Something tends to happens to men between the ages of 42 and 50. In my case, from being an independently-minded guy with distinctive and individual tastes and interests I started to morph into my father Bob. I don’t just mean that people could spot some similarities between us, I’m talking about turning into him. Take a look at these pictures and bear in mind Bob’s over 20 years older than me. We look like bloody twins…
I’ve become the same shape (actually he’s slimmer than me by some way), I wear glasses like him, I’ve lost all the hair I would have preferred to keep (many thanks for that gene Bob), my hearing’s starting to go but I still love him. But it’s not just the physical thing that kicks in. Here’s the weird stuff, at some point after 42 I started to start liking the bloody things Bob has enjoyed for many years and in which I had had no previous interest whatsoever.
So I developed a fascination for gardening from out of nowhere. Maybe it was the landscaping aspect which appealed to begin with but I now really enjoy plants – buying, planting, pruning, nurturing, the feel of them , the scent and so on. I love it when a plant prospers and thrives but I also hate it when I lose one. Last year whilst we were away in Italy my beautiful acer tree died in our Buckingham garden. We bought this in the Lakes when we holidayed with my brother and D several years ago. It was just the most stunning foliage and now, in my mind’s eye, there’s a huge visual hole in our garden during the Autumn. I was really quite upset to lose it – a big fat lump like me. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have even noticed, now I wonder whether we will live long enough to see something grow so beautifully in our garden in Italy.
But the thing which shocked me more than anything about getting more Bob-like was an interest in cooking which seemed to come on over night. I was absolutely useless beforehand. When I was younger and lived away from home I could never master the cooking lark. It was the ability to bring the constituent elements of a meal to a single climax that I could never grasp. The bacon would be ready but the corn half done and the potatoes still virtually raw. So I never tried after a while and C did all the family meals for years and years (and really well too). Bob had been cooking most main meals in my folks’ home since we were young kids and we just thought our father was great but kinda eccentric. This was the North don’t forget.
But the big cooking gene kicked in one day – maybe it was BBQs that got me hooked – it often is. But to this day I have several good friends who cannot cook to save their skins, even though they pretend to know how to BBQ food (they can’t!). So it struck me that since I now get so much enjoyment out of cooking that I could maybe explain how easy and pleasurable I find it especially to those guys young and old who just don’t get it or weren’t shown how to do it. Why is it not on the national curriculum? I just don’t know. And I’d love to teach it. To me there are certain things that a young guy should learn and know how to do well if he really wants to have a great relationship with women (or men too I guess):
– the ability to really listen, to be amusing, decisive and confident
– being ok in the sack of course
– appreciating art/art galleries and good music, great restaurants and how to dance
– how to cook some signature dishes, really well.
That’s the secret I reckon – some decent earning capacity helps too I guess. Now I’m not claiming to be good at any of these except the last one a little bit. But I am sure that any young fella who can learn these will never, ever be short of friends.
So I’ve decided to do a new category on the few things I’ve learned about cooking in case anyone is mildly interested out there. It’s nothing to do with healthy eating, losing weight, food fads or any of that nonsense. It’s just what I’ve learned both here and in Italy and it is very much aimed at the guy who hasn’t a clue about cooking. Real beginner’s stuff, no scales and measurements, nor suggested timings, nothing over-elaborate. Simple menus designed by me or more likely stolen from better chefs than I and stripped down and simplified. That Rick Stein is inspired and brilliant but he is a fussy bloody ingredients kinda chef. Pasta Paulie’s stuff is just so straightforward, even John Palmer could do it. I don’t know whether the food I cook is any good but I do know I find it hugely enjoyable to prepare it and nobody’s died yet.
So where to start? Well I think it’s best to start from a couple of perspectives. Firstly, it helps to have wine on hand, both as an ingredient but equally helpfully for refreshment. If you’re very young this is something to look forward to. But if you’re old enough, drinking wine and cooking food is what makes it pleasurable. Cooking’s hot and can be thirsty work and can take some time. Creativity and Man need nourishment. A meal like Xmas dinner can take hours to prepare. The best way to enjoy doing it is to keep the larynx lubricated, believe me. How many times have you experienced stress-fuelled Xmas dinners? That’s because mellowness wasn’t built in to the prep stage.
The second thing is to have a decent larder of things always in stock. I don’t mean always have a fridge/freezer full of prime steaks – in fact I’ll show you how to make a little go a long way – but always try and have a few essential items always to hand. Stock items:
– lots of extra virgin olive oil (don’t scrimp – buy an interest in some Pasta Paulie trees to ensure a supply!), good pepper and salt, butter, milk, tomato puree, jars of tomato sauces (lots of flavours, be adventurous), as many dried herbs and flavors you can build up, curry powders, stock cubes (beef, chicken and veg), tinned beans (heinz, fagioli and chillie), tins of chopped tomatoes, corn, coconut milk. Frozen petit pois. Garlic cloves, good dried or fresh pasta. Eggs.
– all kinds of fresh veg: in winter esp carrots, potatoes (baking, baby, regular), mushrooms (all varieties), parsnips, squash, sweet potato, red onions, leeks, large sweet corn. In summer: baby corn, asparagus, sugar snap peas, courgettes, runner beans, tomatoes (try as many varieties as poss), salad onions, baby potatoes, lettuce and leaves (lots of varieties), avocado, peppers etc
– every week; chicken – full-roasted, uncooked thighs (sweetest, preferably boned) or breast pieces. Bacon (no rind), panacetta, good lean mince, salmon steaks, sausages – particularly good quality mixed meat/veg varieties.
There’s lots more to add of course but that’s ok for starters. You’ll need some good sharp knives, small and larger frying pans/woks, boiling/steaming pans. Don’t forget that presentation is everything so a variety of serving bowls/dishes is desirable (though not essential of course).
I could do the first recipe now but think it might be better later. Trust me it’ll be very straightforward. I’m already getting hungry with anticipation. Buon appetito amico