What a difference a year makes

If you use social media or cloud photo storage, you will be used to reminders popping up, showing your photos or posts from this day one, two or more years earlier.   Today, my friend Kirstie shared a Facebook post from 11 years ago when her two-year old daughter, Annie, was at nursery and came back excited because they had “eggs in an escalator”.  Annie will turn 13 this month and, as the family prepares to celebrate (!) their youngest child turning into a teenager, the memory in Facebook prompted her mum to muse that she misses those nursery moments.  

I love travel so my favourite photo reminders are often from the ski slopes in France or bustling markets in India, but there are also more poignant ones.  Like this family photo that was taken at Christmas in 2014, just a few months before my mum died.  It pops up every year, an annual reminder of our last Christmas with her.

At we head towards the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown, the photos popping up on my feed are reminders of the final few weeks before things changed so radically for all of us.  This time last year, Knead to Connect was running two cookery courses: DIY Dinners in Okehampton on behalf of  Recycle Devon and our third Men’s Cookery course in our kitchen in  Moretonhampstead.  The photos show people cooking together in the same room, sharing equipment, chatting and laughing.  There isn’t a mask in sight.  At our Men’s Cookery course, we ate lunch at the end of each session, sharing the food that we had cooked together and planning the following week’s menu.   

One of the highlights of the DIY Dinners course was meeting Ken.  This is him on the right, showing off his first meal, ready to take home to share with his wife.  Ken had never learnt to cook and had decided, upon seeing the course advertised, that it was time to help his wife Jane who had been cooking for them for over 40 years.

Ken was an enthusiastic member of the group.  He arrived early and helped me to carry all the ingredients through the long corridors and up the many stairs that led from the school reception to the the food technology room.  He had health problems that meant that he couldn’t drive and struggled to walk long distances, but he made the journey by bus from Launceston, determined to learn some new skills.  This was February 2020 so, of course, we knew about Coronavirus and were following closely the measures taken in other countries to try to fight its spread and waiting to see when it would be our turn to close schools and restrict people’s activities.

Ken was particuarly concerned about the virus because of his health and therefore made the decision, after attending only two sessions, to self-isolate.  In the event, he only missed two sessions, because lockdown hit and we were forced to cancel the final two, but we were sorry that he couldn’t be there.

Our Men’s Cookery course in Moretonhampstead also came to an abrupt end three weeks into the six-week course because suddenly, the reason why the course existed – to be able to cook together and eat together – were not allowed.  

That could have been the end of it, but a couple of months later I received an email from Ken.  He had decided to continue his culinary efforts despite being stuck at home and had started to work his way through the course recipes that we had emailed to him.  The course was for beginners, so the recipes were all fairly basic.  He started with veggie mac ‘n’ cheese and I was delighted when he emailed a photo to me.   Thinking that the following recipe would be the easy vegetable curry, imagine how surprised I was to receive this email:

Hello Liz, I thought I would `push the boat out` for my latest attempt and try a recipe from the Weekend Guardian`s `Feast` supplement (issue no. 127 Saturday 20th June 2020). The recipe is by Thomasina Miers - Cornflake-crumb fish tacos with pineapple ketchup. The main ingredients are filleted haddock, flour, egg, cornflakes, pineapple flesh, limes, white cabbage, red onion and tortilla (chips used instead of recommended corns). It took nearly 2 and a half hours to prepare and cook, and that was with my wife Jane preparing the white cabbage and red onion for me to save time! But it was very tasty and well worth the effort. Three pictures attached. Best wishes, Ken.

From veggie mac ‘n’ cheese to cornflake-crumb tacos with pineapple ketchup?  That was one mighty leap for a novice cook!  Week after week, Ken continued his experiments in the kitchen, with Jane acting as sous-chef and chief photographer.  He bought a book on soups and another on Asian cooking and regularly used Ottolenghi and Thomasina Miers’ recipes from the Guardian.  Wednesday was his cooking day and I looked forward to the photos dropping into my inbox.  Here are a few of them.

I even jokingly suggested that Ken should write a blog nd that’s exactly what he’s done!  His blog If Ken Can follows Ken’s cookery journey and I strongly urge you to take a look and discover what he has been cooking.  You’ll find it here: http://ifkencan.co.uk

Ken is an inspiration.  He had a small taste of something, seized it with both hands and every utensil he could find and went for it.  One year after attending his first cookery class, Ken is now an adventurous and accomplished home cook.

As spring approaches, there is definitely a feeling that things are changing for the better again.  We’re about to start a short online course for Young Chefs, but it shouldn’t be be very long before we can be back in the kitchen, cooking, chatting and eating together.  Who will be the next Ken I wonder?

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