KILDARE OPINION: Cabbage avec J-cloths and ice cream sundaes dans handbags

Niamh O'Donoghue on 'the joys' of cooking

Niamh O'Donoghue


Niamh O'Donoghue


KILDARE OPINION: Cabbage avec J-cloths and ice cream sundaes dans handbags

Cooking cabbage may seem simple but you never know what else might end up in the saucepan with it

I’ve a confession to make — I hate cooking. I’m terrible at it. Recently, I was listening to chef Nevin Maguire telling radio presenter Ian Dempsey how he thinks every student from first year to third year should do Home Economics to teach them life skills, and also help stem the tide of growing obesity and reliance on processed food and takeaways.

These are undoubtedly valuable skills and will aid people later in life. However, some of us were just never meant to be in a kitchen, let alone master a chicken curry, spaghetti bolonese or a simple stew.

You are dealing with a person who has set the grill on fire more than once. I’m an expert at cookery camouflage. When I was about 16 and in charge of cooking the dinner for the family one evening, I thought I had done a good job. That was until my mother was dishing out the cabbage and scooped out a green J-cloth amongst the green leaves. Needless to say, the contents of the whole saucepan had to be tossed out.

My disasters are too many to mention. I’ve dropped an apple crumble on the ground, created the flattest Christmas cake in history and cooked dinners only our dogs could appreciate. With no instinct as to what flavours go together, I’ve undercooked food and overcooked food. I’m afraid to invite anyone to dinner in case I poison them.

Apart from the fact that I’m a useless cook, the fact is I hate being in the kitchen, I just don’t enjoy it. While I don’t condone eating takeaway every evening, the odd one doesn’t do any harm.

More than often, when I do make an effort to summon my culinary talent, the resulting dish ends up in the bin. Just recently I decided to make a pasta bake. Having assembled all the ingredients, all was going well until I got to the sauce. While stirring the flour to make the white sauce, all of a sudden it started to go lumpy until it resembled the consistency of porridge — another dish for the dogs. It was ham and cheese toasties again that night.

Don’t get me wrong, I love food and have a great appetite — it’s the making of it that totally stumps me.

I get ‘hangry’ if I haven’t eaten in a while, to which my colleagues will attest. I just don’t get how people can spend hours in the kitchen baking and cooking. On my J1 student visa trip to Chicago, I wasn't known for my waitressing prowess at the House of Hughes restaurant. Having dropped an ice cream sundae into a teacher's handbag at a conference, and a tray of champagne at a wedding, I managed to win people over with my Irish accent rather than my skills. My name was a big issue. The manager asked me to change the spelling to “Neve” on my dockets. Mistaking the “v” for an “n”, the guys in kitchen would ring the bell and call “Ne -ne, your food is ready!” So I went by the name of Ne- ne for three months.

There are now so many cooking appliances available which are supposed to make life easy — air fryers, grills and slow cookers of every description. Having heard so many good reports about the slow cookers, I decided to acquire one. Brimming with hope that this would be my saviour, I threw in onions, a few vegetables, chicken pieces, a tin of tomatoes and some other bits and pieces. The resulting meal was terrible and so acidic, it could have eroded concrete. Subsequently, I tried a bit of beef in it and it just fell apart.

While Nevin Maguire’s idea of making everyone do Home Economics is laudable, in my view there will always be some people who can’t cook and I am just one of those people.