Considering I always swore I would never have children, I've done a pretty good job of acquiring them over the past few years! As well as my own two gorgeous larrikins, I've also become a second mum to 18-year-old Alex and now it seems a surrogate mum to half the kids in our new neighbourhood. Not that I mind at all; they're all terrific kids and most of the time you don't even know they're around - except at meal times. I really thank goodness for my SS skills these days!
Take the other day. The boys finished school for the holidays and we put the tent up in the garden. Noel specifically told the kids 'Right, you can invite your mates over for the next two nights, then that's it until Christmas. You can invite as many as you like - there's just one condition. They have to have dinner at their own houses before they come to stay as we just can't afford to keep feeding them all. 'No worries!' said the boys and before we knew it, four more teenage boys were sitting in our lounge.
First to turn up was Raine, who walked in hauling a big bag containing a packet of sausages, a big bunch of lettuce freshly picked from the garden and enough silverbeet to feed an army. 'Er - this wasn't exactly what I had in mind!' I hissed to Ali through my teeth. 'Oops, I think I hung up on him before he got the rest of my message!' Ali said apologetically. Next in was Lalit, who spotted Raine's swag and said 'Oh cool! Let's share and we can cook our dinner together! Do you have any eggs? What about tomatoes? Don't worry, I'm the son of a chef! We'll take care of everything. We'll even do the dishes!' he said seriously.
Bradley assured me that he was definitely going home for dinner as his mum was cooking roast chicken and would be most upset if he wasn't there. Pikey (nickname) turned up later and wasn't going home for dinner but said not to worry, he had been eating heaps all day and wouldn't need feeding. I groaned inwardly - as if I was going to serve up dinner to everyone else and just let him watch! So that made seven of us for dinner, instead of the original four. All of a sudden I was extremely grateful for Raine's contribution!
I put my SS hat on and got to work. Raine's lettuce (which was the best lettuce I have had in a long time) went towards a huge salad and the silverbeet became part of a big quiche. The original plan had been for the four of us to have schnitzel but there were only six pieces. How was I going to make them stretch to seven? Suddenly I had a brainwave - I would cut them in half! By the time I had finished crumbing them there was an impressive looking stack of 12 decent sized pieces of schnitzel ready to go in the pan.
Halfway through cooking dinner, Bradley turned up. 'Mmm, that smells good! What are you guys having?' 'Oh, just schnitzel, quiche and salad' I told him. 'That sounds much better than what I had!' came the reply. 'What do you mean? I thought your mum was cooking roast chicken?' 'Nah, I went home and she said she's not cooking it until tomorrow! I had to grab a pie instead', he said with his best 'I don't care but I do really' expression. By this time I thought the whole thing was hilarious - so much for the best laid plans! 'Would you like some dinner too Bradley?' I said. 'Oh - only if I'm not imposing!' came the earnest reply. Once again I thanked Raine as I took the sausages he had brought out of the fridge and cooked those up. The result was a slap-up meal which went down a treat. Everybody loved the quiche and there were even three schnitzel halves left over. The best compliment however came from Lalit, who I always dread cooking for because both his parents are incredible chefs. As far as I'm concerned, his dad is the best cook I have ever come across in my whole life so I was chuffed to bits when his son said 'You know, you're a REALLY good cook! Your food is always so good!'
The next morning six zombies got out of the tent and I got the bulk pack of bacon out of the freezer and cooked it up along with a dozen free eggs Noel had been given the day before. 'You spoil those boys!' Noel rolled his eyes. 'You're like a mother hen, clucking around them all, feeding them and making sure they're all alright!' I know, I know. For someone who claims to be as non-maternal as I do, I do seem to spend an awful lot of time in the kitchen whenever we have a houseful of kids!
But this time I had a plan. I wasn't going to be caught on the hop again. 'Right! Who's here for dinner tonight?' I asked. Six hands shot up in the air. Bradley appeared to have forgotten all about his roast chicken. 'I have to go home and babysit my sister but can I come back for dinner?' pleaded Lalit. 'Your food's just so good!' How could I refuse? But like I said, this time I had a plan. I was going to make a huge batch of Kate's Savoury Mince with Hidden Vegetables from the $21 Challenge book and throw everything I could from the fridge into it. Carrot, mushroom, zucchini, onion, celery, the rest of Raine's silverbeet - you name it, it went into the mix! And the kids absolutely loved it. They devoured almost the whole enormous pot along with rice and garlic bread, blissfully unaware that they were also scoffing copious amounts of veggies in with their meat! If you don't have a copy of the $21 Challenge book and would like the recipe, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org as it's too long to print here but I'll share it as it's almost Christmas and it's just so good!
Eventually at some late stage of the following day, the merry group disbanded and went their separate ways. I ran myself a deep bubble bath, got into my PJ's and was relaxing in the lounge with a glass of wine when there was a knock at the door. There stood Raine clutching an enormous bar of chocolate. 'This is for tomorrow. Happy Birthday!' he said. Truly touched I jumped up and gave him a hug, at which he was absolutely mortified and quickly scuttled out the door! A couple of hours later there came another knock and both Bradley and Lalit stood in the doorway bearing gifts of caramel chocolate and Scorched Almonds. This time I knew better than to scare them to death with a hug so thanked them as enthusiastically as I could from the safety of the couch!
'You love it, don't you?' Noel chuckled as he caught me still smiling at my pile of goodies later that night. 'There's nothing you like better than having a house full of boys to cluck over!' And you know what? He's absolutely right. I'm just glad I have my SS knowledge to help feed them all, or we'd be stony broke by now!