Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Tale of Tragedy

My reign as Super Au Pair was sad and fleeting.

It felt briefly like I was on my way up; flying along the Parisian skyline whilst people below gawped and gossiped.

"She changed bedding." they would say

"I heard she made a quiche." someone else might exclaim.

Then, maybe a cat lady would speak out from the darkness of her feline-filled alleyway and everyone in the crowd would spin round to listen, "They say she tidied up the little boy's room and then made all the kids have a shower."

Some people in the crowd might doubt that last sentence (and in fact, they would be right to, as the oldest girl just wet her feet and rubbed shower gel on her shoulders so that her mum would just think she had had a shower) but nonetheless, they'd all turn their gazes back to the girl in leggings flying through the sky carrying footballs and dance shoes and horse riding equipment and satsumas and they'd think 'She could save us all...'

Then a giant fucking over-salted stock cube would come flying out of nowhere and smack me out of the air and down towards the dark streets, where I would have to stagger up, dishevelled and dirty and with the bitter taste in my mouth of What Might Have Been.

I decided to make pumpkin soup. There was a big chunk of pumpkin in the fridge that was going out of date and I had a brainwave. I went back to the house after dropping the little boy off at school in the afternoon whereas normally I would go home and see how many cups of tea and Prince biscuits I can fit in before its time to pick him up again. I then decided to make roasted pumpkin soup. I was sure the kids would hate 'heat' of any kind, ruling out black pepper, chilli, curry powder, chorizo etc but I thought I can at least roast it to give the pumpkin some Flavour.

The little girl has been asking me lately to make chocolate brownies from this stupid cookbook the Australian au pair left (the real Super Au Pair, who used to 'spend hours in the kitchen' and is currently working with orphans in Tanzania, no word of a lie). It's stupid because it has recipes for things like 'spicy meatballs and spaghetti'. I could make spicy meatballs if I wanted, but why would I when the kids won't even eat potato wedges that have white pepper on them? Anyway, it has a recipe for chocolate brownies which the kids keep asking me to make.

So I thought; roasted pumpkin soup followed by homemade chocolate brownies. I went to the house after dropping the little boy back off at school after lunch. Normally I go straight back to mine and see how many cups of tea I can fit in before it's time to pick him up again, but I thought no, I'll go and do some serious cooking and housework.

I put the pumpkin in to roast. I sorted out the washing. A red cape emblazoned with the letters 'S' 'A' 'P' (for Super Au Pair) began flapping around my shoulders... But then I realised there weren't enough ingredients to make the brownies. There was, however, a huge bunch of grapes that was almost ready for the bin. Remembering how the mother told me I needed to use up everything in her fridge and how she hated waste, I decided to make a fruit crumble using the grapes and some pears. The grapes had seeds in, so I sat down and proceeded to peel and deseed the massive bunch of browning-grapes. It took me about forty minutes but I could hear a faint whisper outside the window as I peeled. I strained to listen. It sounded like a distant chant. I couldn't make out the words but it sounded something like Super Au Pair, Super Au Pair...

The fruit went in a pan to stew. The pumpkin came out of the oven and it was roasted to perfection. Maybe if I’d stopped there, quit while I was ahead… I think it will always haunt me, that moment when I took the tray out of the oven and popped a small chunk in my mouth. An idea drifted across my consciousness: ‘Maybe I should serve roasted pumpkin as it is?’ But I was greedy and drunk from my own success. I was a fool.

I put the pumpkin in a pan and added two stock cubes and a little boiling water. I let them simmer while I got the Magi Mix out and tried to work out how to use it. It wouldn’t work, no matter what button I pressed. I found an electric handheld whisk that might work and decided to leave it for the time being. I made the crumble topping, improvising and flamboyantly tossing the ingredients about, high on food-creating power.

After the crumble was put in the oven, it was time to finish the soup. I had about half an hour left before I had to leave to pick up the kids from school, but it was fine- I was on top, I was organised, I was Super Au Pair. And that’s when that fucking stock cube revealed itself to be a massive life-destroying bastard.

It was too salty; way, way too salty. So I added more water; way, way too much water. So it didn’t mix properly and it made way, way too much mess to clean up in half an hour. The resulting orange slop was not passable as a soup. I put it in a pan and in a last ditch attempt to salvage the situation I added a carton of cream, hoping it would thicken up. But the cream was UHT Badness in disguise and it curdled and spat at me and I knew it was over.

The cape slipped from my shoulders, the crowds turned their backs to me and I was left alone, in a stranger’s kitchen that I had made a mess of, late to pick up their children from school and to top it off, I knew we would return home to a feast of nothing. As the crumble bubbled and thickened in the oven, I grimly remembered the haphazard way I’d made up the proportions of flour, sugar and butter and I knew the ‘inspired’ pinch of cinnamon would be my downfall. There was also the undeniable fact that 'grape crumble' is not a thing.

I threw my coat on and ran into the slush-filled streets, with a dark sense of dread hot on my heels, shadowing the day like a death. And there was a death- the death of a pumpkin, yes, but also the death of my Hope.

I’ll often look back on that day and freeze frame the moment I took the pumpkin out of the oven. Maybe if I’d stopped there I’d be flying above the Eiffel Tower right now, dropping down to skim my fingers on the surface of the Seine, surprising a rowing boat of students who would say:

‘That’s got to be Super Au Pair.’

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