Tuesday, August 30, 2011
dust-gathering kitchen utensils
I came out of my weekly shop in Lidl this week and the sun was shining. It is always raining in Ballina Lidl car park. I have come to think of it as a sort of punishment. I go in on a perfect sunny day, get my trolley, fill it – go through my impressive high-speed bagging routine. (I often attract an audience as I can separate frozen, fresh and larder goods at the same speed the uber-fast checkout workers throw them at me.)
I love Lidl. It’s cheap, has a limited and regular selection of stock – so you are not loading your trolley with foie-gras-in-a-tin and ingredients you are never going to use or forget you already have. (I have about five complete sets of sushi ingredients in my larder and every time I want to make sushi, like - once a year, I go and buy more.)
However my real motivation for shopping there is that I have a weakness for Lidl lifestyle offers. Camping gear, workshop benches, scuba diving equipment, oil-painting kits. Wonderful hobby-enabling stuff that inspires me to take up a new activity with impressive Germanic confidence. “Why, if I buy that harness and hat in Lidl, I shall be horseriding in no time!” “A complete sets of oils in a box that turns into an easel! Well, if that doesn’t get me painting a masterpiece, I don’t know what will!”
It is the curse or the gift of a peculiar sort of optimism, depending on how you look at it. If only I had a surf-board, crepe-pan, bread-maker, compost-making kit – everything would be better. Everything could be so different. I’d be the sort of person who’d have crepes for breakfast and go surfing and make-my own compost. Whatever that means. It’s an escape from oneself, of course and yet – sometimes it works, and when it does, it’s wonderful.
My father in law Joe, who passed away in 2009, was my Lidl-buddy. Joe and I clashed horribly at times, but on that one thing we were agreed. Lidl rocked. While my husband and mother in law raised their eyebrows in frustration, we formed a sort of Lidl support group. Joe was a generous man and a great man for buying gifts. He was the person who gave Leo his pocket money every week, and he always had the eye out for bargains that he could pass on. The key to Joe’s gifts was they had to be something that you didn’t know you needed until he arrived up “da-daah!” and presented you with it. A car cover, hose attachment kit, a pasta-making machine. Most of them went straight into the cupboard with a curt thank-you. Joe didn’t mind - he was wiser than that. He knew his stuff would come in handy one day.
And it almost always did. The car cover got dug out and used to cover Niall’s vintage jalopy the winter we did the garage up to house his office. A few years ago when Niall’s brother Fintan came home from Australia for my husband’s fortieth bash he decided to teach me how to make pasta. Joe’s pasta making machine was in the very back of the cupboard under the sink. Covered in that mysterious sticky dust that gets inside my kitchen cupboards, I honesty never thought it would see the light of day. Fintan was thrilled with it and, after a short lesson in making home-made pasta, so was I. It has become one of my kitchen staples, serving all sorts of culinary mood. I use it for kids cooking when the cake icing runs out and if I want to impress guests with home-made ravioli – out it comes.
Since that afternoon when my jovial brother in law broke eggs in my kitchen, and the two of us wondered at the miraculous compulsion of his father to buy me a pasta maker in Lidl, both of those men have died. Tragically and unexpectedly, insofar as all death is both.
Joe’s gifts have outlived him. The car polishing kit is still in the cupboard under the stairs along with the baseball mitt Leo has yet to use. Niall had to fix a burst pipe in the garden the other day and broke open a multi-purpose hose attachment set which has been in the shed for years and which I am certain has Joe’s stamp on it.
It’s the small details of ordinary life that sometimes put us in mind of lost loved ones. The memories they made for us are the real gifts.
I’ll never make pasta again without thinking of Fintan and Joe.