Oliver put it quite rightly when he said ‘food glorious food.’
Some of us eat to live, others live to eat. My sole existence, the outline of my day is utterly dictated by what and when I can eat.
My relationship with food has been complex, intrinsically linked with my desire to weigh two stone and look like a runway model. A gruelling battle between my vanity and appetite.
When I was little, actually little not just in age, but size, ‘she’s got a good appetite’ was bounded around in regard to my eating habits rather regularly. I loved to eat. Anything that my Mum would put in front of me I would devour. From Calamari to Kiwi Fruit, bowls of cereal to roast dinners, I ate it all.
My cousins still joke about the time that we went for dinner at a restaurant in Spain and I demanded that nothing on the ‘kids menu’ could possibly fill me up. I wanted, no, NEEDED an adult portion. My Mum refused, perhaps out of a desire to assert some sort of authority over her dustbin of a daughter, but more likely out of embarrassment. I was not happy, and in order to prove all of my haters wrong, I ate that tiny excuse of a pizza in 5 seconds flat, banged my cutlery down, looked at my Mother smugly and said, ‘finished.’ I was 8 years old.
As I grew up, I prided myself on the fact that I would eat anything, I wasn’t fussy and I loved to show off, trying quite literally anything that was put in front of me. At friends house’s after school I loved that their parents cooked differently than mine, I rarely disliked anything and if I did, I ate it anyway. I was brought up with the notion that you can’t leave the table until you’ve finished everything on your plate, this was never a problem for me.
Meals began to mean more to me than just food on a plate. When my Aunt Jo would look after me when I was poorly and my parents were at work, the only thing that would make me better was spaghetti hoops and potato waffles. Which to this day, is for me a far better cure than medicine or rest. On a Sunday night, my preparation for the school week ahead came in the form of cauliflower cheese and jacket potato, which we ate sat on the floor around a small wooden chess table, as we did every night when we were all home. I now can’t eat a tofu ramen without being flooded with memories of a magical Thai restaurant that we visit in Spain every year with my extended family.
Food to me meant shared experience. It meant making something with your own hands that tastes delicious. It meant sitting on top of a hill in the Cotswold countryside, with a picnic that Faye and I had made for ourselves. It meant reaching the bottom of a Ben and Jerry’s pot because that silky liquid was the only thing that could mend a broken heart. It wasn’t until I started secondary school that it started to mean ‘fat’. That loving food, something that I had been so proud of, in the eyes of a Comprehensive State school was something to be ashamed of.
(Thank God I don’t think that now, in the process of writing this blog I’ve had to get up three times to make a snack, because thinking about all the delicious food that I love to eat is making me hungry. If you need to break here and grab a piece of toast and a tub of humous, be my guest.)
Being called ‘Whale’ by the boys at school diminished my appetite. It can’t be denied that the years of indulgence and my great love of food had made me ‘chubby’. It doesn’t excuse the name calling, but I was 12, yet to fully hit puberty and very tall for my age. I was twice the size of most of those boys that called me fat or laughed when I walked past them in my ‘skort’. As a group of young girls we accepted this name calling, about our bodies and our physical appearance as though it was constructive criticism. ‘They’ll like us when we’re skinny.’ So throughout my teenage years I grappled with the need to be thin, whilst suppressing my ‘healthy appetite’.
In sixth form, I wanted to be thinner than I was, even though I was existing off of diet coke, salad and a home cooked meal a day, half of which I would put in the bin whilst my Mum’s back was turned. If only I knew, that at 22 getting one leg into the skirt that I wore in Sixth Form would be nothing short of a miracle.
It wasn’t until recently that I was able to shrug off this idea of eating. A decade long assumption that consuming food meant putting on weight, that enjoying a big meal meant being undesirable, that loving food like I had when I was 10, was something to feel guilty about. As I have grown older, moving away from the boys who called me whale, or the girls that looked at you disapprovingly when you said ‘yes please’ to an offer of the desert menu, I have redefined my relationship with food. I have noted that not only am I lucky to be able to enjoy the deliciousness of a warm baguette or a rich stew that has been cooking for hours, I am grateful for the access that I have to food. There are plenty of people on our planet that have not been blessed with the circumstance and the privilege of ‘living to eat.’
We’re bombarded with what is and isn’t good for you. What may give you cancer or prevent you from ageing. One minute red meat will definitely kill you, and the next it could save you. Fats are bad for you, unless they’re the good kind. You need to eat lot’s of fruit, but too much or your teeth may fall out. I’m no expert, but all I know is that certain foods can soothe your soul.
A hangover can be cured in one bag of McCoy’s salt and Vinegar Chip shop Chips. Period pains can be confronted with a bar of your favourite chocolate and a hot water bottle. Heartbreak is best treated at the bottom of that Ben and Jerry’s tub or in the arms of your best friend. A sunny day is a little sunnier when it is spent in the garden, dosed in a smell of food on the BBQ. Love can be shown through the time and care taken to make somebody’s favourite meal, which will undoubtedly taste better when every time you look up from your plate, the person that you love is sat opposite you, enjoying the same heavenly sensation.
By finding the joy in food, I believe that you’re enhancing your experiences. Food transcends culture, bringing people together through shared sensation. Food is a skill mastered through generations of kitchens, cook books and experimentation. Greed can be monitored through our enjoyment of food, our appreciation of every mouthful. The world can survive off the right type off food, which has been grown, nurtured and prepared with the same respect and love that fuelled me to want an adult portion rather than a child’s. Perhaps this was greed, but I think It was merely a love of food. The kind that you see glinting in Nigella’s eyes as she saunters to the kitchen for a late night rendezvous with what’s inside the fridge.
Today I could have written a blog about Brexit votes or Alabama’s abortion law but, instead I chose to write about something that has the ability to bring joy into our lives. That has the ability to unite, enable conversation and distract from an often melancholic news feed. When the weight of the world feels a little heavy and your soul could do with a little soothing, head to the kitchen. Cook for yourself, cook for your family or your friends, it doesn’t really matter. Make memories and medicine on a freshly ‘hinched’ hob.
Soothe your soul bean stew…
When I worked as a Nanny this was what we made for the kids when they were feeling a little tired and in need of some TLC. I now make it for myself when I’m feeling like the inside of my body needs a hug. A bowl of this makes me feel Atomic Kitten whole again.
1 onion (I like red, which I think should be called purple.)
2 cloves of Garlic (Liberty would say that this isn’t enough, so up to you.)
1 Courgette (you can use celery, I prefer courgette, clearly.)
1 Red Pepper
Vegetable Stock Cube.
1 tin of Chopped Tomatoes
Lots of Spinach (Who really knows with spinach, you put a pan full in and you’re left with a spoonful. Madness.)
A tin of beans – Any beans – I like to buy the mixed beans so that you get a variation. Go crazy, Cannelloni, Black, Butter maybe even a Kidney Bean. You do you x
Okay SO. I start by chopping everything up, accompanied by the Spotify playlist ‘Kitchen Swagger.’ Glug a generous amount of Olive oil in to the pan and let it get hot. Throw in the onion and mix them around making sure that they don’t burn. Boil the kettle. Once boiled pour a small amount of water into the pan and add the stock cube. Head to the garlic and sprinkle on top of the cooking onion. Don’t mix too much just let it all simmer, otherwise it get’s a little gloupey with the stock cube. Now add the other veg and mix occasionally.
(Boujee option courtesy of AliD – queen of anything tomato. Add some cherry tomatoes to the pan and squash them to release their goodness and add flavour to your dish – just a thought.)
Have a little dance around your kitchen and nibble on some left over pepper. Have you got a glass of wine? Maybe you need one? Once everything feels soft, whack in the tinned tomatoes. Give it a stir. At this stage I’d get involved with a little salt and pepper because, why not. Don’t hold back on the salt when you’re cooking with tomato – Ali would recommend one teaspoon. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and a tiny sprinkle of sugar (I know sugar is bad for you blah blah bye bye. If you would prefer, use honey.)
Now you can add your beans – I would drain the liquid that surrounds them in the tin but there is no harm in putting it in too. Let it all simmer on down, leave the ingredients to mingle and get to know each other, on a low heat you’ve probably got 10 minutes. Completely up to you what you do with this time. Here are some examples…
Lay the table.
Talk to the guests that you have invited over or your flatmates.
Have a quick shower.
Clean up after yourself.
Change the playlist to ‘Kitchen Dance Party’ and move like nobody is watching.
And we’re back. Add the Spinach. Let it wilt on top of the stew and then mix it in. If you like it hot and spicy, add the chilli (I often get over excited with chili and end up coughing throughout my meal making it ever so slightly less enjoyable – so chilli with care x)
Turn the heat off but, leave the pan on the hob whilst you grab a bowl. Never a plate, I don’t understand people that eat off plates.
Grab a big spoon and load up. Garnish with some spring onion and basil. I love to put a dollop humous on the side and sometimes when I’m really hungry, I’ll pop a ripped up ciabatta in the oven with a little olive oil and use these as soilders/croutons (Once again credit to AliD for this addition.)
Sit back and relax, enjoy the warmth, the feeling of getting full and the hug that comes from a bowl of good food that you made as an act of self loving.