This week I hit a high point in my eternal quest for the Holy Grail.
I have been on this mission for about a decade and to be honest it is starting to piss me off. Ever so slightly.
It doesn’t get any easier. In fact as time marches on it merely gets more and more difficult as ever increasing numbers of obstacles are bunged in my path.
I am not even convinced that the Holy Grail exists anymore. I am sure every questor in the history of questing has had this moment of doubt. At some point Frodo thought to himself:
“Sod this treking through the barren wastes of Mordor with this ever so slightly irritating and overly upbeat gardener, I’ll just wear the sodding ring and become a dark overlord at least that way I can get my hands on some more pipeweed and stop eating this god awful yet strangely satisfying dried biscuit” or something similar.
I feel pretty much the same. Why am I even on the quest? Why don’t I just give up and go home? Wear the ring and hide invisibly in the corner. Gibbering.
When I started out all those years ago I made a fundamental error. I picked the wrong ‘fellowship’. I do a lot of role playing. And before any of you get hot under the collar I am referring here to fantasy role playing. That hasn’t really helped any has it? I mean elves and dwarves (if we must, must we?) and orcs and dungeons and dragons.
As every role player knows the make up of one’s team is paramount. There is no use setting off on that quest with a party full of weedy magic users or an entire group of beefy yet brainless fighters. No, balance is the key.
I didn’t think about this when I picked my group. To be fair I gave birth to three of them so it is at least half my fault. And I married the other one when his peccadillos seemed, well, quite adorable rather than sodding annoying.
And so I am on this quest with a whole bunch of people making it harder. And harder.
Have I told you the aim of my quest yet? My own personal Holy Grail? I haven’t? How remiss of me. Here it is then. I am after a list of meals that all my family will eat. And enjoy. Preferably a week’s worth of the same. Sounds easy? Sounds like it really shouldn’t have taken me over a decade to not succeed at? Well it has.
To begin with I was meandering quite gaily around The Shire. My husband and I ate quite a quantity of processed food. We had a repertoire. Pasta sauce out of a jar. Curry out of a tin. Sausage casserole. Kedgeree. Takeaway. Etc. The only issue slightly marring our countryside idyll was the Shadow of Cheese. A faintly malevolent spirit (shall we say it is in the east?) which occasionally cast a shade over proceedings when I misread the ingredients of ready made pasta. And made my husband curl up his nose in that way…
I had children. Bad idea. Like having a maverick uncle. You just know that one day he is going to cause big big trouble. And they didn’t disappoint. Sure enough all to soon I was visited by the Wizard of Weaning. He had bad news. Lots of things I had previously enjoyed would have to be eschewed in order to save my small humans from an awful Fate. Salt, sugar, jars and other such demons had joined the Shadow of Cheese. They chased me maniacally round the Shire and my quest had begun.
Over the years as I have journeyed with my fellowship many more obstacles have had to be overcome. I was almost permanently undone by the Gluten Intolerance Balrog. He wielded a seriously large whip. It derailed me for quite a while. I fought back though with the help of the ‘free from’ aisle. And a lot of potatoes. But only after I had had several set backs such as Bread Like a Stone and Unrisen Cake.
I stumble repeatedly in the Forest of Random and Ever Changing Dislikes. The paths never stay the same. Occasional random and completely unexpected Dislikes drop in for a time and then magically disappear again. Totally at random. Did I mention the randomness? These Dislikes hang like menacing spiders waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting traveller, trapping you in their webs ready to devour you later. Often the Dislikes are things that have previously been eaten without comment. For years. Such as mushrooms. And Mummy’s Curry. And the Shadow of Cheese is ever present. Ominous. Menacing.
Over the last couple of years the Mines of Logisitcs have also had to be negotiated. I am permanently lost in their tortuous caverns and tunnels. The Mines of Logistics also never stay the same. There are sharp edges. And steep drop offs. A steady path will be found and then a new and unexpected fork will appear, just for that week, making mapping the Mines impossible and futile. Things such as the Fork of Cubs is Off Site or the Path of House Swimming Gala. And bizarrely the Forest of Random and Ever Changing Dislikes seems to thrive down in the Mines of Logistics. And even down here as I flail in the Mines whilst simultaneously macheteing my way through the dense undergrowth of the Forest, even in all that, the Shadow of Cheese penetrates and weighs heavy.
And now the Shadow of Cheese has an ally. The former friend of the Wizard of Weaning, the Wiseman of Fish That Isn’t White.
And sometimes, just sometimes, when I manage to emerge briefly from Mine and Forest and Shadow and Wiseman and Balrog I often find myself in the Valley of Guilt sitting under the Tree of Too Much Reading dipping my toes in the Stream of On line Shopping Substitutions. Trying to avoid red meat and too much sugar and processed food and ham. And sure enough I get dragged back in.
So imagine my delight when, from the Oracle of Facebook, a recipe emerged which seemed to satisfy everything. The Mount Doom of recipes if you will. However I had been here before. Up other Mounts that had turned out to be not The Mount. The gluten free, cheese free, red meat free lasagna for example. Which only three of the fellowship enjoyed. Or the prosciutto wrapped cod with herby new potatoes, which stumbled in the Mines as it failed the ‘reheating later’ test. Or the sweet potato and lentil curry which only three of the fellowship enjoyed. A different three. Or the Mexican Bean Chilli which fell foul of the Forest containing, as it did, chick peas. Or ….. you get the picture.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more disheartening to the Leader of the Dining Room Fellowship then tracking up a mountain only to discover it is not THE mountain and having the rest of the party drag her back down with their Ropes of Hardly Touched Food.
And so I curbed my excitement. In any event the recipe was by Jamie Oliver whose revolution of school dinners could not redeem him in my eyes from his ‘Meals in 15 minutes’ book. The whole premis of which was a blatant lie.
I adapted it slightly. Let’s be honest who has fresh rosemary in the middle of November? I balked a bit at sherry vinegar worrying that it would moulder on the Shelf of Ingredients Only Ever Used Once Normally After Following A Jamie Oliver Recipe until I finally die in the Mines or the Forest or at the whip of the Balrog and the rest of my fellowship throws it out having decided to live permanently off takeout. I did decide to get the fresh flat leaved parsley and run the risk of the rest of the packet becoming permanently stuck to the back of the fridge in a sort of icy tomb.
I cooked the meal. Everyone liked it. It had no cheese. No red meat. No Random Dislikes (for now). No gluten to upset the Balrog. It could be made in advance and put on automatic to be ready for the exact second we landed home, it could be served in the 4 sittings required and it was good reheated. And thus it navigated successfully through the Mines.
So you may think the Ring is finally in the Mountain. I can go back to the Shire and live out my days peacefully as the unassuming, unsung hero of the Dining Room Fellowship. Well not quite. I still need about four more of these god given gifts to be finally rid of the damn thing. And I really need more than four to avoid the Curse of Eating The Same Seven Meals Every Week.
But still it felt like a step forwards.