A few minor accidents in la cocina, but none of the guests have been rushed to hospital with amoebic dysentery and I haven’t been deported for monk murder – so I’d say overall, a successful first day volunteering.
I started at 10am after an early morning walk and a leisurely breakfast. My duties for the day included cleaning bathrooms, setting up bedrooms for new arrivals, then cooking lunch and dinner for FOURTEEN people.
How Clean Is Your Casa?
I am not domesticated – let me just point that out immediately.
If I iron, I am guaranteed to burn clothes or carpets. If I mop the floor, I will flood the place. If I do the dishes, you can say goodbye to your favourite crockery. I use nineteen rolls of paper towel just to clean the bathroom sink instead of a sponge because I don’t want to touch the grime. I don’t know my Windolene from my Mr Muscle. And I’ve been known to set my dressing gown on fire cooking beans.
Basically, I’m enough to give Kim and Aggie a nervous breakdown and I’m every traditional man’s idea of a wife from hell.
At times, I think I subconsciously do it all on purpose to get out of the chores. My ex-boyfriend Nicholas was convinced I’d chosen our tiny little Georgian cottage for the fact I could plug Henry in downstairs and vacuum the entire house in one go.
It’s quite the norm in London to have a cleaner come to your apartment once a week to do all of the above so when I lived there I got fully involved. And as soon as I have a home again in the future, I’ll have absolutely no qualms in hiring one again. It’s not snobby, it’s safety.
I’m not sure what my deal is with being unable to look at the sky, feel the air, think of what I’m doing for the day ahead and pick an appropriate outfit, but I get it wrong pretty much every day.
So this morning I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing the bathroom floor and wiping away other people’s’ pubic hair while wearing a floaty embroidered long sleeve black blouse and a lovely pair of fringed denim shorts. I must say though, the pink marigolds did really set off the flower detail on my top.
After making room number 10 look suitably spotless, I headed for the kitchen. All of the cleaning liquid labels were in Spanish and instead of thinking to Google them, I opened the lid and took a deep inhalation through my nose. I think I was high for a solid fifteen minutes. It could have been quite fun if I wasn’t envisioning me en route to Menorca’s main hospital with my nostrils dripping down my face.
Luckily, the pure ammonia didn’t do any long-lasting damage so I scrubbed the worktops in time for lunch.
Pasta Alla Normal
By eleven o’clock it was time to get my chef on.
Fourteen people. I haven’t cooked for this many people since volunteering at Food Cycle but even then I was only a su chef who’s only major responsibility was chopping vegetables. This time, I was the only one in the kitchen and had to make something vegetarian by creatively using whatever we had in the cupboards.
I decided to make Pasta Alla Norma which happens to be my favourite Sicilian dish.
I first tasted it last year at Trattoria di Fiore’s, famous for their family recipe which has been passed down through seven generations. The ingredients are supposed to represent Mount Etna which dominates Catania’s skyline. The tomatoes are the lava, the aubergines are the cinders, the ricotta is the snow and the basil is the mountain vegetation starting to grow through.
Mine was the summer version, so there was no sprinkling of snow and all of the vegetation had died in a heat wave. I boiled the pasta in a giant pot and let the veg simmer nicely in another, then threw them together with some home-made tomato sauce. It was almost ready for seasoning and serving but there was one small problem; the aubergines weren’t fully cooked.
So I spent the next twenty minutes picking about three hundred aubergine chunks from an enormous pot of pasta sauce with a teaspoon, putting them into another pan to finish off the cooking process, then returning them to the master pan. It didn’t quite look as nice as Rosa’s dish in the end and sounded a bit like trudging through a quagmire when I stirred it, but flavours-wise it was right on the mark.
And finally, for la cena (dinner), I found honey, soy sauce, ginger and garlic to make a tasty little stir fry sauce for a medley of tofu, mushrooms, carrots and bean sprouts and drizzled them over boiled rice.
I’m so glad I’m not a chef as I’d be absolutely obese from all the taste-testing.