Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

One of Those Days…

Have you ever had one of those days? When everything that can go wrong does go wrong? I know what you mean…

A few years ago I cooked for a summer mission team running children’s events in Llandudno. It wasn’t a promising start when I went sleepwalking the first night and hid the key to the outside food store. Just slightly embarrassing to have to explain to the leader the following morning.

‘You see, I can remember holding the key in my sleep but can’t remember where I put it.’

Without so much as flickering an eyelid, he put his hand in his pocket and handed over the spare key with instructions to get a copy made. As soon as possible.

(I did find the missing key several days later carefully hidden in one of my shorts’ pockets – which were still in my suitcase.)

It was hard work and by mid week I was flagging. On Thursday morning I slept through the alarm and my team-mates getting up. I woke with a jolt to find the team gathered at the bottom of the stairs asking: ‘Where’s the cook?’

‘Help yourselves to cereal and someone put the toaster on.’ I yawned, hair sticking in all directions, modelling my tartan pyjamas from the top of the stairs.

For lunch, I decided on shepherd’s pie followed by rhubarb crumble. A member of the local church had kindly donated a large bunch of rhubarb which I thought would make a delicious crumble.

I had a busy morning putting on potatoes to boil and cooking minced beef with chopped onions and carrots in a huge pan. I filled some large baking tins with the shepherd’s pie and popped it in the oven. No need for extra veg I decided.

Meanwhile I turned my attention to the rhubarb crumble. My fingers worked the flour, butter and sugar together to make a crumble mix of which Mary Berry would be proud. The rhubarb was on the hob; I forgot it needs very little cooking. I stared at the stringy, watery mess in dismay and cast my eyes around the kitchen for inspiration. There wasn’t enough time to start again. Aha! A spare bag of currants tucked away on a shelf. I stirred them into the rhubarb in the vain hope they would soak up all the water and provide a delicious fruity base for my pudding. Hmm. Not quite. I scooped the whole soggy mixture into oven dishes, covered it with crumble and went to put it in the oven.

Oh. The oven was already full with the shepherd’s pie.

Ah well, I decided, when the serving team dished up the main course, I would hastily shove the crumble in the oven on a high gas mark so it could bake while we ate.

It was not a lunch to be proud of. Guess who’d got her quantities wrong? The tiny helpings of shepherd’s pie looked sad and lonely in the middle of the great white dinner plates.

‘Can we have seconds?’ asked the ever-hungry teenage lads after clearing their plates in two bites.

‘Um, sorry, that’s all there is.’

They stared at me in disbelief.

‘But I’ve made you homemade rhubarb crumble!’

The hungry team cheered up. Until pudding was served. They stared in wonder at their bowls. It looked as though we’d been served hard packed sand with seaweed and rabbit droppings. Not my best effort.

The chip shop down the road did a roaring trade that lunchtime.

Cartoon Chef

‘I’ll cook pizza for tea to make up for lunch.’ I recklessly promised.

I fully meant to have sizzling tomatoey-cheesy pizza ready for when they came in from the afternoon’s beach event.

‘I’ll just have a sit down for a minute.’ I woke up nearly two hours later, with only twenty minutes to make and bake pizza.

I raced into the kitchen in a panic, seized a sharp knife and began chopping onions. And my finger.

‘Aaaagghhh!’ I’m not sure if it was a yell of frustration or a cry of pain. I dropped the knife, ran to the sink and held my now-bleeding-profusely-finger under the cold tap. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stop bleeding long enough for me to leave the sink and get to the first aid box, and I didn’t want to drip blood all over the floor.

What a relief when one of my team-mates walked through the door. Good old Bryn, he’d come back early to see if I needed any help. Within minutes, he’d bandaged my finger, sat me down with a mug of tea, and finished prepping the pizzas.

Amazingly, tea was only a few minutes late. And everyone left the tables full.

Image used courtesy of basketman at freedigitalphotos.net.

 

4 Comments

  1. Oh, what a nightmare! It makes a great story though. I’ve been on camps and had nothing but admiration for the cooks so well done for even trying. 🙂

    • Mandy

      05/11/2014 at 10:28 am

      Thanks Helen! It was actually a really positive week and I learned loads from it – including how to plan meals a bit better quantity-wise and not having an oven-based pudding and main at the same meal!

  2. Brilliant! You just made me feel so much better about myself!

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