When my daughter started nursery, I found myself with three hours of that thing called 'Me Time' for the first time in three years. I'd forgotten what that was like. I took a book, and headed to a cafe. It felt strange, as if something was missing; like an arm. In some ways, the first day of school is a second snipping of the umbilical cord.
At the cafe, I tried to find a table away from preschoolers, and large groups of new mums with babies - I'd reached a stage where I could no longer bear to hear about nappies, weaning and "how fast baby fingernails can grow". At the supermarket, when I saw two new mums deep in conversation, I moved to a different aisle. Even if it was 'Canned Soup'.
This, of course, was not personal. I had nothing against new mums. In fact, I knew their lives only too well, and had been knee-deep in the very same conversations myself. Like sleep-deprived sadists, my husband and I had spent hours listening to parents whose 3-week-old was already sleeping through the night. And everyday, I had groggily trudged to playgroups to catch up on the latest brands of baby food and nappy-rash cream. By the end of one year, I had had enough. I wanted to talk about other things, anything. I broke out in a rash when I heard the word 'nappy'.
So that day, at the cafe, I became mildly concerned when the table next to me filled up with a mother, her 3-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son. Preschoolers have no concept of volume. They speak very loudly in quiet places, and whisper when you need them to be heard. This sweet, little girl was no exception, and the quiet cafe was soon privy to her every word.
Mum (spooning mash into her son's mouth): "Sarah, eat your ham sandwich, please."
Daughter (loudly): "I don't like ham."
Mum (utterly confused): "You LOVE ham!"
Daughter: "I love ham everyday except SAT-UR-DAY."
At this, the mother turned her head away, willing patience in public, and continued feeding the little boy who was fortunately still too small for opinions.
My coffee-hour that day could have been quieter, yes. But that little bit of conversation made up for it. It made me grin into my Americano, this little girl's utter conviction about ham on weekends. The mother had my sympathies, but I knew exactly where her daughter was coming from. At home, we have cereals, milk and fruit for breakfast every day. But never on a Saturday. Or on a Sunday. It just doesn't feel right. Everything about the weekend needs to be different. Less rushed. Less ordinary.
Like my mother's 'Corn on Toast', which to me still smells like a slow Sunday morning.
Ma's Corn on Toast
The corn is cooked in what we call 'white sauce' in India; a simpler version of the Béchamel Sauce. There's the classic way of cooking that, of course: melting the butter, sauteing the flour, then stirring in the milk, very slowly, a bit at a time. And, there's my cheat-version, for those days when you have no time to stand and stir.
1 1/2 cup milk
2 tbs flour
1 tbs butter
Coarsely ground black pepper
A sprinkle of chopped parsley (tarragon is a lovely alternative)
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and gruyere, but just cheddar is good too)
2 1/2 cups corn
Salt to taste
Bread to toast
Take the flour in a bowl, mix it with a few tbs of water and make a smooth paste.
Heat the milk in a pan.
When it's hot, but before it has boiled, pour in the flour paste, and stir as the milk quickly thickens. Add the frozen corn. Add salt (remember the cheese will add some salt too). Stir occasionally till the corn has cooked, maybe 3-4 minutes. If you want to thicken the sauce further, add some more flour mixed with water. Take pan off heat.
Sprinkle in the cheese, pepper and parsley (or tarragon). Add the butter. Give it a good stir.
Pop bread into toaster or oven. Time the toast well. It should be golden and crisp.
Spoon the corn on the toast. Sprinkle with paprika, and serve immediately.
A version of this post first appeared on my blog Peppercorns in my Pocket.