So, after 3 months of waking up at 5:45 and walking to the station accompanied only by a family of bats and the man who walks his husky every day (absolutely terrifying in the dull fuzz of pre-morning light, dogs that resemble wolves should be banned from roaming residential areas before sunrise), I’ve completed my internship in restaurant PR. Finally, I can repay my sleep deficit, re-acquaint myself with my cats (they were, as expected, indifferent to the announcement of my return. One of them presented me with a pile of sick the moment I got through the door, which I can only assume is their version of a congratulations present), and catch up on some very much missed Jezza K, Come Dine With Me and Bake Off. And I can cook. Whatever I want. Whenever I want. And it doesn’t have to be easily adapted to a salad for the next day to be squashed into a Tupperware container and shoved in the bottom of my bag to get all soggy and semi-sweaty by the time I get to work. This is true freedom.
NB I owe both my current state of smugness and my bank balance to my Tupperware containers, my saviours, my closest allies in the kitchen. Forever there, never leaking dressing into my bag. Praise be to Tupperware.
But what will I do when the novelty of waking up as my parents go to work purely to piss them off by saying ‘Hm, I think I’ll go back to sleep for a few more hours’ fades? What will I do when there is no more Jezza to be watched and the measly amount of money I managed to save from the internship has been exchanged for ingredients to go in a ridiculously OTT dinner that will have taken me all day to make because, let’s face it, I have absolutely nothing else to do with my time?
Panic. I will panic. I’ve been told by so many people to ‘cherish this time’ and ‘value boredom’ because you’ll never have it again and soon you’ll be back into the routine of dragging yourself to work and booking in holidays where you’ll feel far too guilty to sit on the sofa all day and watch TV because you only get 28 of these days (if you’re lucky) per year and you have to have a good story to tell the colleagues the next day rather than ‘I realised I can balance my plate between my boobs if I sit a certain way on the sofa’. But I don’t think I can cherish the boredom, or at least not yet. This will be the first time in my life that I have nothing specific lined up for me; I have an entire world of options – a nightmare for someone crippled with indecision over what cereal to buy, let alone what career path to take. My mind regularly see-saws from journalism to food writing to cooking to ‘working abroad somewhere’ to ‘maybe I’ll go volunteer in Greece’ to ‘I wonder if that gin distillery in rural Cornwall is hiring’ and back to journalism. This is exacerbated by mum texting me 3+ times a day with screenshots from Indeed.com, with jobs ranging from ‘communications administrator for household of Prince of Wales’ to ‘content writer for FUN!!! INNOVATIVE!!!! STARTUP!!!’; job requirements including ‘fun loving attitude, team player, real go-getter!!!’; payment is £5 a day, plus ‘ace benefits’. There’s a spelling mistake in ‘search engine optimisation’. I feel a bit like I’m sat in a boat and everyone around me is telling me that I could visit any country in the world in it, but right now all I can see is the horizon and a shitload of water.
So my temporary solution to all this worry and doubt and indecision about the future is to make cauliflower cheese. It’s simple, it’s satisfying, it requires you to make a roux sauce which makes you feel like you could probably apply for a chef job, it’s dinner. There’s no point worrying about how many job applications you’ve done today when you have a dish of bubbling, crackling food sat before you, encouraging you to put down your laptop and concentrate on the task at hand; eating the whole thing without burning your mouth and throat on the molten lava of cheese rolling down your fork (impossible task, if you’ve made it correctly you won’t be able to stop yourself from shovelling a spoonful straight from the dish before spitting it immediately out because the fire of a thousand suns has just exploded across your tongue. You regret this, but you go straight back in for more, eyes watering and tastebuds slightly numbed).
So upon entering into real unemployment for the first time ever, my observations are that the lie-ins are nice, the prospect of joblessness is scary, cauliflower cheese is a good temporary solution. Wake up, apply for jobs, panic about jobs, make cauliflower cheese. Calm down. Repeat regularly.
Today’s variation on cauliflower cheese has butternut squash, cauliflower leaves, spinach and gorgonzola, with a rye, sumac and cheddar breadcrumb topping, but as always, add and subtract whatever you like from this.
Cauliflower and Butternut Squash Cheese for 4
1 Cauliflower head plus leaves, broken into florets and the leaves chopped into bitesized pieces
1/2 a butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes
A few handfuls of spinach leaves
40g plain flour
About 500ml milk (anything but skimmed)
50g gorgonzola or grated cheddar, or a mix of both – vary this depending on what cheese and how cheese you like it. I didn’t measure, I just kept adding cheese until I was happy with the taste
A couple of large handfuls of breadcrumbs – I whizzed up a hunk of rye bread in a blender with some thyme
1 heaped tsp sumac
A handful of grated cheddar for topping
- Preheat the oven to 190 degrees fan. Boil the butternut squash in salted water for about 7 minutes, before adding the cauliflower and boiling for a further 5. Drain and set aside with the spinach. Pour the breadcrumbs into a bowl and add in the sumac, salt and pepper, stirring to combine.
- To make the roux, melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the flour, whisking until smooth and golden in colour. After a minute or two, add a little bit of the milk and whisk until smooth. You want to keep adding the milk bit by bit to ensure it stays lump-free.
- Once all the milk has been added, bring the sauce slowly to simmer, stirring constantly. The sauce will gradually thicken until it reaches boiling point. After about 10 minutes, take off the heat and crumble in as much cheese as you like, whisking until fully incorporated. Season to taste before adding the veg to the pan and stirring to combine.
- Pour the cauliflower cheese into a baking dish and scatter over the breadcrumb mixture and grated cheddar. Bake for about 20/25 minutes.
- Take out the oven, spoon a large heap of bubbling cauliflower cheese into your mouth, immediately spit out as you realise the cheese is still the temperature of hell, take a gulp of water and go in for more, because it smells too goo to wait.