Tuesday, 30 September 2014

New season, new kitchen

Counts as 'cooker porn'?
If there was one thing – apart from seeing our cats again – that made the return from holiday worth while, it was coming back to a new kitchen, just in time for a new season.

In the last week, a number of people have commented, of our having been away while the work was done in our home, that we were very ‘trusting’.

The implication being that they would be reluctant to leave their own homes in the hands of “contractors”.

It’s difficult, though, to know how they’d continue to live in a home while a room such as a bathroom or kitchen is being gutted and completely re-fitted.

That Tardis carousel
Three weeks using a bucket instead of a loo – unless they get workmen to spend time refitting one every day at the end of the work? Take-away meals for the duration? Yuk!

We’re incredibly fortunate to have Ian, a local, old-fashioned tradesman, has done a wonderful job yet again. And it not only all looks great, but works so much better too.

We have, in the last week, been able to get pretty much everything sorted out and into its new place.

As explained previously, it was an excellent opportunity to cull and clear. Now, though, I have one cupboard that must be the Tardis in disguise – it’s so big, with a carousel inside, that it stores every single pan, casserole, oven dish, earthenware pot, tagine, jug and large serving bowl that I have!

One very deep drawer now takes all my bakeware – which used to take a whole cupboard and a drawer – while another substantial drawer takes ladles, serving spoons, most of which had been hung on the wall, and another cupboard easily hosts all the slightly less-used gadgets, such as the mandolin and the potato ricer.

Neat and tidy – and so much more work space!
Pull-out sections bookending the cooker hold all the tea and coffee-making kit on one side, and all my herbs, spices, salts, vinegars and oils on the other.

The crockery is now displayed in the shelf unit/dresser, while all the cups, mugs and glassware are in further cupboards.

The entire effect is one of far less clutter, while it’s all so much lighter, too.

The butler sink came into its own on the first day back, as it allowed us to soak and wash out the big, retro, enamel bread bin, that previously would not go in a sink.

And of course, although I’m still getting used to the cooker – it has had me purring since day one – while the splashback that we made of features tiles from Casa Latina in Collioure, and the drawer and cupboard handles from the same source, looks lovely.

After just a brace of hobs on this trip to France, the Rangemaster is a big step up!

I should add that the new fridge – the old one was dying on us and would have needed replacing anyway – is a piece of magnificent Bosch. We took account of width and nothing else when planning, but this is another massive step up.

And it provides far more fridge magnet space too – I had a joyous task at the weekend curating our personal art gallery!

I had been told, in conversation with a friend, that when buying white goods, the best – and most simple – advice is: “Go to John Lewis and buy as much Bosch as you can afford!”

Our washing machine for the past two years has been Bosch and I can easily see the wisdom in that advice. The fridge-freezer merely confirms it.

But all of this has had me thinking about how our cooking areas and facilities have been reduced in the last three decades.

Not a posh cooker – just an old one
Back in the 1970s, it would hardly have been a luxury to have a cooker that had both an oven and a separate grill.

However, the years since, and the advent of built-in cookers, have seen this end as the norm.

More recently, we’ve moved to new homes being built with, in some cases, only enough room for a microwave.

As food journalist Joanna Blythman relates in one of her books, a developer who planned holiday homes with just a microwave found themselves having to re-do kitchens when Continental visitors complained at the lack of proper cooking equipment.

And as Blythman also uncovered, the UK accounts for more than half the European ready-meals market, while the figure for snack products is similar.

There’s an interweaving of things here, but as I’ve also said many times, there is also a poor culture when it comes to how we see food in the UK.

A few weeks ago, I happened to overhear a ‘conversation’ between a mother and child, the latter having only recently turned three.

“What do you want for your dinner?”

“Dippy chips.”

“You can’t have dippy chips every night!”

The conversation did not, you probably won’t be surprised to know, take place in France.

When and how did it become considered sensible or appropriate to ask a small child what they want to eat? When did it somehow become bad parenting to deploy the old ‘you eat what’s in front of you’ routine?

The glories of a Bosch fridge
For the record, the mother in question is not particularly young and is a working professional.

Having said that, on the subject of school meals, I’ve heard otherwise apparently intelligent adults arguing that choice is good for young children – precisely because it teaches them to choose.

Which is idiotic reasoning. You teach them about proper food – and then, when they’re a lot more grown up and they have some of the food skills required to make choices, they can start choosing.

Why would making choices – without experience and knowledge – be a positive thing? And especially when they are, in effect, up against companies, including big corporates, that are out to make a profit that may be increased by providing less-than-healthy options?

It’s like David v Goliath where people are suddenly rooting for the giant.

‘Choice’ can mean a salad over there and the lasagna and chips over here. How many six or seven-year olds do you know who won’t choose the latter, with all the sugars and salts and fats made to make it attractive?

I spent a day in a school canteen a couple of years ago – and it was far from being a bad canteen, with all food made from scratch by a dedicated team – but because they have to offer ‘choice’, there are children who happily (and apparently regularly) just choose a plate of stodge. And I heard the dinner ladies trying to encourage them to try something different.

The artiest Bosch fridge in town?
There’s a substantial part of the issue with that overheard mother, though, of sheer laziness.

Of course it’s difficult when both parents are working, but is copping out on what you actually feed your child really the only option?

Why does the myth persist that it is ‘difficult’ or too time consuming to cook a meal properly, from scratch, in the evening?

What you eat is one of the most important factors in your life – and if you’re nurturing a child, it should be even more important.

And you don’t need a double oven and a butler sink. But what the gradual reduction of kitchen spaces in homes does do is to shore up the attitudes that then lead to this kind of behavior.

They lead to the decline in sales of dining tables – and the seven-year-old who cannot use a knife and fork properly.

That’s another example where the parents were white-collar, full-time workers who couldn’t be arsed to feed their child properly after a day at work, so relied on finger food, takeaways and frozen pizzas while they concentrated on the important things in life, such as what’s on the telly.

It does beg the question of how much this syndrome is a question of both partners having to work or the ‘conveniencing’ of our diet.

I’d suggest it’s primarily the latter, since women in working-class communities have had to work for centuries. The textile mills didn’t run on unmarried, childless female labour, for instance.

The difference now is the vast development, in the last 40 years, of ready-meals, microwaves and the takeaway culture.

It has denuded our collective culinary skill level and the result is a culture where increasing numbers of people feed themselves – and their children – badly.

And when you see food as fuel, and all fuel as having the same value, then you’re well on the way down this route.

The examples I’ve given are far from unique. This morning, the BBC online included a report that 12% of UK three-year-olds have tooth decay.

It came a day after I saw a mother on a bus with three small children, explaining to her partner that one of them had had chocolate, a sausage roll and crisps to eat that day – and was still hungry.

And it was only last Friday that I happened to see another small child in a pushchair complaining to his mother that he’d finished the large tube of Pringles and wanted something else.

Laziness, ignorance – and, of course, lack of money, all feed into this, along with the (partly mythical) cheapness of ultra-processed junk food.

A big tube of Pringles is well over £2. You can buy a 500g bag of pasta for comfortably under 50p, a 400g of tinned tomatoes for well under 40p, an onion and some garlic for next to nowt.

Even allowing for a little oil and seasonings that you’ll need from the cupboard, that will create a simple meal that’ll take 30 minutes at most, in one pan on one hob, and will be infinitely cheaper and better for up to four people eating it than that single tube of Pringles for one small child.

So, irrespective of the cooker – let’s take autumn as the opportunity to get cooking proper, real food for ourselves and our families!

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