It's a fortnight now, since our Spanish student arrived in Poppy Cottage for a three week language school in Athy College. He was joined by a French student five days ago. In the intervening period, it seems that the equilibrium has shifted many times in the house. The only constants has been the rather miserable weather, the endless supply of laundry and me, standing in the kitchen preparing food.
There are three things that I ultimately wanted out of the students stay
1. That the students were happy
2. That they got on well with the children and that the children were also happy
3. That the students liked me ... and my cooking. Because let's face it, it's all about the grub.
Apart from the logistics of converting a dining room into a bedroom and juggling work and childcare during the students' stay, the initial thoughts of feeding two teenage boys created a big anxiety in me. It's been a while since I've cooked for anyone other than my children in my Hobbit House. It's been even longer since I've cooked meat. And it's been over 25 years since I've eaten it. It was highly unlikely that my teenagers would be vegetable loving vegetarians and they aren't. The more animal flesh they can get their teeth around the better.
Overall, my cooking has gone down well, so far. There has been a few blips. I couldn't help but feel slightly hurt when my Spanish student politely said that he 'more or less' liked my homemade apple pie. 'More or less?' No extra marks for my light touch with pastry? It appeared not. (But if I am REALLY honest with myself, it could have done with an extra sprinkle of sugar). My Spanish omelette had a similar response. I thought that it looked good enough to be photographed for a magazine. I guess it was a case of presenting sand to the Arabs and expecting them to be impressed.
This is my third time having foreign students and I have established universal food formulas that seem to work for both vegetarians (the children and me) and sometimes fickle students. It's simple really - Any combination of carbohydrates (pasta, breads, potato), garlic, cheese, tomato and mayonnaise. If I was looking for an easy life, we could have dined on variations of this for the duration, but in the interest of balance, I threw in a few extra dishes. Homemade pancakes, early morning, or late at night always go down a treat. They are like a big group hug, without anyone having to make unnecessary bodily contact.
Last night I made a Chicken Caesar Salad, with roast leg of chicken, while the veggies in the house had pasta. A neighbour's Spanish student arrived half way through dinner. 'Can I have some dinner please, I'm hungry', he said. I was amused as I knew he had just finished dinner with my neighbour. I remembered by friend Maria laughing about her son's 'hollow legs', that could store endless amounts of food. 'We are vegetarian you know Andrieu', I said, taking small talk. 'I know, Borja told me already' he smiled. Hmmm ... They talked about me. I wondered if the context for the conversation was that I was a rubbish cook because I AM veggie, or if I am an excellent cook, DESPITE being veggie. I was afraid to ask.
The students devoured their dinner, clearing their plates, then asking for some of the children's pasta dish leftovers. The veggie bolognese got a similar thumbs up. I dished up pancakes and chocolate spread for dessert. They couldn't come from the kitchen quick enough.
My Spanish student put his fingers to his lips and blew a kiss. 'My Irish Mother'.
My Irish Mammy heart felt like it might burst.