What are they up to during the lockdown? How are they coping, really? I'd find it hard to believe that at this stage, even the best chefs in the world aren't feeling that crushing sense of despair going back into the kitchen to plate up another dinner.
I like to think I'm a reasonably capable cook and over the last couple of weeks have managed to put three square meals on the table for the gang each day. Now I just feel the weight of a thousand avocado stones bearing down on my soul as another cookbook comes off the shelf. Sumac Fried Eggs with Persian Rice. Is that what you're cooking tonight, Donal? Donal? I like Donal, a great Irish success story. But there are times when these cookbooks, all of them, have a whiff of the smug off them.
Remember the English lad Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, who decamped to a little cottage to try and live off the land and was able to make a meal from whatever he shook off his trouser legs after a day in the garden. He demonstrated his resourcefulness in the program Escape to River Cottage and was so smug he made a second series called Return to River Cottage, just to rub it all in.
Nothing went to waste. Weeds. Twigs. Birds of the sky. Beasts of the earth. Even the muck that he scraped from the sole of his boot had a place in the pot and with the Tesco, trips fast becoming military drills, I'm beginning to look out the back window and think along similar lines.
Could you make soup from a section of a garden fence? Those berries you were always warned not to eat; would you die or just get buzzed up for a few hours? What about freshly cut grass in a salad bowl? Dandelions in the G&T?
I've fallen back on the worst, couldn't-be-arsed, easy-peasy meals that wouldn't even be accepted on a children's TV channel. I'm loathed to do this really. You need to retain dignity in everything you do in this lockdown, but particularly with your food, or you're on the seriously slippery slope. As a famous Mediterranean chef somewhere once said: 'Listen to me, listen! If you let your pride and passion evaporate in the kitchen like steam from your wee, then all you will be left with is type 1 diabetes!'
So lazy have my meals become, that I now just use the abbreviations. There's the WIFF – 'Whatever's in the F***ing Fridge' – which could be as haute as a pepper omelet or as lowly as cheese on toast. There's the SB for 'The Sad Bastard', which is fried eggs and a waffle. Once you've reached for the waffle you really are a sad bastard and deserve it too.
Another, in the spirit of the great Gordon Ramsay (by name, at least) I call the Three Fs. 'Frozen fish, frozen chips, and frozen peas'. And I'm really hating this one.
The problem with the Three Fs is that it has caused my OCD to bubble to the surface. I thought it was dead and buried. I'd spoken to a counselor years ago about it (I didn't 'go' to a counselor; I'd just 'spoken' to one and there's a difference) and he'd said: 'You just have to confront it. And to do that you have to imagine it as a person. Talk to it, shout at it. Give it a name. Use the initials of the condition to help you come up with one.'
So I did. I called it Oliver C-word Dickhead. I could only confront it when nobody else was around but it worked. But it's not working now. Because with this lockdown everybody is around all of the time. And you can't start using the C-word at the dinner table with 9-year-old twins struggling with a forkful of frozen peas.
But I only have to look at the tiles under the kitchen table to get going. My little girl is the worst. Half-way through the dinner and there's a cluster of peas under her feet, most of them being slowly mashed as she rocks back and forward on the legs of the chair.
I know you're tired of statistics, but here's one you won't hear during the HSE daily briefing. On average, only three out of every five peas make it from fork to mouth. The rest go wherever they choose. There was one in my slipper this morning. I found a trio in the pocket of my dressing gown, where they had obviously toppled down laughing through the folds of the cloth-like pinballs. And they go hard after a while and can roll anywhere. I tried mushy peas as they tend not to migrate so much but nobody liked them.
The solution, as with anything in these trying times, is to innovate and adapt. To become purer, reconnect with the earth, hark back to the days when simplicity was more in our nature. The camping trips with the folks. The girl guides and cub scouts. The summer weekends away on bicycles with nothing but friends and a tent and a box of matches and of course, the one staple that has been badly neglected in these times: the baked bean.
Hugh would never have scooped a tin of baked beans into a pot in his river cottage. And good luck to him, I say. It's pure snobbery and pomposity. This lockdown is the leveler and there is nothing wrong with a tin of beans.
Just picture this. Out the back, can of beer, tin placed over a little bonfire. If we all did it, the earth would glimmer and the sky would glow every night in a halo of warm communal crimson. The leap of the flames, the crackle of kindle and the bouquet of the baked beans as they blush and bubble, stirred gently by a stick.
Let's leave it to Tom Waits, who put it so beautifully in his song, Lucky Day, that I can't help but well up every time I hear it.
'Now when I was a boy, my Daddy sat me on his knee. And he told me, he told me many things. And he said son, there's a lot of things in this world you're gonna have no use for. And when you get blue and you've lost all your dreams, there's nothin' like a campfire and a can of beans.'
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