Sally McLaughlin took a 10-year break from a career in sales and has gradually built her...read more
I got an email from my daughter: ‘… BTW granddaughter 2 wants to make tuna pasta bake tonight. She uses half the pasta bake mix and then the other half is for granddaughter 1 and grandson (they don’t like tuna) but they do like cheese sprinkled on top and put under the grill. Granddaughter 3 doesn’t like pasta bake so is having sausages and either pasta or mash and beans.’ Oh god, she’d gone all stream of consciousness – maybe she’d written it on the run, such are the busy lives of working mums and dads and the versatility of modern technology.
The thing is that although she’s got into the habit of thoughtfully putting something in the slow cooker when I’m doing the pm school run and supper stint, I often end up doing four variations on a theme anyway. For example, if it’s quorn mince (granddaughter 1, aged 15, is vegetarian) cooking in the corner of the kitchen, I go and ask whether each of them wants with it: granddaughter 1 likes a baked potato, 2 (aged 11) prefers pasta or couscous, 3 (aged 9) used to like rice but now it’s mash and grandson (aged 4) usually plumps for pasta. And of course there’s that age-old thorny question, what to pour the gravy over? Oh yes, it’s my own fault. But they’re tired and I like a quiet life. The other day, though, granddaughter 1 said to her younger sister (who’s an accomplished, if creative, cook): ‘Can you show me how to make shepherd’s pie with the mince?’ which meant, so I thought, ‘Make me a shepherds pie because I can’t be fagged to do it myself.’ But I was wrong. They both went into the kitchen – yes, together – and the place was soon pulsating with ‘Uh oh darlin’, please believe me, I’ll never do you no harm’. A good start, I was thinking – granddaughter 1 used to treat her younger sister like a minor irritation at times before she started the same secondary school. Soon spice pots were dotted about and the voices of the Fab Four and granddaughters 1 and 2, mingled with a strong smell of garlic, wafted throughout the house.
Back to tuna pasta bake – or not in the case of granddaughter 3 who wanted Smash not mash with her sausages. We stopped at the corner shop – disaster, no Smash – ‘well, it’s mash then,’ said I. ‘But gran, that’s more work for you,’ said granddaughter 3, aaawww, how lovely is that. Yes, I’d have to peel the potatoes, cook them for twenty of our earth minutes and then smash them all to pieces. She and those Martians in the 60s Smash ad had a point. And this time granddaughter 1 didn’t ask her sister to show her how to make tuna pasta bake – thank god, she was needed on Youtube alert for grandson who was in melt-down in the mac room. ‘It’s got stuck,’ he howled. Yes, I know the feeling. He was watching Elsa from Frozen and Jack Frost sliming each other (I’m with Jack Frost on that one). His big sister turned down a tuna-free pasta bake and, hell’s teeth, I went and offered macaroni cheese instead. ‘Cool,’ she said. I must be mad, I usually have to squidge my cheese sauce through the sieve. I’d gone and set myself up for one macaroni cheese, one tuna pasta bake with tuna (granddaughter 2 was onto that), one turkey sausages with mash or pasta (she was going to toss a coin) and one tuna pasta bake without tuna. Bloody Nora – but, as you can see, self-inflicted.
Granddaughter 2’s not one for measuring things and grams and mils are not really me – not a good combination when faced with a packet of Tuna Pasta Bake Mix. But soon we had an enormous (unmeasured) pot of pasta on the boil. She peered at the the packet – no, not at the instructons but at the list of ingredients. ‘Hmm,’ she said, ‘good, not that much salt’ – she’s into healthy eating. I looked for a pan to make the cheese sauce in for the macaroni cheese and all I could find was a tiny saucepan in which you could boil one egg. ‘The cheese won’t fit in,’ I wailed at granddaughter 2. ‘Don’t worry, gran,’ she said, reassuringly in role reversal, ‘it’ll be just fine.’ They do have a wide array of frying pans but to me a saucepan’s called a sauce-pan for a reason. I once offered to get a set of saucepans for my daughter’s partner for Christmas. He said ‘no thanks’ – he manages perfectly well with frying pans and he’s a cracking cook. Yes, it’s me who needs them – I’ve even thought of keeping a secret set in the boot of the car along with the jack, the tyre changing kit and the glow-in-the-dark emergency triangle – but maybe I’m too stuck in my ways. Anyway, granddaughter 2 reached for a frying pan, added some milk to the tuna pasta bake mix and began stirring most professionally so I let her get on with it.
Of course, it was all fine – the tuna pasta bake was a fetching shade of orangy-pink like that marie rose sauce they used in prawn cocktails in the 60s and, though I say it myelf, the macaroni cheese was a triumph. I put it under the grill with granddaughter 3’s two turkey sausages and it turned a gorgeous golden brown worthy of a cook book photo shoot. But it needs to be said that your turkey sausage doesn’t cook like your sausage sausage – it sizzles and spits not and sits sullen and pallid under the grill. How are you meant to know when it’s cooked? On the plus side, heads it was which meant pasta (with a little olive oil) for granddaughter 3 with the sausages, grandson changed his mind and had tuna with his tuna pasta bake and they all agreed on the veg. Halleluya!
…BTW, last Saturday I went over to babysit when my daughter and her partner were having a rare evening out. Before they left, my daughter helpfully put a large pan of pasta on to boil. She saw my face: ‘We don’t have tuna pasta bake that often,’ she said – but maybe they’d got two for one at Tesco’s. And this time (minus the help of grandddaughter 2 who was creating something with triangles of paper and glue), it was one tuna pasta bake without tuna (+ grated cheese browned under the grill), one tuna pasta bake without tuna (+ grated cheese not browned but melted in the microwave), one meatballs with pasta (with a little olive oil) and one pasta pesto. We all cosied down on the sofa with our plates to watch The Voice – ah me, such is the charmed life of a gran and the versatility of pasta.