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My son is now at home all day with nothing to do, having finished his exams. He is 16. He has the full use of his hands, legs, eyes and brain. I have taught him to cook (and so has his school), my fridge, my freezers and my cupboards are well stocked with ingredients, and there is friendly shop at the end of the road which will give my children anything they want on credit.

So why is he ravenously hungry when I get home? He says he doesn’t know where anything is. I show him (not for the first time). He declares it is too much work to make a sandwich. Then he says he still can’t remember where anything is anyway.

So here’s my solution: the “Food, Where Is It?” poster. Just to keep him alive until I get home. All he has to do is forage for the food, work out how to unwrap it, put it in his mouth and chew. Surely that isn’t beyond him?

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Highlight of our (very brief) trip to Paris? That would be the cup of tea in Mariage Freres’ tea salon, tucked away in a rather unprepossessing corner of the Carousel Galleries under the Louvre. Forget the glories of the Impressionist gallery across the road at the Musee d’Orsay, forget the pale colours of winter sunshine washing the face of Notre Dame, forget the slap-up “steak and frites” dinner later on that day. The happiest moment of the trip was, weary and footsore from sightseeing and shopping, clutching our flotsam of little packages and bags, we stumbled into the tea salon, to have one of the most refreshing cups of tea, hot, steaming, scented and gently smokey. Ah tea! Here is a snapshot of the mouthwatering blueberry and blackcurrent tart that went with it. I neglected to photograph the very handsome, very attentive waiter who was also a vital part of this experience.

And now we are home again, dispensing gifts to all and sundry, and with plenty of photos and memories to mull over. Did I feel a sense of relief in returning to my kitchen, and driving the men out of it again? I must confess, dear reader, that nice though it may be to eat in restaurants for a few days, I am glad to be back.

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I think about food a lot of the time, when I am not otherwise busy with my dayjob, and sometimes even then. Not thoughts about eating food, but about buying it, or preparing it. This is not because I am a good cook, but because I am quite the opposite. Putting three meals a day on the table for the family remains a major challenge for me. There are few other aspects of family life that I have found so difficult to master.

For years I have pored over books and food magazines, watched TV programmes, and searched the internet for cooking tips. On the whole I do not want to learn to cook fancy food: all I aspire to is to be able to cook good food. I want to be able to turn out a decent meal reliably, using a certain amount of skill, knowing that my family will eat it, enjoy it, and grow up strong and healthy. I want food to be the centre of family life, and I want to be able to cook as my grandmother cooked – plainly, instinctively, and with love.

(At the same time, I want to be able to hold an argument with my teenage son about feminism, the banking crisis, or the collapse of Soviet Russia, while I cook!)

Over the last few years, cooking has slowly become a more enjoyable task, and I have come to feel genuinely attached to the pots, knives and dishes I use every day. I feel a certain competance now, enough to be able to experiment, and to explore. I am ridiculously pleased each time I finally master a new skill, or work out a new shortcut for myself. But most of this wonderful process of discovery is done alone because I’m not a good enough cook to go round swapping recipes with other cooks. And in any case, I only just have time enough to do it – I don’t have time to talk about it too.

The most important ingredient it turns out, is time. When I worked longer hours, scrambled to pick up my babies from the nursery before it closed at six, and returned with them to a cold and empty house, I had to overcome my own hunger and exhaustion to put something warm on the table in twenty minutes flat. I still remember the desperation of those evenings – a mind-numbing feeling of panic and dismay and empty cupboards. Now that circumstance has forced me to cut the hours that I work, I rarely work after four, and reserve at least an hour every evening to producing an evening meal. It is my family’s biggest luxury, if they but knew it: the luxury of a homecooked meal almost every night.

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At the weekend and holidays I often begin a day by baking bread.  I am not sure why I do this: baking bread is a huge commitment in terms of time.  In fact now that I am experimenting with sourdough the whole process can spread out over two days from start to finish.  Not that any of the steps take much more than 15 minutes, but they are relentless, and sometimes it means that you can’t leave the house for more than an hour or two at a time.  Probably my fault for following Dan Lepard’s recipes, as recommended by Bakery Bits

i have gone for months, even years, without baking bread, but am always drawn back to it.  There is something magical about the simplicity of the ingredients – flour, yeast and water – transforming into this wondeful stuff that is dough.  When it goes well, and I have a good loaf – especially with a new recipe – I feel quietly warm with happiness.  When it goes badly I could cry (and have).  Whenever I catch sight of my sourdough pot quietly sitting there bubbling at the back of my fridge, I feel reassured that the world is fundamentally good and orderly.  Since this is a week that seemed chaotic – trips to doctor’s appointments with my daughter that had to come out of working hours, and then to crown it all, the drama of another trip to accident and emergency at the end of the week – I baked bread to restore order to the world.

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