooking steps,Ive just made her masala chicken curry and its the best Ive made. Good luck and give cooking another go.