“We opened jars of exotic herbs and chose carefully.”
She could make a roast chicken last for three dinners. She knew how to add the right herb. She cooked rice that wasn’t sweet. She had a collection of recipe books that she never needed to consult. But this isn’t about her.
She left us overnight to fend for ourselves. It must have been some class of a dinner dance. Held at a hotel too far away even in the days when you could have a feed of pints and still drive home.
You’d think I’d remember how we spent that first Saturday night of freedom. But I don’t. What I do remember is the dinner we made on the Sunday. My sister and me. At the grand old ages of thirteen and sixteen. Given control of the kitchen and all it contained. The responsibility of feeding our younger brothers and ourselves.
Conversations were had leading up to it. Ideas cast about and discarded. We talked more in those days than we’d ever done before. Working together with a shared goal. Petty squabbles and minor jealousies put aside. For just a little while.
We eventually decided on risotto. There was a chicken roasted in the kitchen on the Saturday and plenty of it left over to make something with. It got left in the fridge overnight. All were warned not to touch it. Not to dare take the smallest morsel with their tiny fingers.
We chopped onions and tomatoes. We opened jars of exotic herbs and chose carefully. We picked parsley from the garden. For garnish. We chose the salt in the grinder and the pepper in the mill. We boiled rice and kept a steady eye on it. We found some frozen peas behind the meat and the stock at the back of the freezer. And we stripped the chicken until there were barely enough bones to start a stock.
The skillet was plugged in and we added oil and water. Bit by bit we filled it. In with the onions and the parboiled rice. In with basil and thyme and a little oregano. In went the peas and some more water. Then tomatoes and salt and pepper. Then the chicken. Then the lid.
The dinner was devoured. Not a grain was left behind. The boys declared it the best they’d ever had. We regarded each other. My sister and me. A shared moment of pride.
We’d had our tea by the time Mum and Dad returned. Sausages and rashers. Nothing too challenging. Proper tea food.
“How was it?” asked Mum.
“Grand,” we said.
“What did you have for your dinner?”
“We didn’t have our dinner yet,” replied my brother.
A confused silence. That look from Mum. The one that said I thought I could trust you.
“We did have dinner,” I shouted. “We had risotto. We spent ages making it. They ate it all.”
And then clarification. ‘No, we had that. But that wasn’t our dinner. There weren’t any spuds.”
Maria Haughey got stuck in an insurance company in 2009 and is still trying to write her way out. Originally from Ireland, she now calls Williamstown home. Between full-time work, back stage shenanigans and a propensity to lose her balance, she has managed to be published in Ireland and Australia and was the recent recipient of the Eggcup of Excellence Award, at a Carmel Bird short-story masterclass.