Changes at the Dinner Table

As you know I like to cook. For the past twenty-two years I have been a family cook. I've cooked an evening meal nearly everyday of those twenty-two years, I've provided homemade packed lunches for three children throughout their school careers and one for my husband every working day. I've kept the cake tins and biscuit tins full, I've filled jar after jar with jams and jellies and I've baked at least three loaves of bread every week. I've bought in bulk, huge sacks of rice and potatoes, I've frozen gluts of fruit, made pastry and bread for the freezer. I've well and truly stocked up. It's been hugely rewarding and I've loved every minute, but now a lot of those things seem redundant.

Nothing stays the same. The three children are no longer children. One of them, George, has left home, for the time being at least, while he studies at university. Tom is still living with us but is rarely here for meals either eating at work or out with friends. Katie plans to go away to university in the autumn of next year, Tom has plans to move out in the next year or two. It won't be long before I'm cooking for two again. As it is, more often than not I find myself cooking for three.



I see these changes as A Good Thing. I embrace the opportunity to change the way I cook. For too long I have seen myself as an enhanced version of a school cook dishing up wholesome but hearty fare bolstered by plenty of home baking. Now I need to be a different kind of cook, one who provides lighter, smaller meals for two or three people. Meals without the additional calories ravenous teenage boys need. A fillet of sea bass, a few little potatoes roasted in their skins and a heap of green leaves lightly dressed, a marinated chicken breast baked on a tray of roasted vegetables. A warmly spiced stew of chickpeas, peppers and apricots, pasta with a simple sauce of olives, tomatoes and herbs, and vegetables, lots of vegetables This the food I want to eat. Puddings are not wanted except on occasion, cake is not needed except for birthdays, the freezer does not need to be stuffed, I do not need to stock my cupboards as if for a siege and nobody eats the jam I make. It's time to cook the kind of food that will be kind to me.


photos from my archives

Comments

  1. It's just the two of us, but even so, I have found myself wanting to eat lighter, so new ideas always welcome!

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  2. Not for the first time, dear Sue, the photographs and text of this post have quickened my appetite. My own supper is just about ready to eat, and I will tell you that it's pretty simple healthy cooking. (Leftover chicken breast that had been cooked with mushrooms and seasoned with thyme and parsley, is being combined with more mushrooms, and served over basmati rice cooked with tarragon and turmeric, and shallots, carrots and broccoli. A bit of salt in cooking that rice. A final grating of black pepper over the plate. A glass of red.

    I am very much looking forward to what menus you will be sharing with us! xo

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  3. This is most definitely the way forward, the recipes above look and sound delicious. xxx

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  4. This sounds so familiar Sue. In theory it's simple but I find it hard to cast aside thirty years of perfecting the role of "enhanced school cook" as you so eloquently describe it. I drastically cut back my jam making a couple of years ago but am not sure that I'm ready to dispense with cake altogether yet.

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  5. Since I gave up work we've changed our eating habits entirely. Frequently my husband takes a main meal for lunchtime then we eat soup and something very light in the evenings. It's lovely, Jx

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  6. Lead the way Sue - I am going to be hanging on your every word for inspiration and encouragement and also the occasional kick to encourage me to travel in the right direction.

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  7. Hi Sue, so glad to see you back blogging. Your blog was one of the first I ever read and always one of my favourites. I am exactly in the same boat as you as all my (4)children are now away from home. We have been indulging in the forbidden foods that at least one of the children doesn't like- walnuts, olives, pistachios, blue cheese, smoked haddock- but the truth is that the children are soon back, raiding the cupboards on the look out for cake! I still make jam, marmalade and chutney and hand it out to the offspring to take back to their flats as a taste of home. When they are back I never know how many I am going to be cooking for as their plans are forever changing, and suddenly a simple supper for two has to become a dinner for 5!

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  8. There's just the 2 of us and it's a challenge to cook the right amount without having massive leftovers. Your meals look delicious, I hope you post some recipes.

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  9. Your cooking may have changed but it still looks absolutely delicious!

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  10. You can do it but it takes practice to judge smaller shopping lists and amounts. Then suddenly you need to cook for a family reunion or event and you find yourself muttering about how much do you need to cook for a large family again!
    Sadly bulk purchases save money, trying to buy smaller amounts often gets more expensive, especially if you do not have big store cupboards or freezers. I know a few pensioners who share the BOGOF and other offers.
    Although there are only 2 of us now I still often cook for 4 and freeze half. Gives you a nice work free meal as a treat.

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  11. As ever inspiration combined with solid, simple sense, thank you.

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  12. It is interesting looking at the passage of time through the meals you cook. My cooking followed a similar pattern to yours, though I have never been such a good cook, but after a year or so of cooking for usually two, the grandchildren started to arrive and now I am back to feeding starving teenagers with mountains of pasta and stocking the larder with cakes and flapjacks- and on the whole it's lovely doing it all over again.

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  13. It's difficult to adjust -even worse if people come and go so you just get used to two and suddenly it's four then back to two and a small child. We've cut down to smaller,simpler meals -though having a bit more income means we are sometimes more indulgent with ingredients. The difficult thing is to avoid eating basically the same thing several days running as the chicken you bought and roasted to be economical reappears as rissotto, pasta bake and soup. Add in a couple of days when one or other of us goes out for a meal and food can get a bit dreary - or the freezer gets stuffed full.
    I'm trying to buy much less meat, we have both cut down on carbs and have never been regular pudding and cake eaters. It's a great excuse to buy cookery books though!

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  14. I shall be watching and taking notes, Sue. I'm still in the full-cupboards, regular cake-baking, mass-catering stage but it won't be long before I'm having to scale down and I think we'll get bored of baked potatoes pretty quickly.

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  15. Lighter meals on the menu here too, watching and taking notes as well...

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  16. I've often wished they made half-size cake tins but I love baking and would happily bake every day if there was anyone there to eat it.

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  17. Anonymous8:27 pm GMT

    Lovely to see you back blogging. Looking forward to your new ideas. Linda

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  18. Good luck cooking for less people. I cooked for five for 25 years. My kids grew up, got married and now one is back permanently, so now I'm cooking for three most days and for ten when we're all together (we now have 2 grandsons). I've also been cooking for my parents for the past five years and as parents in law get more frail (both are 90), a visit to them involves lots of food preparation and delivery. Even if I don't visit, I still have to cook!. I also cook for workshops, festivals and other gettogethers. Cooking light meals for just two or one people/person sounds good but my experience is that it rarely happens. The good thing is that my eldest and his wife are wonderful cooks, who, thanks to their experiences at our home are well able to host Christmas, birthdays and other family gatherings involving 18 or more. Even our middle one and his girlfriend hosted a Christmas gathering for fifteen people this year so the two extended families could combine. Enjoy your new intimate menus while you can.

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  19. An interesting reflection on your changing life. I can relate. If you think you have nothing to blog about, be aware that these quiet, thoughtful posts (as well as recipes, photos, reading lists and knitting) are what make your blog so appealing. However infrequently, I hope you keep sharing.
    As an aside, wondering if you and your readers are aware of Marissa McClellan's blog - Food in Jars. She currently has an interesting post on marmalade. If you're looking to fill your larder with a variety of marmalades, she's got some inspiration for you. (You referenced her nut butter recipe recently.) Needless to say, she cans many other things besides marmalade--even quince!

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    1. Thank you, this was indeed intended as a reflective post about my evolving life rather than a precursor to lots of recipe posts. I'm feeling less inclined to write 'useful' posts these days. Thank you very much for mentioning Marisa McClellan's blog. It looks excellent -full of useful posts!

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  20. Time does fly, I have 4 little uns so I'll enjoy tonights family meal just a little more.

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  21. Oh Sue, I'm so pleased to have discovered by chance that you're back blogging again. I'm always interested to read whatever you want to write.
    We moved back into the 'just the two of us' phase a few years ago, and I have to say we're loving it. Of course it's always lovely when our sons and their partners come to visit, and when we visit them (they're good cooks), but I love when we can just eat what we fancy with no variable tastes to take into account. And perhaps I should also confess that I love it too when my husband is away and I just cook for me - then I treat myself to all the things he doesn't like.
    The great thing is to enjoy the stage of life you're at as much as you can, and move on when it moves on. As it inevitably does.
    All good wishes, Deborah

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  22. It has taken me a long time to adjust to no longer cooking for a family of four boys but I'm now really enjoying planning and cooking healthy suppers for two. It's a bit hard when the boys pop by unexpectedly and there's no cake in the tin though!

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  23. Hi Sue, our lives are indeed a moveable feast,with changes all along the way...some welcome and some unwelcome, and we have to adjust accordingly, but we still need to eat!! Due to some of those changes I'v gone from cooking for 4 to 3 to 2 then sadly,1. One daughter has bounced back for the time being so we are 2 again! So life goes on and now the contents of my fridge have changed yet again. However, there will always be cake! Look forward to see how your life's reflections around food go 😊

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  24. mrsalbion6:15 pm GMT

    Out with girl friends yesterday we discussed the very same thing, with all of us having no or only one offspring still at home. We're enjoying simpler eating, having exactly what we want and buying slightly more extravagant and indulgent ingredients for two or three. Looking forward to see what direction your meals might take. So good to see you back in this space and embracing the next phase of life.

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  25. Everything you make always looks gorgeous and I have made so many things in the past.
    I have kept your blog on my favourite's and periodically checked in the hope that you may have returned and I am so glad you have, welcome back, we have missed you.
    Clare xxx

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  26. your food will always be delicious... and I''m sure it'll be something that your children will miss terrible when they dine on cold beans straight out of a can!!

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  27. I'm still not getting portion control right. Also have had to readjust to cooking for a two year old. Any thoughts from memory about that age group Sue will be gratefully received. Luckily she likes bolognaise, salmon and risotto so we rotate those.

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    1. May I ask an archive question? Was it you who once decanted all your herbs and spices into small identical jars? And if so, do you remember which make they were?

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    2. It was me Lucille. The post is here http://thequincetree65.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/apple-and-spice.html

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    3. Great thank you Sue. Impressed by my recall when somedays I have difficulty remembering what I ate for supper the night before.

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    4. I can no longer find your instagram account. Perhaps a temporary glitch?

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  28. It's taken me ages to adjust to cooking for 2 rather than 5 - I've still not mastered it a few years on and my shopping bill hasn't changed much either!

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  29. I'm at the other end: we have just had our third little boy, and the making of meals and snacks seems endless. Where do they put all those calories?!

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  30. Anonymous3:17 am BST

    I love this. I've been feeling to readjust, myself. One in college, one about to leave in the next 6 months...I find myself thinking about dinners of a salad, bread, and maybe a piece of cheese. That sounds so good to me after stocking up for 21 years.

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  31. Love the fact you've posted again. Family of 6 here - but eldest is away at uni most of the time and OH works away Mon-Fri. Weekends may involve an additional person in the form of DS1's gf and then holidays seem to involve various combinations, possibly with the addition of DD's bf.
    Looking forward to reading more..

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  32. Hi Sue! Just found you by a link on someone else's blog and lovely to see you are still- just about- blogging the odd post! I hope you manage some more . I find myself curiously reluctant to get my backside in gear and post - even though I have the photos sitting there in my computer all ready to go… this time I have even sketched out some text…. but ugh… just feel like I'm swimming through treacle. And yet…. I do love a good blog, and when I've posted myself I read it and think - gosh, I did that! I just checked and found to my dismay that I haven't blogged since January… I can't believe that!
    Many years down the line I still feel that empty nest syndrome, though my boys have been back, and THEIR children have been here for meals… and I expect the eldest won't be long before HE settles down and we'll be seeing his children … on it goes. Life changes, doesn't it?

    But lovely to find you again. x

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