The domestic: Helping hands... and moussaka
Himself finally relents on employing a cleaner, but there's a stumbling block when Sophie White realises that she must grow up and finally find a place to store the towels
A few years ago, one of the bitchherd began using the services of a cleaner. At the time, I thought this was the most extravagant thing I'd ever heard. I even was privately a little judgmental about it.
Of course, the friend in question was actually incredibly enlightened. She worked hard all day, she reasoned; why should she come home and have to clean, when this could easily be outsourced?
So now, I'm in the market for some help around the house. My house is in a continuous state of disarray. First-time visitors often assume that we have only just moved in, or are in the process of moving out. Neither, unfortunately, is the case - I just can't seem to implement any kind of order in the place. This is mainly because I am time-poor, but also because I am inclination-poor. I honestly can't really be bothered.
Cleaning or tidying seems to me to be the very definition of futile when you have a one-year-old. The endless conveyor belt of dishes, clothes, nappy bags, encrusted food, snots on seat covers, and porridge on calf-skin rugs would be enough to break the spirit of even the most dedicated and anal-retentive of housekeepers. Never mind me, who never had much urge to clean anything to begin with.
Himself was always resolutely against the getting-a-cleaner idea. I think he thought he could shoulder the brunt of the chores, and that eventually I would feel compelled to help, out of some sense of duty. But I've quite admirably managed to resist this guilt trip and remain ignorant of how to work the washing machine, or of where the dustpan is kept.
My one contribution to the cleaning is the occasional dalliance with the hoover. But since Himself caught me hoovering the kitchen countertops - despite my insistence that everyone does this, right? - he has ceased his campaign to domesticate me, and has instead given in on the subject of getting a cleaner.
What I wasn't banking on, however, was what a faff actually getting help would be. Some people have told me that they are so paranoid about what their cleaner might think of them, that they do a pre-clean before the cleaner arrives. I am unaffected by this kind of worry - my problem is more that, in order for a cleaner to rein in my house a bit, I'd have to impose a bit of order myself first.
For example, I'd like someone who could do the ironing and change the beds. But then I realised that I'd have to wash and dry the clothes myself first, and then also find somewhere for the cleaner to store the ironed stuff. We're two years in our house, and we still keep a lot of our washing under the coffee table.
While I can't even decide if it is, in fact, inhumane to ask someone to clean my bedroom, I will at least be more inclined to make dishes like this tasty moussaka, knowing that I won't have to clean the dish afterwards. It's particularly easy, as I have devised a lazy person's version of Bechamel sauce.
You will need:
2 large aubergines, cut into ½cm (less than ¼in) slices
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
500g (1lb 2oz) minced lamb
2 tablespoons tomato puree, mixed with 150ml (5fl oz) water
150ml (5fl oz) red wine
Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
For the cheat's Bechamel sauce, you will need:
150g (5oz) creme fraiche
50g (2oz) Parmesan, grated
2 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. Arrange the aubergine slices on two parchment-lined oven trays and brush them with half of the olive oil and a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake them in the oven for 25 minutes until they are tender and floppy.
Heat the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over a high heat, and saute the finely chopped onion for a few minutes until it is soft, then add the finely chopped garlic, the cinnamon, the oregano and the minced lamb. Fry over the heat until the lamb is browned. Pour in the diluted tomato puree and the red wine, and simmer for about half an hour until the liquid is reduced. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir in the chopped flat-leaf parsley.
To make the cheat's Bechamel sauce, whisk the creme fraiche, the grated Parmesan, the beaten eggs and the ground nutmeg together. Arrange about a third of the baked aubergine slices on the bottom of an ovenproof dish, layer some of the lamb mixture on top, then repeat the layers with the remaining aubergine and lamb mixture.
Finish with a layer of aubergine slices, then spread the cheat's Bechamel sauce over the top. Bake the moussaka in the oven for about 40 minutes until it is browned on top. Allow it to stand for 10 minutes before serving.