There comes a time when you cook for yourself again, instead of cooking for children and eating their leftovers.
Then you regress. It's one step forward and two steps back, most of the time. (Was that a song?)
One evening last week William and Thomas had been packed off to bed, having eaten good dinners of spaghetti and meatballs made with mushrooms and cheese and diced zucchini and oatmeal and silence had descended on the house, hesitantly, like a reversing moon module trying not to stir up the dust. A small dark brick of rare roast beef was sitting on the board, resting prior to my carving it, and its ex-oven aromas were twisting around each other in the air like invisible double helices, radiating nucleotides of red wine, garlic, pepper and herbs through the house and to our waiting olfactory cells, which obligingly passed the news on to the cortex, which translated this into plain English as: "Dinner ready, smells good, eat now!"
Then crash! went a door. And crash! went another door, further away.
The boys were not asleep.
This is easy. You just tell them to go back to bed and they go back to bed and they fall asleep. I read it in a book once.
Or else they don't.
Five minutes later Thomas was standing by the table chewing the carved end - the well-done tasty crust, where most of the flavour resides, my favourite part - of the dark brick of roast beef. He liked it. It was to his satisfaction. He all but congratulated the chef.
Whose dinner is this exactly?
What they need is meters on their foreheads to show if they are really hungry or not. Like a petrol gauge. No, you are not hungry, your meter shows full. Go to bed. Or: You’re running on empty. Pull up a chair. Here’s a fork. You’ll fade away.
But they don’t have meters so you need to figure out: (a) if they are still hungry based on the amount of physical activity and play undertaken that day and whether a growth spurt is current, necessitating urgent additional nutrition; (b) if they are merely stalling for time and are winding you around their little finger or (c) if you give a toss at all about (a) or (b) anyway. The latter is the easiest option because you then simply - as a friend of mine puts it - bundle them back into their beds, bolt the door and crank up the stereo in the lounge room with something louder than the children; for example, Use Your Illusion 2 c.1991 or Ragged Glory c.1990. The chainsaw guitar introduction to the first track (Country Home) of the latter work will immediately block the noise of laughter and toppling bookshelves but – warning – it will also the impede the sound of the sash window being raised and exited into the garden. Also, dinner’s ambience will not be precisely the same as almost described (but not quite because we didn't get to it) in para. 3 above. But life is full of little compromises. You wanted Mozart quietly, and you got Neil Young, loud. It’s still music. Look on the bright side. The glass is half full.
Mine was empty. I refilled it. On this occasion it was judged by two expert parents taking a wild guess that the boys were in fact experiencing a growth spurt necessitating further sustenance. Half the dark brick of rare roast beef and several vegetables disappeared at a rate faster than at any time seen in this family since Goldie the Brittany left us in early 2006 and Greyhound Billy before her and Monty before him and several foster dogs along the way.
And so it was that we came to be eating, later, the rest of the meatballs: the meatballs that were the boys’ first dinner, before their second dinner – my dinner - of rare roast beef.
I must add that they were delicious. I congratulated the chef, in person. The house was quiet now. Small children don't snore. They make enough noise when they're awake.
Meatballs with cheese and mushrooms.
Place a large fist-sized ball of mince - I used pork and veal this time - and mix into it two or three very finely chopped button mushrooms, half a cup of grated cheddar, half a very finely diced small zucchini, one very finely chopped spring onion, a clove of v. f. chopped garlic, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoonful of oatmeal, a sprinkling of polenta and a dash of pepper. No additional salt for the children - salt your own to taste later, on the plate.
Using flour to cut the stickiness, form into balls the size of large cherry tomatoes and drop into simmering tomato sauce – half jar passata, one can diced tomatoes, chopped basil and parsley from garden, pepper, dash of sugar. Simmer until cooked through thoroughly. Serve over spaghetti and grate cheese liberally.