Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tears on cooking

Several months ago, on certain weekends, while preparing lunch, I almost burst into tears. I was very stressed out, thinking of what to cook for the next meals.

Here are some background stories. I started cooking when I moved abroad like 16 years ago. Efforts made, dishes tried, I didn't enjoy cooking, and most importantly, I didn't like what I cook. So, at one point, after several years living in France, I decided to stop. Hubby would be the chef in the kitchen and I would do the housework (he hates it).

Things changed after we decided to buy the land and build our own house. Due to financial constraint and the family culture of DIY, hubby was/is caught into many new tasks : getting quotations, applying for construction permit, making choices, calling different people, visiting forums for information...on top of a more demanding job, so the last thing I want to bother him was cooking. And, at the mean time, our second was born.

I picked up cooking as much as I can while dealing with a new baby. I cooked very simple meal : fried rice, curry chicken with roti canai, slow cooked pork, braised chicken with mushroom, quiche...On Mondays when there was nothing left in the fridge, I would just buy a flammekueche, or crêpe. Hubby and the kids would eat some cheese and dessert but I didn't make them. When the construction started in March 2015, We went there almost every evenings to check the progress and to make sure things were built as in the house plan.

The challenge started when hubby participated in the construction. My MIL took the girls, I helped when there were tasks I can do and every evenings after dinner, I had to think of something for lunch to feed three men (hubby, my FIL and a professional we hired). Since I was on vacation and the girls won't there, it was manageable even though I was getting tired to have to always think of meals to prepare especially now beside main dish I also needed to think of  cheese, dessert, coffee, chocolate. This stage lasted for a month.

The stressful moment came when the DIY phrases started. For about a month, my parents in laws came every week from Wednesday to Saturday for the tiling. Suddenly I had to cook real French meals almost every day. Both my in laws were good cook and they have their habits and preferences. Here the lists:

For breakfast, my FIL requests:
Brioche with certain brand
Orange juice with certain brand (I don't stock up this because I don't want my girls to drink too much)
Chocolate powder with certain brand (he switched brand so the one I bought for him in the past was sitting in my pantry untouched)
French baguette
Coffee with certain brand and brown sugar
Jams (he brought his homemade jams because I stopped buying since at one point nobody ate them in my household and they got spoiled)
Milk powder with certain brand (I happen to drink the same so ok)

Some snacks on a Saturday evening

For lunch & dinner:
French baguette is mandatory
Some snacks (preferable for Saturday evenings)
Wines (preferable for the men)
Meats (preferable for the men)
Salade (mandatory for my MIL)
Cheese (preferable for the men)
Dessert (mandatory for French meal)
Coffee (mandatory for everyone except me)
Chocolate (preferable for my FIL)

Some constraints:
Rice & cucumber (digestive problem)
No pizza unless homemade
No hamburger even though we bought fresh ground beef from the butcher
Flammekueche was considered junk food

Note : We lived in an apartment complex that didn't have elevator. So after every grocery shopping, I needed to bring up everything to the 4th floor, then brought silverware, plates, glasses and coffee cups to the new house for lunch. After that, I had to bring them back to wash at the apartment (after climbing up to 4th floor of course).

I shouldn't complain because it was very nice for my in laws to come help us out with the house. They live around 1h45 from our place and each time they came, they brought over a dish and a dessert, and some homegrown vegetables. However, I do not know how to meet their expectations. I was like a person who speaks only 50 Chinese words now having to please someone who speak 3000 Chinese words with idioms and expressions.

I struggled, I stressed out, I woke up during the nights thinking of what kind of dishes would please them, and I asked hubby to help, that he would cook one meal to release my stress. But he has a mountain of tasks waiting for him. I also needed to entertain my MIL, she got bored sometimes as some stuffs she didn't want / know how to do. My parents in laws go every places together, if she was bored and decided not to come, my FIL would be less motivated to come. She was nice and helped around the housework, but I was still the principal cook. 

So, every Wednesday morning, after sending off my daughter to school, I went grocery shopping with Awena and constantly reminded myself that I shouldn't forget anything required for breakfast. Unfortunately, the shop I went to was going through renovation, so sometimes I didn't find what I wanted, and it was time to go home and started cooking, before picking up Aelig from school (she only has half day school on Wednesdays). The dish and dessert my in laws brought over were usually for dinner. I had lunch with them, and tried to help out but with Awena, it was very hard. I would have to keep telling her to not touch this and that, to not step on this and that, and at the end I just gave up. In the evening, I had to think of their lunch for the next day. And the next day, after work, I needed to rush home to pick up Aelig from school then cooked for dinner. Sometimes my MIL prepared dinner and I felt so grateful.

After our CNY trip, hubby requested that they come during the weekend so that he could participate into the remaining works. So they decided to come on Friday and leave on Sunday after dinner. This time they brought their own lunch. So every Wednesday, I woke up feeling stressful for the 5 means I have to prepare (Friday dinner, Saturday and Sunday lunches and dinners). After a week of working, I was hoping to chill out during weekend, but I had to cook. Every weekend when I woke up, I felt stressed.

One Friday, I took the day off, placed grocery order online, I planned to spend the whole day cleaning the new house as a worker just finished tiling the bathrooms and toilets. I wanted to leave at 6pm, pick up the grocery and started cooking before they arrived. Hubby came and announced that his parents were on the way to our new house and we should wait for them. I got home after 7pm and tried my best to cook as fast as I could. At one point, my in laws arrived and the first question my FIL asked : " Did you buy bread?" No, I completely forgot about it. Bakeries were not on my way so I don't usually buy them. So I replied : "No, but we have brioche at home". He looked at me, and said :" You are like Marie Antoinette, no bread, eat brioche (Qu'ils mangent de la brioche)". His words upset me but I know I was a failed host, bread is mandatory in this family, when they are here, we have to go to bakery every day.

My MIL is expert in homemade dessert. I don't really like traditional French desserts so I made this cake. They didn't eat it because they prefer something else.

My saver, BBQ! I'm happy we could do BBQ so that one meal less to prepare!

I think for someone who are talented in cooking, this shouldn't be a big deal. I have to admit, cooking is my weakness, I so wish that I could do just like in Malaysia : "ok everyone, it is lunch / dinner time, what do you want to eat, I will go pick up some food." Then simply go to any hawker center to get what they want.


  1. Hi Bee Ean,

    Maybe you can try more one pot meals? Like stews and soups, just dump everything and let it simmer. Or to save time, you can also cook in electric pressure cooker, like Instant Pot which is sold on Amazon UK. You can even set a timer for when the meal should finish cooking. So at least you can put the food in, and do your stuff, don't have to watch on the stove.

    You can maybe also just google and plan 5-10 recipes, and then just more or less repeat them every week? Then you can practice the same dishes, and it will get less stressful as you get better at cooking them.

    1. Hi Xian,
      Thanks for your advice, they don't like soup.
      Whenever they come I would google for some new recipe. However, I prefer Asian food, but they prefer French food. For example I used to stew pork, carrot, soya sauce and egg, a common Chinese dish, but my FIL was so surprised to see egg in a dish, so now I don't put egg in it anymore. So, when they are here, it means cooking western, I'm not motivated about it lol.

  2. Anonymous4:18 AM

    Oh, poor you... take my virtual hug, please!

    I feel for you. French really value food (much like Chinese) and they take it so seriously sometime, it's ridiculous. And of course it's stressful for you, especially since you are already busy with the kids and you didn't grow up with French food.

    My family is fairly casual about food (for a French family, that is) but yet I find them "picky" sometime, they really have strong ideas about what should be eaten when, what's healthy and good and what's not, etc. I've seen arguments about bread bought in boulangerie X not as good as from boulangerie Y. This is mostly for the older generation, which I assume your FIL and MIL belong to. They are conservative when it comes to food.

    May I suggest you buying a slow cooker? It saved my life, and you can probably make French meals like ratatouille or boeuf aux carottes.

    Your food sounds wonderful to me. I'm really sorry they don't appreciate your efforts.

    1. At some occasion the picky person would be my husband, he would buy bread from THE bakery. It was not convenient for me to buy there so I would just buy from a bakery closes to our house or in the supermarket. He would just say those are frozen bread, or that bakery is not a real bakery because they don't make their own bread. I wish I could buy him the bread he likes, but it requires extra time and effort which I don't have.

    2. Btw, I have a slow cooker, a small one, that I make stew pork. My rice cooker also has slower cooking function. My MIL has suggested that dishes I could slow cook. I tried once with beef (I don't like beef but it pleases the men), but the result was not good. I have tried dishes but not all of them turned out satisfying.

  3. oh geez, I can't believe the stress you are going through. How about just a piece of steak from the butcher and a salad. Are you sure they eat fancy food all the time at home? don't know what to tell you about the bread, you can stock up and freeze some from the fancy boulangerie. But franckly, you should address your issue to your husband because you have no time and it stresses you out. Then again, they are helping out with the house, so I guess you will have to slave around the kitchen for a while.

    1. Vad,

      It is not just them, my husband is a picky one as well. A piece of steak from the butcher and a salade is a good idea, but the meats need to be fresh, he doesn't like frozen meat. Frankly I have to work I don't have time to rush to butcher to buy fresh meats every two days. My in laws eat simple food as well, but my husband needs meat for every meal. I have talked to him about it, he just kept quiet because he has other stuff to worry about.

  4. I got stressed out just reading this! I agree with Vad--maybe just go very simple. Like roast chicken with a green salad. You can roast whole little potatoes with the chicken in the oven. Just some ideas. I understand that they are being very generous helping out but I think they need to understand that you are from a different culture and cooking the way they want things for every single meal is difficult for you.

    1. Yes, I have tried roast chicken before, but it takes time for the chicken to be cooked. Since they come every weekend I can't feed them roasted chicken every time.