Thursday, February 16, 2012

Something's cookin' in the kitchen

Aww, they looked so sweet, the two of them, little faces glimmering with pride as they clutched their shiny trophies. Why no! Not the children; they haven’t won anything. I am referring to Man of the House and Grange Girl, who came joint first in last weekend’s muffin competition at Seedy Saturday. It was incredibly lucky they both won; it would’ve been pretty awkward for the next few decades if only one had triumphed. It did mean enduring an afternoon of them forcing baked goods down my neck with the entreaty, “Have another AWARD-WINNING MUFFIN!”
Back home, Man strutted round the house holding his trophy, which sounds more Julian Clary than I intend. Uncle Adultery, who was inexplicably still staying with us, admired Man’s win. “How lucky you are, Niecey, to have a life-partner who can cut it in the kitchen.”
Man preened in the mirror, using the trophy as a pretend Fonz comb.
“Life-partner, Uncle?”
“Isn’t that what the young people say? It’s unisex, you see.”
“The word unisex fell out of fashion when the last hairdressing salon dropped it in 1976.”
We watched Man running victory laps round the living room, trophy in one hand, small child in the other.
“Do I detect domestic jealousy dear Niece?”
“No. NO! What an outrage! No, no and thrice no.”
Yes. I went into the kitchen and kicked a cupboard. There are no prizes, are there, for the run-of-the-mill day-in-day-out fish fingers and macaroni cheese business of cooking? The oh-god-why-do-the-children-have-to-eat-again-I-just-gave-them-breakfast-it’s-six-pm-is-it-oh-all-right-then kind of cooking? Well there blimming ought to be. For such awesomely consistent and repetitive meal-serving there should be medals, certificates, huge boxes of chocolates and fireworks.
It being Lewes, a firework went off just as I had that thought, and I pretended it was for me and my pesto pasta, raising my arms in the air like an athlete who’s just broken through the tape at the end of a gruelling Ironman event. Which, cooking wise, I am.
Man came in and said, “You all right?”
I put my arms down hastily. “Can’t a woman have a little stretch in her own kitchen?”
“Ah,” he laughed, “But now I’m joint Muffin Master 2012…”
“Oh are you, I had no idea.”
“…perhaps we should refer to this as MY kitchen.”
I could hear the children starting to make those needing-feeding noises, like small dinosaurs.
“What a good idea.” I handed over my pinny. “Think I’ll head upstairs with a cuppa and a nice beetroot muffin.”
The children burst in as if shot from a cannon and hurled themselves into their seats, banging cutlery in the style of Henry VIII.
I sidled out as Man said, “Right kids, who fancies supper made by an award-winning chef?” And their bellowed replies followed me up the stairs. “WE WANT PIZZA FROM THE FREEZER.”

Beth Miller, 9th February 2012. Published in Photo by Alex Leith.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Now we all know the muffin man

When Grange Girl requires your immediate attendance you don’t open your diary to find a more convenient time, nor bother her with extraneous trivia such as being in the bath. So I hurtled round, not even stopping to put on mascara, and did she thank me? Did she heck as like. She glared at her watch, told me not to let my wet hair drip on the sofa, and said, “Your eyes look piggy.”

“What’s the emergency?”

“I hope you’re hungry.”

“An eating emergency – my favourite kind!”

“I’d like you to taste test some muffins.”

“This gets better and better. Worth leaping out of a fluffy bubble bath for…” My nostrils did that outraged widening thing patented by Kenneth Williams. “What’s that smell?”

Grange Girl opened the oven and the room was filled with noxious smoke. “Yes, I did wonder if sprouts would work.”

“Brussels sprouts muffins?”

“I thought they’d be a pretty colour.” Grangey removed a tray of huge round bogies.

“I prefer chocolate muffins.”

“The point of the competition is to use vegetables which can be grown or foraged at this time of year. Like sprouts.”

“What kind of cockamamie competition is this? Don’t tell me!” I slapped my forehead. “This has to be something to do with Seedy Saturday.” I’ve got previous with Seedy Saturday. Last year I got so rained on during raffia bird feeder-making that the resulting bronchitis nearly did for me. And at the fateful Seedy Saturday three years ago I first introduced Grangey to Uncle Adultery, setting off a chain of events that began with her abandoning her marriage and ended with her creating mutant muffins.

“Yes, it’s their Muffin Master comp. ‘Show off your skills and maybe win a trophy!’” She frowned. “I don’t like that maybe.” She lined up four misshapen and whiffy monstrosities on the table, beauty pageant style. “So here we have kale and cheddar, nettle and raisin, rosehip and star anise, Brussels sprouts.”

“Because Brussels sprouts are a super-food that stand alone?” I thought longingly of my bath, and of nice food with chocolate in.

“Ok, eat up. I need an objective opinion.”

“Tasting doesn’t get much tougher than this.”

“Stop stalling.”

I reached reluctantly for the first one, and the phone rang. Grangey looked at me suspiciously. “How did you do that?”

“Me? I’m sat right here.”

“Don’t move.” She went into the living room to answer the phone and I hastily crumbled the muffins into the earth of Grangey’s weeping fig.

“No-one there. Idiots. Good god, where have all the muffins gone?”

“Long time passing,” I sang, as I reached under the table and clicked my mobile off. “They were all scrummy. The nettle one was best.” This guesstimate was based on it containing raisins, a bona fide ingredient.

“Thanks,” said Grange Girl, opening a cake tin full of blackened warty muffins. “Here’s some more experiments from yesterday for you to try.”

Beth Miller, 31st January 2012. Published in