Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Delights Of Food

Growing up, baking cakes with mum or nan was quality time. I have the photos as proof – aged 4, hair in bunches, pinny on and taking childish delight in thoroughly cleaning out the mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Often the cake mixture would get half eaten before it was even in the oven! The enjoyment was in the preparation with the obligatory messiness. If I wasn't in the kitchen “helping”, I'd be making mud pies in the back garden forcing them on anyone that dared approach. I had a love of anything domestic – an imitation cooker unit and a tiny toy hoover, which I loved to whiz around the house with. Food however has long been my passion and is associated with my fondest moments – nanny Miriam's famous macaroni cheese and salmon fish cakes, pop's homemade bread and curries, nanny Helen's rich fruit cake made every week without fail, and mum's corn beef hash. Even my dad's attempt at baked beans on toast (burnt, but edible) is not yet forgiven. I'm sure we all have childhood memories bearing a close resemblance to these. Where does such a strong association come from? Do our emotions have a sensory connection? Even now I can conjure up the smell and taste of foods I haven't touched in years just by thinking about them.

Food is my downfall, although you wouldn't think it to look at me. It borders on the obsessional, but at least I know I'm not the only one. Many others are in the same boat. As a result, I struggle to understand the joys of online shopping – I like to examine the produce I'm buying firsthand and its ingredients where applicable. Food is for me the ultimate shopping experience much to my girlfriends' disgust. Fashion is my nemesis. Trying on clothes and finding matching accessories is my idea of hell, but take me to a health food store and I'll browse happily for hours. It's just unfortunate for those who happen to be with me on these little expeditions. Attempts to get me to leave, even by the management, are fruitless once I've set foot through the door. Of course, not everyone sees the joy, as I do, in discovering new products, checking out nutritional information and packaging, and exploring aisle changes, but there are weirder pastimes, so this passes as pretty normal if you ask me.

Turning to vegetarianism hasn't dulled my appreciation of food, if anything it's been greatly enhanced. I love planning my menu for the week, shopping for it, preparing and cooking the ingredients on a budget. Yes, I live a frugal existence, but I'm not a culinary food snob or a vegetarian with bland taste - a common assumption made by celebrity chefs. Being a successful vegetarian requires experimentation, which some celeb chefs fail to fully comprehend. We don't constantly munch lettuce leaves or chow down on lentils, nor do we necessarily crave exquisitely prepared gourmet meals or the fine dining experience. A tiny creation on the middle of an over sized plate would elicit a gasp of horror from some of us. My immediate reaction is where's the rest of it and how do I get more? A spoon sized portion is far from adequate, even if it is expertly presented. Most veggies I know enjoy their food, are creative in the kitchen, and like to see a hearty plate of nosh. Old fashioned comfort foods are also high on the wish list. Sometimes nothing more than a simple jacket potato stuffed with baked beans, coleslaw or sweetcorn will suffice. Once standard pub grub, the humble spud is now virtually extinct on the menus of newer gastro-style establishments. My message to such enterprises is this – veggies are not dull, fussy, or devoid of taste buds. Provide us with simple nutritious fare and we'll thank you with repeat custom and spread the word. Don't cater for us and you'll be the ones missing out.