When my son and daughter were young school kids, they used to tease me that they knew which day of the week it was by what I cooked for supper. I’ve always enjoyed cooking – from when I was at school myself – but can’t deny there’s a kind of drudgery to churning out a family meal every night for years. Life was busy, as it is for everyone with kids. I’ve always worked, albeit it in a very small way when they were babies, but working up until days before each was born and starting again when each was six weeks old. Once they were at school there was the school run, ballet classes, cello lessons, tea with friends, homework; nearly every midweek afternoon when school ended, there was a delivery and pick-up to be done. I adored it; I’m not complaining; it was a special time in my life. But although I loved my kids as babies (as I now love my grandsons in babyhood), I’ve never been a ‘baby’ woman and I liked each stage of my children growing more and more, so (other than once!) I never longed to go back to the beginning and have more. And now they’re grown I have the glorious pleasure of delighting in their own children.
Anyway … when my two were kids, I did cook. By this I mean they didn’t live on ready-made meals and I cooked most days from scratch. But it has to be said that apart from weekends when I might go in a more exciting off-piste culinary direction, my midweek, school-term meals tended to be chosen from a handful of easy favourites. The only one I really remember was Friday Night is Bolognese Night, because once they were in their teens and old enough to go out with friends on Friday night, I found cooking some Bolognese meant they could help themselves to food before they went out and I could enjoy some in a more leisurely way later on. I still, perhaps for nostalgic reasons, nearly always have Bolognese on a Friday night if I’m home.
Saturday night though has become ‘burger night’. When my son’s youngest was born three months ago, I started having the older two – Freddie, 6 and Ben, 3 – on Saturday afternoons and giving them some supper to give their parents a quiet break. It’s also a huge delight for me to have their company regularly like this, especially during these restricted Covid times (I’m bubbled with them as I live alone), and have the house full of fun and laughter. I started by giving them some of my Bolognese each week as I always have portions in the freezer and they love it. But then at some point – and I can’t remember exactly when or why – I gave them burgers. Now I have to give them burgers! It is expected. They are Waitrose Duchy organic beef burgers and I serve them in brioche buns with a side dish of salad vegetables and some olives (they love olives). So it’s pretty healthy. They don’t want my homemade oven chips (which I do for myself later) and so I give them a few crisps on the side.
This is the closest I come to ‘ready made’ meals. When my son and daughter were small I made burgers; I even had a special Tupperware burger maker, but in all honesty these posh Waitrose ones are just as good. I now tend to have a burger myself later (usually a venison one), once they’ve gone home, but make the oven chips and buy some good quality coleslaw. I can’t work out why I crave coleslaw with burgers; it must come my own childhood. I don’t think we ate burgers much at home but I do remember a special treat when we went into ‘Town’ (central London), was to be taken to the Hard Rock Cafe.
So, this isn’t my usual ‘cooking something new and special’ post; this is pure practicality but maintaining some standards in the buying of the food. It’s about devoting some time to two lovely little boys, serving a quick and easy meal, which I know they’ll love and eat well. It’s about family fun and a lot of love.
I put a bowl with fresh vegetables on the table as I get them to sit down – a kind of ‘starter’ – while I cook the burgers and spread a generous amount of organic tomato ketchup on the buns.
The crisps are a recent addition. I got a ‘free’ bag with a lunchtime sandwich deal in Paul Bakery about three weeks’ ago and saved them for the boys. The following week when I didn’t have them, they said: Where are the crisps! Children – like elephants – never forget. Last week I tried them on ‘healthy’ veggie crisps made from things like beetroot, parsnip and carrot, which didn’t go down well: Ugh! So I just bought a pack of ‘ordinary’ crisps in Paul this morning when I was buying some bread and my morning coffee.
A meal at Nonna’s isn’t complete without pudding. But in the interests of not giving them a sugar rush just before bedtime (and risking my son’s displeasure), I give them about half a scoop of Yeo Valley’s frozen blueberry yogurt with some fresh berries. Once tummies are full and all is eaten up they’re allowed to watch some TV (Kiri and Lou is the current favourite).
Meanwhile, my son Jonathan will have turned up to take them home. But first we enjoy an hour or so of grown-up time and – for me – a welcome reminder of beautiful Turin (which I miss!) with an aperitivo of Martini Rosso vermouth, served simply with a tonic water, a slice of orange and lots of ice. A few taralli and olives on the side. And this is Nonna’s great treat of the day: my son’s company, good conversation and a gorgeous drink.
When they go home it’s a quick putting together of my own meal. I’ll have cut a potato into chip-like pieces and parboiled earlier. They’ll go into a hot oven coated with olive oil and some za’atar sprinkled over the top. I like to make a mix of mayonnaise and sweet chilli sauce to go into the bun with the burger. I take a leaf or two from a Little Gem lettuce; I slice a large ripe tomato thickly.
The burger goes into a hot pan, with the thinnest covering of olive oil to cook it. Well done and caramelised on the outside; rare and pink inside. Then it’s popped onto the bun, which has been very lightly toasted first.
A little green salad on the side; a dollop of coleslaw; a good shower of sea salt over the chips … a glass of red wine to accompany.
There’s something wonderfully comforting about it. Full of nostalgia, a memory of my childhood and my own kids’, family and good times. It’s easy as anything – I can barely say I ‘cooked’ it. But my goodness, it’s welcome and good.