Entertaining myself (work avoidance?)

This has nowt to do with books, studying, work or libraries. It’s a random one.

We’re sharing the cooking and I’ll readily admit that Helen, my wife, is cooking the most. She and I have been figuring out the shopping orders and meal planning. Connor, the man-child, has been helping out with lunches and has now begun to join in with cooking some of the evening meals.

We’ve been talking, quite openly, about how cooking in different contexts requires versatility and an ability to adapt skills. Connor is an excellent competition and industry chef. If you want something fancy and complicated, he’s your guy. It will take him a long time and he’ll use every tool available in the kitchen, but it’ll be worth it. If you want someone to work as part of a team to deliver multiple covers at the same time for sustained periods, he’s your guy. Since working for Wahaca, and now Zizi’s, his approach to brigade cooking, minimal wastage and preparation is impressive. Both restaurants have an open kitchen and – before the apocalypse started – we loved eating in both and watching him work: controlled, efficient and fast.

But we would also watch him – eating our lovely, discounted food – and comment that he is just not like that at home! When cooking, he’s messy, slow and forgetful. As he’s recently completed a reflective essay for college, we talked about this at length. He and I have decided that context is key and he doesn’t adapt his mentality to suit the situation. For instance, he’ll rush at college because he’s used to working at pace in industry kitchens for fear of the wrath of the Head Chef! At home, he isn’t mindful of equipment use or mess because he’s used to cooking in teams at college and work, the latter with the benefit of a KP. I did point out to him that at Wahaca, the chefs took turns at being the KP and he hated being KP when the other chefs were chaotic… Also, any chefs who were too messy or wasteful during their shift had to do an extra KP stint as punishment! The fact he doesn’t apply that memory to cooking at home is evidence that he finds it hard to adapt his approach and learn from experiences.

Anyway, Helen and Connor cooking across Monday 4th to Wednesday 6th of May led to some disappointing results. I amused myself my writing each of them a Trip-Advisor-style-review… Apparently this is now going to be a new game and we’ll each be reviewing one another’s meals moving forward 😂 I have no doubt I will suffer their revenge!

Date: 04/05/20

Chef: Connor

Dish: chocolate brownies

This is a tried and tested, gluten free recipe by Leon. It uses haricot beans in lieu of flour; whenever Helen and I have cooked the brownies in the past, no one could believe they’re flourless. They’re rich, chocolatey and gooey in all the right places.

Connor’s attempt: chalky, savoury, flat, crumbly, unrecognisable, soul-destroyingly-disappointing. Somehow, he had baked them for 4 hours and they were still undercooked. Indeed, the portion gifted to his best friend was tasted, spat out and unceremoniously binned. Even Connor thought they were dirty. They are currently festering in a tin, uneaten and ignored.

Date: 05/05/20

Chef: Helen

Dish: Pad Thai

A firm favourite, I was excited to have Helen’s famous Pad Thai for dinner. Sigh. There were no nuts, it was super dry, the green beans were very obviously the frozen kind and the beef Quorn pieces were a disaster. It was filling and the cauliflower pakoras served on the side (which I later discovered weren’t gluten free) were delicious. I do hope Helen returns to her older, more reliable recipe.

Date: 06/05/20

Chef: Connor

Dish: tomato soup with mozzarella and fruit toast

The soup was tasty and the chef is handsome… There endeth the positives of this less than mediocre experience.

The soup wasn’t hot enough and all the cheese had coagulated into one rubbery lump of sorrow. Also, I ordered fruit toast (all my gluten free bread is stored in the freezer) but the chef didn’t pay attention and tried to coerce me into eating regular toast. He wasn’t at all professional when I refused. For those of you who don’t know, all gluten free bread is significantly smaller than its normal equivalent, so I requested three slices. The third slice was burnt and I was told the chef would “scrape the black bits off.” I insisted upon a fresh slice so, all-in-all, the chef had used six slices of hard-to-obtain gluten free bread to provide me with the necessary three.

Imagine my horror (given how hungry I was due to the human-error-induced-delay) when I discovered the new slice of toast was, in fact, also burnt! The chef had served it pale side up: an old and nasty trick to mask ineptitude because you are blissfully unaware of the toast’s true nature until you bite into it.

My wife enjoyed her dirty toastie (leftover chilli and cheese) but commented that service was slow. When I complained to the chef, he was unapologetic. We are eating in the same venue tonight – due to limited options – so we hope there’s an improvement.

I’m not enjoying being a character in a dystopian YA novel*

My wife has asthma. It’s severe. We’re used to managing it; she has an excellent asthma plan and supportive health care professionals. She spends a great deal of the year on various combinations of drugs, including steroids. These have messed up her skin and made her hands so puffy that she can no longer wear her wedding band and engagement ring. It’s a very good job she’s always oblivious to other women trying to flirt with her!

All this is to say that, as a household, we are now on lockdown as the UK tries to flatten the Covid-19 curve. Today is Day 2. I already have 72 new grey hairs.

My actual hair…

I’m not entirely convinced that my wife or the man-child we care for (19) really understand what it is I do. They can’t picture what the week looks like for someone doing a PhD, predominantly remotely. Oh, whilst juggling tutoring work, two elderly cats, an old dog, a puppy and the running of the household. Well, they’re going to enjoy a steep learning curve. It’s not all coffees, Nana naps and daytime TV.

Our house is tiny. It’s a two-up-two-down Victorian terrace. We have a downstairs bathroom at the end of the kitchen (both are extensions), a postage stamp garden and a 1.5 sized garage. We don’t really have any room to escape from one another. In a normal week, the man-child has college, work and a social life (all three are now cancelled); my wife works 18 miles away in a seaside city; and I study at home or at the local university, by using some excellent doggy daycare facilities nearby. Now, we’re all trying to maintain normalcy as we bump up against one another all day. Every day. For an indeterminate length of time.

With that in mind, we’ve developed a schedule. The man-child wants fun things to do, my wife and I want to be able to maintain our workloads, the pets need entertainment and I am adamant that we are not all just going to be glued to our screens 24/7. In fact, I’ve found that my wife becomes a poor communicator and lethargic if she spends too much time scrolling through Twitter and the news, the man-child actually becomes unbearable moody and verbally aggressive (not his normal traits) and I recognise that I become unmotivated to do anything else. The result of our combination of needs is a daily schedule.

We all contribute ideas but I write the up because the other two have the handwriting of inebriated toddlers.

The man-child gets two slots a day to phone splurge and my wife and I are trying to stick to one in the working week. As you can see, we haven’t even made it to midday on the first day of the schedule and the man-child has lost his second phone slot. Rather than keep the puppy with him in the garage as he stretched post-run (as requested), he let her free roam the garden so he could try to stealthily use his phone (not so stealthy when he was literally standing at the window). If you know our puppy, you’ll remember she likes to eat poop. Gross. So she naturally dropped one and ate the whole thing without him realising (we know this as it’s in her beard; her breath/burps stink of poop; and there is no poop to be found in the garden). Sigh.

I am perfect in every way but one: poop muncher

I know it looks like I’m only working two hours a day but that’s just for today. It’s in recognition of the fact I have to project manage the man-child to help him transition into a lockdown situation and, it transpires, become IT support for my wife. She hasn’t had to work from home like this before. Ordinarily, if she’s working from home, it’s so she has the peace and quiet required to write a paper, presentation or policy. Also, she usually has the house to herself. For the first time, she’s surrounded by other two and four-legged creatures and she’s experiencing meetings online with multiple stakeholders. She has a new found respect for making sure the background is appropriate, ensuring the cats aren’t waving their winky-arses at the others in the conference call and getting your own screen to just the right angle so your double chin isn’t suddenly a quadruple chin.

This meeting was brought to you by box, Yankee candle, Waterman fountain pen, notebook and placemat. What a sturdy support team.
Let me help you with that…

Then there’s WiFi speed, sound (she wears a hearing aid) and choosing an appropriate mug. We have lots of mugs and none of them match; each one comes with a story or was a gift.

Spot the inappropriate mugs.

We decided a daily schedule offers more spontaneity. The night before, we can decide what we want to do and eat. Some things are immovable (like feeding animals or attending pandemic crisis meetings) but others can be flexible.

Alongside this, we’re planning food so we eat our perishables first and take turns cooking.

We had frozen pineapple and dried mango – we haven’t been wasting money on middle class fruit!

Financially, this is super important. The man-child used to be fed at work for 6 dinners / lunches out of 14 and, as a vulnerable adult, the college helped fund his lunches. Also, I stopped work in February to focus on my PhD without realising that Covid-19 was going to put us all under house arrest. I’m a very poor, full-time student; any money I make from tutoring is immediately spent on doggy daycare so that I can study in peace. All of which is to say that my wife’s income is now fully supporting two other adults and four pets. And the man-child loves eating. Like other families, we are worried about money. There are no savings anymore because we used them to support the man-child’s family for years and then the man-child himself when we took responsibility for him 3 years ago. The universe played a cruel trick with that timing… I had chosen to start a Master’s degree and step away from a very well paid job. Then, boom. Just as we became a one income household, we had another human to care for.

We work month-by-mouth. We’ve cancelled any direct debits for things we no longer deem necessary (now I’m fielding phone calls all day from sales people asking if I’m sure I don’t want blah-blah-blah product support) and undertaken a full stock check of our food cupboards. My wife is naturally very worried as she is currently in her probation year for a new job: it’s a job that relies on her ability to fundraise £10m in 2020. Global pandemic: not the best context for fundraising.

For now, I’ve hidden all the Nerf guns and ammunition. Just in case.

* I recognise there are people in far worse situations than us. My anxiety is sky-high when I think about them, particularly as I don’t know how to help. These are just my ramblings about our specific situation and how we’re coping.