Today, I’m starting a new column about food. It’s called ‘Eat me’.
When I started publishing more of my writing, I started to cook again. I love ordering in – my favourite treat – but it was expensive and I was trying to save. I needed a hobby that would take me away from the computer, an immersive activity that requires you to concentrate on what you’re doing. I wanted something both creative and menial, that could offer some respite from my noisy mind. More than anything, I wanted to be reassured. I wanted to remember that if you mix flour, butter and sugar and bake for 30 minutes, you will get some sort of baked good that is reliably tasty, warm and fulfilling.
Over the last few months, I’ve found comfort in coming home after a tough day to cook. I can sink my hands into a bowl of cold mince, garlic, ricotta, herbs and salt and moulding the mush into perfectly round golf balls to make meatballs that tasted like earthy warmth. (Except for that time I overdid it with the basil and they tasted vaguely of flowers.)
On the night of the US election, I baked a self-satisfied carrot cake. I impatiently grated carrots down to their stubs, throwing the last chunk in my mouth. I converted the measurements into cups when the weighing scales inexplicably stopped working. I daydreamed about how the first female US president was just hours away, how I’d wake up early to hear her acceptance speech.
The election of her opponent flattened me. A week later, I took a brisk walk to the shops for ingredients. Food would pull me out of my funk. I baked brown bread from a package (sacrilege!) and slow roasted a pound of fleshy, quartered tomatoes in olive oil and garlic to make a rich, unctuous soup. It was my first step back. It warmed up the kitchen, fuelled my body and, in some inexplicable existential way, renewed my faith in life.
On a sad December evening, I converted a tray of roast veggies and day old tagliatelle (a good chunk of which had stuck to the bottom of the pot) into a pasta bake with lots and lots of cheese. My cheese strategy is: some cheese in it, some cheese on it and some extra cheese for luck. Cheese is how we know God loves us.
I invested in a slow cooker too. This was an overt attempt to purchase the feeling you get when you come home to a hot meal someone has lovingly prepared for you. My first attempt – this Hungarian goulash – was a flop. I tweaked the recipe too much and ended up with flavourless slop. My second outing – this chicken tikka masala – was the stuff that dreams are made of. Delicious, complex, smooth and ridiculously easy, it was both an economic and a culinary victory. A €3 box of chicken thighs together with a few cupboard staples resulted in a four generous, hearty dinners.
I’ve had some real flops in the kitchen too. The time I forgot to add margarine to the recipe and ended up with coconut buns/stones,, the “buckwheat burgers” (basically just buckwheat soaked in beef stock and half heartedly stuck together like a cross between sheep’s droppings and hockey pucks). The many, many pans of scrambled eggs left for ‘just a minute’ and turned to eggy rubber. The familiar wisp of white smoke from the grill announcing not that there’s a new pope, but that I forgot the toast (again). The tomatoey sauces that I haven’t had the patience to cook down and so still tasted slightly of tin can.
More often than not though, I emerge from an hour in the kitchen feeling accomplished. I’ve made something that helps me feel a little better than before or at least, something that could be a good story.