May contain nuts

Why is it that whenever I offer anything up for human consumption I have to voice a loud disclaimer before people tuck in? Am I alone in this self-sabotage? I know I can’t be, because I learnt this bad behaviour from my mum, whose verbal apéritif to anything she’s prepared is flavoured with tremulous uncertainty. I in turn have become a similar kind of Hugh Grant figure in the kitchen, babbling self-justification and wobbling like jelly as soon as I have to share my creations.

Even when I invite unsuspecting friends in for a simple cuppa, I can’t seem to get by without exclaiming in surprise at the lack of clean mugs instead of giving the offending crockery a surreptitious cosmetic rinse, or voicing my misgivings over how long we’ve had that bottle of milk instead of keeping schtum. And heaven help me if I’ve run out of biscuits to offer round.

Worse still, when I bring homemade goodies into work, my colleagues have to endure the long and tedious back story that comes with them. Before tucking in, they must listen patiently to my concerns over whether I used the right type of cream cheese for the frosting on those muffins, whether that cake could have done with an extra five minutes in the oven, and whether we’ll notice that I forgot to add the sugar to that tart. Sometimes I’ll announce that I’ve brought in a treat, then dash everybody’s enthusiasm by adding that I don’t think it will be very nice, leaving my guinea pigs wondering in exasperation why I bothered in the first place. Happily, advertising wasn’t my career of choice, though God knows applying a little brand management to my products wouldn’t do any harm.

Some people have the chutzpah to present their food without untoward comment, sensibly leaving the recipients to judge the results for themselves. These people also have the quiet cunning that turns tragedy into opportunity – burnt brownies are deftly trimmed of their offending edges and dusted with sugar, sunken cakes are levelled off and elaborately iced, and dry sponges are swiftly doused in booze, plunged into softly whipped cream, sprinkled with nuts and berries and transformed into a decadent dessert, with no one any the wiser.

It’s a simple concept, yet so difficult for transparency-crazed neurotics like me to follow in practice. For example, if you come for dinner at mine we won’t say grace. Instead, before every meal I’ll bow my head and religiously repeat the words, ‘Here it is, I’m not sure if it’s OK or not. If you don’t like any of it, just leave it, I won’t be offended’ – the better to dampen any appetites that have been prematurely whetted.

This is not my finest trait I know, especially since the food I prepare is never that bad, it’s just laced with that most unsavoury ingredient: insecurity. Most probably my commitment to the whole truth and nothing but the truth is a narcissistic insurance policy: sub-consciously I reason that if people enjoy the food I’ve made despite me having flagged up the errors I made, then they might label me a better cook than I actually am.

It backfires though, doesn’t it? After all, keeping quiet is what the professionals do. Think of all the ‘oops!’ moments you’ve had in your kitchen over the years, the many profanities uttered. If this has happened to you over a meal for one, something similar will have happened to a chef in a restaurant kitchen. And you don’t see them walking over to diners’ tables to count the ways in which their dish falls short of the mark.

Similarly, full disclosure should be avoided at dinner parties. Hosts don’t benefit from hearing that you argued with your partner on the way over, or that you’re handing them the second-cheapest bottle of wine from the off-licence round the corner. Likewise, guests expect the same tight-lipped approach from those providing the food. 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