I like cookery books. I mean, who could not LOVE those pretty pictures which make your taste buds tingle? However, my follow through skills are pretty limited. When it comes to cooking or fitness, I am all about planning, research, reading and very little action or skill.
My anxiety about cooking is pretty well acknowledged by everybody – especially my children. I once caught one of my daughters telling a family we had to tea not to bother me in the kitchen. She reassured them that they would know when dinner was ready because the smoke alarm would go off. Charming!
Recently, I was flicking through a cook book call ‘Slow Cooking’ and my daughter came into the kitchen, looked at the book title and asked me quite seriously and sympathetically “Is that for people who aren’t very good at it?” I laughed as I pointed out the slow cooker on the table, and then cried a bit inside.
Why does a reasonably organised, fairly creative and adventurous person like me get so stressed about cooking? Is it because we never really had very much interest in food as I grew up? Is it because I have to cook and serve up food in record time between activities each day to a family who seem to make it their mission to not all like the same thing at the same time? Is it budget constraints or a simple lack of confidence?
Yes, it is probably a bit of all of those. And something else.
I hate not doing things well. And if I can’t do it well, I have no enthusiasm for doing it at all. For years I have visited the homes of people who cook extraordinary meals and divine desserts with skill, enthusiasm and panache, and just figured I can’t compete.
But is hospitality supposed to be a competition?
No. However, we live in a competitive world. Everything from parenting, holidays and cupcakes are shared with glorious smugness on Facebook, leaving us all impressed and depressed in equal measure.
And so I made a decision. I was going to be great at welcome. Hospitality would be more about feeling at home than about culinary skill or creating a magazine-perfect image of fabulousness. And slowly, I have learned to embrace it.
Now at home we have piano pupils, kids, their friends and our and friends, meetings, regular meal guests and parties. The house is rarely pristine, the food is usually brought with them, some shop bought desserts for a pudding party or we are sharing a Spag Bol with guests and the kids. But it is served with laughter and love.
Sure Christmas might have pre-bought frozen stuffing and a pre-prepared Turkey crown, but really, the day doesn’t seem to fall into chaos as a result. And neither do I – which is a bonus.
People don’t need me to be Delia mixed with Country Homes and Interiors, as much as I love them both – they need intimacy, welcome, a safe place, friendship and a bit of fun. I can offer that, and our kids can see how that matters. Our homes should be, after all, a powerful message of acceptance and connection to a culture that so often keeps its door closed to those around them.
So, at this most sociable time of year, if you love cooking – great – go for it (and invite us over!) – but let’s not worry about impression management. Let’s all enjoy the incredible amount of blessing, food and comfort we have – and also the privilege of welcoming people into our homes and lives.