Jessica Rowe. Photo: Damian Bennett
I am not a cook. In our house, the ear-splitting sound of the smoke alarm goes off with such frequency that even our cats can no longer be roused from their sleeping spot next to the mismatched socks on the dining-room table. This table gets so little use it has become a dumping ground for laundry, blunt colouring-in pencils and pen lids.
I have now decided to wear this lack of domesticity with pride. Oh, those wasted years pretending to be one of those people who can whip up a meal with just a few ingredients in the fridge, along with a drizzle - or is it grizzle? - of olive oil and torn basil leaves.
My youngest sister, who made a name for herself cooking for Jamie Oliver in London, was complicit in building this facade. Over the years I have hosted dinner parties serving food made by her. I've had the cheek to pretend that I was responsible for the bruschetta entrée, the main of Moroccan lamb tagine with couscous tossed with currants, when all I could manage was scooping out French vanilla ice-cream and serving it with strawberries for dessert.
I was almost exposed when one guest asked for the tagine recipe. Thankfully, probably due to the rosé we were chugging down, she didn't notice the reddening of my face. I laughed and shrugged my shoulders, while my honest husband became engrossed in the salt and pepper shakers. "I don't remember exactly," I said. "I just threw a few bits and pieces together."
But she wasn't satisfied. "You must tell me what spices you used. Was it paprika or turmeric?"
Since having our daughters, I have realised the stupidity and exhaustion that comes from pretending to know what turmeric is and to be perfect at everything. Happy to kiss goodbye to the role of dinner party hostess, now my exhaustion comes from the challenge of cooking an edible, nutritious meal for my family each night.
To this end, I dabbled with the hugely expensive Thermomix. I was under the misapprehension that this appliance would roast a chook, prepare salad, bake bread, make chocolate chip ice-cream and mix a watermelon daiquiri all at once. My lack of attention to detail - that is, I didn't read the instructions properly - meant I spent a fortune on ingredients for a chicken curry and managed to turn it into purée.
Determined not to be beaten, I tried making soup, risotto and more soup by closely following the simple recipes. But when I managed to burn the power cord of the appliance because I'd plugged it in too close to the hotplate, I accepted that kitchen gadgets and me weren't a great combination. It was time to dig into my childhood food memories for some dinner inspiration.
"What goes in a honey and soy marinade for chicken wings?" I asked a capable friend.
There was a brief silence before she said, "Honey and soy!"
"Yes, but how much of each?" I countered. "I need specifics!"
"Put in the same amount of each and add a slurp of vegetable oil."
My daughters love them so they're a new addition to my weekly rotation of meals. Also on that list is baked beans, spaghetti on toast, sausages, spaghetti bolognese, shepherd's pie (leftover mince), nachos (more mince) and rissoles (yes, mince again!). Mince has been maligned for too long and I'm always on the lookout for a new mince recipe.
Another ingredient that has reinvigorated my cooking repertoire is panko crumbs. These crispy crumbs have elevated my schnitzels, cutlets and rissoles and I have Aussie legend Denise Drysdale to thank. Her other invaluable tip that has improved my culinary skills is to turn the hotplate or oven down. And I'm not too proud to use packet ingredients to transform my soggy stir-fry into something quite tasty.
My eldest daughter now gives me five out of 10 for my cooking. That's good enough for me. I'm a crap housewife and I love it! •
I'm planning ... to stay in touch with school pals. Our gang recently met up and it reminded me of the joy of being with those who know you best.
I'm doing ... crazy things to my hair! There's nothing like a hint of lilac or a blush of pink to put an extra zing in my day.
I'm wearing ... my Icelandic lopapeysa jumper, made from the wool of the country's sheep. Nothing keeps me warmer on those early starts.
I'm reading ... Liane Moriarty's Truly, Madly, Guilty. Seemingly mundane lives become moral tales with a sinister undertow. I'm a big fan.
- Sunday Life