White sauce

18 Jul

To make a really, really crap white sauce you should first spend the entire day shouting at your children. You should take care in particular to shout such things as ‘I said don’t shout at me’. This last should be done in the backyard so that you can be sure you sound like a complete idiot to people you have never met. Your hair should be at the exact length and at the exact time in the washing cycle where it hangs in your eyes but can not be brushed away. You should be wearing clothes which did not have one last wear in them, and should have been put in the washing last night.

Take your saucepan out of the sink and wash out the guck from two nights before. Use the dishcloth which is starting to get that certain feel and that certain smell. Don’t make the saucepan sparkling clean, just clean enough so that you can be fairly sure you won’t get botulism. Leave the cloth in a wet mess on the bottom of the sink to be dealt with later on.

Just before you are about to pour in the milk, answer the phone even though no one you know or love would be ringing at this time. Let the person on the other end make you feel badly for cutting them short. Have another glass of wine, even though you have told yourself that this is the week you will not drink, of course you do not need wine to get you through the night.

Return to the saucepan, add the milk, watch the lumps form, make a half-hearted effort to squeeze them out, pour a bit more milk in. Rinse the spinach while the sauce overheats. Give a half-hearted stir with a metal soup spoon. Let the sound grate on you, but do not stop straight away. Allow every black thought you have ever had about yourself to swirl between your ears. Invent a few new ones. If you have trouble with this, you aren’t trying, and your white sauce will not be truly crap.

This white sauce will destroy your lasagne. To end the evening, curse yourself for ruining a dish which takes a fair amount of time and a large portion of your week’s best vegetables.

On the other hand, to make a good – a very good – white sauce you should take the perfectly-sized saucepan which you will find washed and put away exactly where it should be. As is the lid, although you do not need it tonight. Turn the radio down. Further down. Just a little bit more.

Do not worry that the children are being exceptionally loud. They are enjoying each other’s company and spending the kind of time from which they will one day draw their motivations to succeed or otherwise, the strength they will need to mend their first broken heart, and the odd dinner-party laugh.

Heat the saucepan over a gentle flame, and scoop the butter in at exactly the right time. Watch its colour change as it melts. Take in the smell. Close your eyes if you wish, but only for an instant. That is all you need. Sprinkle in the flour, and although you have not measured either the butter or the flour, you will get it exactly right. The flour does not have the maggots of pantry moths. Pour in half a cup of milk and watch as no lumps appear. Feel it thicken. Add a little more milk, and then a little more. Listen to the gentle rub of the spoon against the bottom of the saucepan and watch the trail of the spoon through the sauce. Stir and watch and stir and watch and stir and watch some more. Listen to the sound of the flame and for no reason at all think of camping trips.

Remove from the heat at exactly the right time. Use to make a tuna mornay. Pay no attention to the parts of your brain which normally tell you that the oceans are over-fished and that tuna have dangerously high levels of certain heavy metals which you would prefer that your children didn’t ingest.

Enjoy your meal.

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16 Responses to “White sauce”

  1. JahTeh July 18, 2006 at 12:36 pm #

    You forgot the most important part. The sauce should coat the back of the perfectly shaped wooden spoon with a smooth glossyness. Call yourself a mother, open a packet!

    Just kidding, I refuse to make white sauce because I believe it takes years off my life that I could use for better things, eating chocolate, patting kittens etc.

  2. CelloBella July 18, 2006 at 11:33 pm #

    You are not a true mother until you have caught yourself shouting “Do not shout at me!” to your kids and half way through had to suppress a giggle of hysteria so the kids know you’re serious this time.

    I will think of this post next time I make white sauce. Of course my kids won’t eat it no matter it’s quality, so I’ll be making it just for me.

  3. Zoe July 19, 2006 at 1:30 am #

    Don’t forget hot milk. Gotta have hot milk in a different saucepan. This gives it time to boil over while you burn the butter in the other pan because you forgot something else you had to shout at the children.

    What a great post, thirdcat. Pavcat a while ago mentioned a writer she thought your writing resembled – I think Grace Paley? But I don’t know her and may have name wrong. Anyhoo, I’ve been reading some Margaret Drabble lately, after having not read her for quite a while. And she reminds me of you.

  4. Pavlov's Cat July 19, 2006 at 2:49 am #

    Grace Paley is indeed the person:

    ‘I have to go home now, she said. My cousin Alfred’s coming. She looked to see if Ruthy was still mad. Suddenly she saw a dog. Ruthy, she said, getting to her feet. There’s a dog coming. Ruthy turned. There was a dog about three-quarters of the way down the block between the candy store and the grocer’s. It was an ordinary middle-sized dog. But it was coming.’

  5. Pavlov's Cat July 19, 2006 at 2:52 am #

    Oh and re white sauce: I find a whisk, or failing that a sieve, will save everything that isn’t actually burnt.

  6. Lucy Tartan July 19, 2006 at 5:28 am #

    At least you cook, and from the technical jargon used here (‘stir’, saucepan’ etc) I bet you cook beautiful. Muesli is often on the dinner menu as well as the breakfast one, here.

    May as well ask about something else from a while back: what is milk rock? It sounds nice.

  7. Helen July 19, 2006 at 9:34 am #

    You should take care in particular to shout such things as ‘I said don’t shout at me’. This last should be done in the backyard so that you can be sure you sound like a complete idiot to people you have never met. Your hair should be at the exact length and at the exact time in the washing cycle where it hangs in your eyes but can not be brushed away….

    Shit Thirdcat, are you channelling me or something? I was going to mention the hot milk, but Zoe beat me to it. The downside of that is there’s something else to wash.

    I avoided white sauce for years, but the craving for macaroni cheese and lasagna wore me down. Now I don’t fear it like I did.

    Anyone know how to boil lasagne sheets so they don’t stick together? I’ve tried olive oil but was underwhelmed by the result. I hate those instant sheets, there’s always hard bits at the edges.

  8. ThirdCat July 19, 2006 at 10:17 am #

    Jahteh – I have just scoured the supermarket shelves, but could not see a packet of whitesauce. Will leave the chn behind and look harder next time.

    Yes, the hot milk. Youse are right.

    A funny thing happened at the library this afternoon. I borrowed a Margaret Drabble book (having never read her work before), then set the boys up on the library computer playing a Wiggles game while I snuck myself a few minutes reading it. Then found myself saying to them ‘no we haven’t got time for your books today…because my bag is already full of my books and we still have to carry home the milk’.

    PC, is it very hard to wash the sieve afterwards? The whisker though – of course.

    Which is an excellent illustration of my cooking skills, lucy tartan. I am best described as the least shit cook in the house. Will post on milk rock on Saturday, so I can take a photo of the week’s rations.

    And Helen, I do have a way, but it is time consuming and leads to extra dishes. Use one of those old-fashioned electric frying pans and do the lasagne sheets one by one as you are putting the lasagne together. This is really only for special occasions though. Mostly I just use fresh ones, but I don’t boil them first.

  9. JahTeh July 19, 2006 at 12:12 pm #

    My nephew, the BrickOuthouse knows and uses every packet of sauce in the supermarket and assures me there is one.
    He then tells me he never uses that because he can make white sauce for a mornay. I’d have hit him if I could have reached that high.

  10. elsewhere July 20, 2006 at 12:27 am #

    Grace Paley is a great writer — a must read!

  11. ThirdCat July 20, 2006 at 2:23 am #

    I wasn’t able to find any of Grace Paley’s work at my close-by library – which is really very small. But I have put my request in. Which cost me $1. Not that $1 is a lot, but you know…public libraries are supposed to be free.

  12. Kate July 20, 2006 at 9:10 am #

    I use ricotta in my lasange instead of white sauce, because I’m a bit lazy.

    Last month Mr Kate and I made actual vanilla custard together and like white sauce it is a dish fraught with danger. Though I have tasted few things as silky and delicious as home-made vanilla custard…

  13. Anonymous July 20, 2006 at 2:56 pm #

    The bit about the shouting kids reminds me of my favourite line from my own mother:

    “stop swearing, you bugger!”

    True dinks.

    – barista

  14. Ampersand Duck July 23, 2006 at 1:09 pm #

    Reading this post is like coming home.

    Grace Paley sounds alluring.

  15. blackbird September 6, 2006 at 2:32 am #

    Sometimes I find that tripping over the open door of the automatic dishwasher helps sauces congeal just SO.

  16. Anonymous September 7, 2006 at 12:06 am #

    ….the step where the salt dispenser thingy malfunctions, and you are frantically trying to scrape 2 tablespoons of salt from the mix…
    Resulting shock & further trauma cause temporary amnesia, & awake to recall a truly horrific decibel level of noise from the kids in the next room.
    So you rush into the room, shrieking, “BE QUIET!!!!!!”… only to be met by puzzled, silent upturned faces, previously engaged in very quiet concentration… slink foolishly back to deal with truly crap sauce mix

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