You may know that I have a lot of allergies, most of which are anaphylactic, and many of which are to foods. The main things I'm allergic to are preservatives and colourings, and you'd be surprised at what you'd find these in, even in so-called healthy foods. One of the consequences of these allergies is that I can't eat any ready meals so I have to have all my food cooked from scratched. Yes, real cooking! I quite enjoy cooking, but I'm very limited these days in how much I can do because of my tendency to pass out when standing due to the POTS and vasovagal syncope. It's not very safe to faint whilst standing over a lit gas hob so these days I have carers come to cook for me three evenings a week. It can be a bit tying sometimes if I have things to do, or I want to be out, or if they turn up early, and I've never been the best at planning meals ahead so sometimes I get a little frustrated at having to be organised with this kind of thing. It's made a little trickier by the fact that they come at 4.30pm, which is far too early to have dinner so I need to think of things that I can either re-heat quickly later on or that take a long time to cook. Last year W bought me a slow cooker and that's been a god-send with these carers as they can do all the cooking bits then set the slow cooker away to do its stuff so that a few hours later I can have tea at a much more sensible time. Marvellous. All I need do is provide the recipe and ingredients...
It would, however, seem that cooking is an alien concept to many of the carers who come to me and the tasks I lay before them are akin to those on the Krypton Factor. Now it's not like I ask for anything particularly complicated - in fact that's another challenge for me as I have to try to find simple recipes - except that the mere thought of cooking anything other than a ready meal or heating up a takeaway appears to be very complicated. I have several different carers come to cook for me and I only really have confidence in one of them. They're all lovely people, yes, but you wouldn't find them on Master Chef. I had one who, on her first visit here, told me that her father is a chef so I optimistically thought that he may have passed on some of his culinary skills to her. Nope. She had to ask me how to cut the leek I'd put out with the ingredients for my dinner. On one of the days the following week a very sweet young carer (maybe in her late teens or very early twenties) came. She pointed at the pile of ingredients on the bench, made her face Dali-esque and squawked, 'What's that?!' It was a sweet potato. The day she came and I had a raw beetroot I'd been given on the bench I thought she was going to run away in fear so I had to reassure her very quickly that it wasn't part of that night's dinner; it was just on the bench as a place to put it. I then had to explain that it was a fresh beetroot, and no, not all beetroot comes pickled in jars. Bless her ... and God help me!
I guess I don't mind so much if the person who comes is honest about their cooking ability. I can allow for inexperience. I can prepare myself for perhaps not the tastiest meal I've ever had. So long as they make sure all the veg etc is suitably washed so that they don't accidentally kill me then I can pretty much let them off. It's when they're 'misleading' about their culinary skills that it gets me. I had one woman come - another friendly character - who, when I explained about my allergies and therefore the need to do 'from scratch' cooking, assured me that she was a good cook. She told me that she'd been married to a Morrocan man for seven years so had cooked all his meals from the raw ingredients and was quite experienced. After tasting the soup she made me I wonder if she's still married to the Moroccan man or if in fact he's dead. I set her the challenge of making me butternut squash and carrot soup with a little ginger and chilli. As always I'd set out the ingredients on the bench. As always I presumed she'd follow the recipe in terms of quantities, and I even provided scales for weighing out any ingredients she needed to weigh. I went off to have my bath (the heat of a bath or shower makes passing out more likely so I have a bath while the carer's around in case there are any problems) and left her to make the soup. When I returned to the kitchen I discovered that she hadn't actually fried the onions, garlic, ginger, chili, or any of the veg before adding the stock (homemade stock as I can't have the bought stuff); she'd simply chopped it all up, put it in the enormous pan, and filled said pan with all of the stock I had. And it was only after she'd left that I realised she had no discernment at all regarding quantities. She had used a whole green chili, a whole root of ginger, and a whole bulb of garlic! I let the thing, the concoction, the pot of poison bubble away in the hope that maybe it wouldn't be so bad really, but after I'd blitzed it in the liquidiser and tasted the tiniest of tiny amounts there was no fooling myself into thinking that this was edible. It had somehow transformed itself from appetising and tasty fresh vegetables to some kind of anti-food. I think I had boiled egg that night instead. The next time she turned up I lied that I was going to my dad's for dinner that night, but I still needed her there while I had a bath. I don't remember what I ended up doing for tea in the end, but I couldn't face sampling her cooking again, that was for sure. On the bright side, as she wasn't cooking for me that evening she offered to do other stuff so she did my ironing. The carer who comes on a Wednesday morning is supposed to do my ironing as well as the cleaning, but the one I've had most since my regular Wednesday carer left the agency is rubbish at ironing, doesn't like doing it, complains all the time she is doing it, and doesn't do very much of it. Needless to say, there was rather a lot of ironing to do. It all got done and I also didn't have to suffer her cooking. Bonus!
I had yet another carer come tonight. I have to say that she was ever such a lovely person, and she did in the end manage to follow the recipe and produce a very nice dinner in the slow cooker for me. However, I also have to say that it is quite miraculous that she managed to follow the recipe and produce a very nice dinner in the slow cooker for me. When I told her that she'd be cooking from scratch she looked terrified, aghast, distraught. She came clean that she doesn't cook. I told her not to worry as I'd put all the ingredients out along with the recipe, and assured her that a slow cooker is really easy to use. She'd never seen a slow cooker before. She doesn't even use a conventional cooker. She lives off sandwiches. This was going to be a challenge ... for us both. Right then, time for some education. I introduced her to the concepts of fresh vegetables, cartons of butter beans, and uncooked wholegrain rice. I gave her her first sighting of saffron, and explained that she should use only a very tiny amount as it's so blooming expensive. That scared her. I got her a pan and showed her how to light the hob. I showed her the recipe book. I thought she was going to collapse with repressed hysteria. 'Oh,' she squeaked through tightened vocal chords, 'I've never used a recipe before. I'm not sure that I can. I mean, I'll try, but I'm scared. I've never done it before. It looks so complicated.' We read through the recipe together, and I explained that yes, she would have to use the hob a little bit to brown the leeks ... and I explained what 'browning the leeks' meant, and I reassured her that she'd be fine, and I went off to hide in the bath. After a while I could hear a lot of clattering and I could smell burning, but I figured that being in the bath surrounded by water was perhaps the safest place to be if the carer was going to accidentally set fire to the flat, so I stayed put and hoped I'd still have a kitchen by the time I plucked up the courage to get out of the bath and back to the carer. Thankfully I do still have a kitchen, and despite the burning smell I see no evidence of there having been any flames. When I reappeared though she did say that she hadn't washed the butter beans, and asked how she was meant to do that so I said to use either the sieve or the colander. She looked at me blankly. I showed her what a sieve looks like.