x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Why the oven and I will never be friends

Trying to be a domestic goddess is not all it's cracked up to be.

I blame Nigella. She may have excelled on several fronts (namely making wider berths and cardies sexy) but this whole Domestic Goddess nonsense has to stop. Before you look to the top of the page to check the date, I am aware that it's 2011 and that unless you're a hapless insomniac, cursed into watching 3am repeats on BBC Lifestyle, you are probably currently untroubled much by Mrs Saatchi.

These days, of course, it's all about Gizzi Erskine, who is marginally easier to swallow than the previous pretender to the Nigella throne, Sophie Dahl. But whoever is the TV chef-totty du jour, the problem remains the same: the burden of expectation that they place on the rest of us.

Brought up by a feminist mother and educated at a girls' school where home economics was for thickos, I spent most of my youth being slightly scornful of women who cooked. Life was too exciting to bother doing anything at all to a mushroom, much less stuffing one. Until, that is, the fear set in.

Having become convinced that my lack of skill in the kitchen was going to equate to social Siberia at university, I bought a copy of Good Housekeeping and subjected my friends to an endless round of three-courses-plus-cheese, determined that my chicken à la king wouldn't condemn me to a college career spent aping Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.

The results were predictable. The highlight being baked Alaska with ice cream and indoor fireworks that was, essentially, Arctic roll with egg white, milk, and a couple of sparklers left over from Bonfire Night. Of course, nobody cared about cooking at university and in the years that followed, entertaining was all about getting good tables in bad restaurants.

For a good while, I managed to avoid the oven gloves. And then the dinner party circuit began in earnest. Worse still, Nigella fever set in at around the same time. All of a sudden, women with good taste went out and bought aprons and started banging on about making cakes.

It was no longer acceptable to use your kitchen cupboards for storage or serve Ritz crackers and Kiri to unexpected guests. Every so often, in a fit of hostess envy, I would forget that I can't cook and launch myself at the chopping board with abandon. Almost without exception, I shouldn't have bothered.

There was the time that the papillotes turned to ash, or the dinner party featuring a little too much butter-bean mash or the raw chicken served on the day that the first case of bird flu was announced.

Perhaps the most memorable dinner disaster was the evening that the object of my cupboard love looked up from his plate and asked: "Darling, why are we eating potatoes with mud?" Unsurprisingly, each disaster kept me out of the kitchen for a good couple of years. But last week I lapsed. My parents were arriving for a visit and I thought that nothing could be more welcoming than a bowl of home-made chicken soup.

Everything was going smoothly and, as I snipped a little extra fresh thyme into the pot, I felt something approaching smug. It may have taken me a while, but finally, I could cook. Moments later I realised that something was a little off with my manicure. Setting aside the fingernail soup, I made a restaurant reservation, and, eventually, peace with the fact that the oven and I will never be friends.