Food for Thought

I eat when I’m stressed.  I eat when I am unhappy, I eat when I am unwell, and I eat when I am agitated.  Unfortunately, I also eat when I am happy, I eat when I am well, and I eat when I am calm.  I have what I believe is known as an unhealthy relationship with food, which, in my case, means that absolutely everything I would choose to eat, is unhealthy – especially in the quantities in which I eat it.

Now, I don’t want you to think that everything I eat is unhealthy; it isn’t.  I eat loads of healthy shit, but given the choice I probably wouldn’t.  If I could find a way to persuade myself that a diet of chocolate and peanuts would get me past my next birthday, I would go for it.  Who on this earth would choose to eat broccoli if it wasn’t good for them?  Analyse it: is it pleasant to put into your mouth?  No.  Does it taste good?  No.  If it was bad for you, would you still eat it?  No, no, no.

This is what chefs do: take a bunch of stuff that you wouldn’t normally put anywhere near your mouth and mix it together in such a way that you think, “Well, that looks almost good enough to eat.”  So you do.  There is a whole tranche of TV cooks – ok, there’s Nigella Lawson – for whom the whole process of preparing a dish is to make the final shot of her eating it as close to oral sex as possible: “Right Nigella, we’re doing courgettes et poivrons dans une sauce tomate et vin rouge au basilica, so how would you like us to prepare the vegetables?”
“Oh sod that, just give me the courgette.  I’ll eat it whole.  You’ll need lots of cameras…”

This, I suddenly realise, is the true essence of modern cookery: take something that is basically inedible, but good for you (this is, of course, a constantly shifting page) and mix it up with something – anything – that will tempt you to put it in your mouth, and with this fleeting realisation comes the hint of a way ahead for me.  A pathway.  Here’s the plan…

  1. Make a list of things that are beneficial to your health, but are basically not anything that you would ever want to swallow – okra, calabrese, swede, kale, an insurance salesman’s promises.
  2. Make a list of things that you can’t stop eating, despite the knowledge that (until general medical opinion changes – e.g. next Wednesday) they will almost certainly kill you – chocolate, butter, cream, fudge and obfuscation.
  3. Devise manifold ways of covering various items from list one with those from list two.
  4. Make a TV show and publish a lavishly illustrated book.
  5. Wonder about how you are ever going to spend all that money.

Simple.

Let us consider the humble potato.  Potatoes are eaten in a number of ways: they might be baked and served with lashings of butter, mashed with lashings of butter, roasted in something rendered off an unfortunate goose, or cut into small batons and fried.  Without the application of fat, potatoes are seldom eaten.

Now, I must admit that, to date, my early attempts at food fusions have not been wholly successful.  The Okra in Chocolate Sauce, for instance, was not terribly palatable initially and, after I experimented with the addition of peanut butter, had a most unfortunate colour and texture, reminiscent of slugs in gravel.  I still remain uncertain what to do with the broccoli, but I’m thinking that salted caramel might be the way forward – it’s trendy, it’s salty, and it looks like the middle layer of a Mars Bar: what’s not to love?  As long as there’s enough of the sauce to mask all traces of that flaccid dendroidal brassica’s malevolent tang (Hint: there is never enough of anything to mask its malevolent tang) then I must be on to a winner.  N.B. broccoli is actually slightly less loathsome when uncooked and even more so when uneaten.  I have tried everything I can think of with kale (up to, and including, Walnut Whip) and I have discovered that there is absolutely no way of making it even mildly pleasurable to eat.  The nearest I have got is by sautéing it lightly in butter with garlic and white wine, before throwing the whole lot straight into the bin.

For many people, taste is a visual thing: if it looks good, they will eat it.  These people have never eaten a whelk.  Specialist food photographer’s have many tricks to make food look appetising on the page, from spraying with water to dousing in oil.  For myself, I cannot think of a single foodstuff that doesn’t look better with a glace cherry on top.  If God had not made apples look so alluring, we might still be residing in the Garden of Eden.  Mind you, I can’t help but feeling that long, long ago, a million-times removed antecedent of today’s oyster must have looked at itself sans shell and thought, ‘well, nobody’s ever going to want to eat me,’ but people do – generally overweight business men attempting to seduce a much younger and terminally disinterested secretary with a plate of half-dead molluscs and a plastic cupful of warm champagne, before going home to a wife who does not understand him* and children who view him only as a peripatetic wallet.  I have looked a shucked oyster in the face before now and, I promise you, the last thing it made me think about was sex.  The first thing it made me think about was where I could hide it that wouldn’t stain the carpet and smell strongly of dead bi-valve the next time the central heating was turned on.  Evolution gave oysters the protection of looking as though they had already been eaten – and that they didn’t agree with whatever did it.  If only God had made apples look like oysters and taste like okra, we’d all be in a better place.

And if he’d made chocolate healthy, I wouldn’t have been so stressed in the first place.

*She does.  That is why she has just spent the afternoon in the company of the vet’s de-worming assistant, hake and chips in the gazebo and PG Tips for two under the duvet.

Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fashion

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

I am not at all certain of how this will pan out: this is not my usual way of doing things.  The starting point for my little ragbag of ideas and mental cul-de-sacs is normally just that, a starting point – a first sentence, sometimes a paragraph, a vague idea of destination and an unrecognized postcode for the satnav.  Occasionally a topic will present itself, usually some vague gripe or perceived injustice or I may just spot a bubble I’m dying to burst.  Today I have none of those things, just a nebulous conviction that I should return to a topic of the past in order to measure how I view it today, compared to yesterday.

I plumped for Fashion.  I first did so in January 2019 (you can find it here) so it must have provided me a reason for the visit back then.  I don’t know.  I decided against reading it until I had finished scrawling today*.  I was interested to see whether I had returned to old themes, or maybe repeated the same jokes.  (In my head, old jokes are always delivered by Danny Dyer.  I have no idea why.  I think it is probably because there is so little to commend an old joke delivered by somebody who believes it’s a new one – especially when it is one of your own.)  Nothing goes out of fashion quite as quickly as a bad joke – except, perhaps, for tartan edgings.

Now, I know that my love of old comedy makes me deeply unfashionable.  In a weird kind of a way, I embrace bad comedy as warmly as I cling on to great comedy (I have to, I have written plenty of rubbish over the years).  I cast my mind back to when a joke was written and view it from that perspective, but (and this is a really big ‘but’) I cannot defend the indefensible, what was once hurtful, remains forever hurtful.  Racism used to be normal, an acceptable means of getting a laugh, seldom intentionally hurtful and yet in reality bitterly so, as it remains.  Sexism, racism, religious intolerance – all fair game once upon a sit-com, but now?  I desperately hope not.  These are things that should never have been tolerated in the first place and most certainly should never be revisited. 

And now I can’t stop thinking about okra**… 

Little in this world is as fashion-bound as food.  When I was a boy, mash was not mash without lumps: veg was not veg unless it turned into soup at the merest prick of a fork.  Everybody ate offal – it was cheap and nutritious and about as welcome on a young boy’s plate as boiled sock on a mountain of brussel sprouts: think boiled fish and lumpy mash with a watery sauce of unknown origin; think tinned sardines on toast.  In my middle years, nobody ate offal – it was cheap and therefore vulgar.  It could probably turn you into a mad cow.  (It was to my great amusement to find, on holiday in Greece in the late 80’s, that every bar had a sign outside the entrance  guaranteeing that their kitchen served no ‘English Crazy Beef’.) Now it is impossible to turn on Masterchef without being confronted by the lights of some unfortunate small mammal being turned into a bon-bon.  Meat – I think particularly of duck and pork – that once had to be cooked for a fortnight before being considered edible, is now served twitching.  I have not eaten meat for almost forty years, and for many of those years, I have considered Vegans to be some kind of vegetarian extremist wing: Patty Hearst with a carrot, but veganism is now viewed not only as normal, but as the way forward for the whole planet.  It could well be true.  Until, of course, somebody throws a spanner in the works by proving that plants really do experience pain and distress.  I have to ask myself, could I eat a carrot if it had big cow-like eyes?  Could I eat corn on the cob if it made orphans of its little kernel children?  I saw a TV programme recently about laboratory made meat, and it made me feel more queasy than standing beside the air-conditioning unit outside a KFC.  Sooner or later, as always happens, the way ahead will come to be seen as a wrong turn and we’ll all have to find somewhere else to go.

That’s what fashion does to us, isn’t it?  It makes us feel as though we are doing exactly the wrong thing, at precisely the wrong time, in completely the wrong clothing – although there is every chance that they will all be the right thing in the morning (except for those flares which, believe me, are never coming back).  The danger is that putting right past wrongs can also be branded as a fashion and surely that can’t be right, can it?  If we follow that logic it would be wrong of me to denounce the brushed denim loon just because I, myself, once wore them and at the time I didn’t think that it made me look like a dork.  My purple, patent leather, cork-heeled boots might not have ruined any lives – but it still doesn’t mean that I would choose to go back to them.  Nothing can put yesterday right – I’m not even certain of how we could possibly try to do that.  All that we can do is to acknowledge that it was wrong and make bloody sure that, like leg-warmers, it NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN.

**…which I have now done.  It is actually far more concerned with what I would call actual fashion, but none-the-less, similarly anti-fashion.  Sadly, two years on, I still feel like a directionally dyslexic arrow with no map towards the target; a slightly warped quill in a world of carbon shafts.  I still feel like I have a sucker at the end…

*I fear that you might have to pick your own way through that little lot.  If you can make sense of it, perhaps you can pass it on.  This is a light-hearted little blog, not designed for big beefs, but sometimes they bubble up anyhow.  What I have to say can never change anything – although what we all have to say just might – and when I get mad, I think of okra…

A Little Fiction – Grim Fairy Tales – the truth at last

grim.jpg
Photo by Hari Panicker on Unsplash

… and so, as Hansel and Grethel followed their father deeper and deeper into the forest, Hansel carefully left a trail of pebbles behind them. When their father mysteriously disappeared as darkness fell they were able to follow the glistening crystals right back to their home where father was just popping the cork from a bottle of prosecco.
“Can’t I trust you to do anything properly?” yelled mother, hastily pulling a dressing gown around her.
“I’ve no idea how they found their way back,” their father answered. “I bet that little bugger Hansel has got GPS on his smart phone. I will confiscate both of their phones tomorrow. I will smash them with a hammer. I will drop them in a lake.”
“Talk is cheap,” muttered mother darkly, disappearing up the stairs with the bottle of fizz and locking the bedroom door.
The following day, in the early afternoon, just after Hansel and Grethel had emerged from their beds, father again persuaded them to come with him into the woods.
“Why?” said Hansel. “You misplaced us both yesterday. Why would we possibly want to go with you again?”
“I will pay you,” said Father.
“How much?” they chorused.
So, after a lengthy negotiation they left home as twilight began to gather around them. Hansel had with him a tub full of miniature okra, having become vegan on Thursday, and he quietly dropped a pod every few yards as they marched deeper into the darkness. Eventually father again mysteriously disappeared having this time plied both of his offspring with some of the mushrooms they had foraged on the way and having tied them both to a tree. Presently both Hansel and Grethel were able to free themselves as, despite it all, their father was a kindly man and had not tied them too tightly. Nor had he followed mother’s instruction to “nail the little bleeders to a fence”. They were easily able to follow the trail of ladies fingers home, as not even the beasts of the woodlands would touch them. They walked in just as mother was paying the pizza delivery man. “I hope you’ve remembered I don’t like pineapple on my Hawaiian,” said Grethel.
“Bloody stroll on,” said mother. “I truly cannot rely on your father to do anything can I? Can’t you two take a hint?”
“Hint?” said Hansel.
“We’re in our sixties,” said mother. “We have supported you through university, we have supported you through your various relationship break ups, we have listened to all of your snowflake whining. Can’t you both just bugger off and get a home of your own?”
“Are you joking?” said Hansel.
“Have you seen the price of property?” said Grethel.
“Have you seen the average rent in this part of the woods?” said Hansel. “Much better we stay here and save up our money rather than paying for stuff. Now, did you get garlic dip with the pizza?”
And so Hansel and Grethel settled down to demolish a large Margarita, a medium meat-feast and a litre bottle of Frascati, whilst, hand in hand, mother and father walked deeper and deeper into the enveloping darkness of the forest, hoping, perhaps, to meet an old woman who would lock them in a cage and feed them through the bars…

***

… “But Grandma,” said Little Red Riding Hood. “What big ears you’ve got!”
“Eh?” said Grandma. “You’ll have to speak up. My hearing aid’s down at Timpson’s having the battery done. Your Grandad can’t do it on account of he keeps losing the little screw down the back of the footspa he uses to keep his suppositories warm.”
“But Grandma,” said Red Riding Hood. “What a hairy face you’ve got!”
“Yes,” said Grandma. “Your Grandad’s been using my razor for getting the furballs off the cat again. Near cut my lip off when I tried to remove the old peach-fuzz earlier.”
“And Grandma,” said Little Red. “What big teeth you’ve got!”
“Yeth,” said the old woman. “I think I must have got your Grandad’s out of the glass by mistake. He’ll be down the bingo by now, wondering why the ones he’s wearing keep falling out. There’ll be carnage if he has to yell ‘House!’ Could take somebody’s eye out.”…

***

One fine evening a young princess sat by a pool and played with a golden ball that she had been given by an appreciative golden ball manufacturer in grateful thanks for all of her selfless support and also because the king had told him to. She repeatedly tossed the golden orb into the air and caught it as it fell, but alas, as darkness fell she dropped the ball which rolled into the pond and disappeared into the twelve inches of stinking gloop that lay at its bottom. The princess was very upset at losing the ball and was just considering who to blame for its loss when a frog appeared at the water’s edge.
“Why do you cry, princess?” it asked.
“I have lost my ball in the foul-smelling gunk at the bottom of the pond,” wailed the princess. “Also, I think someone might have been spiking my drinks, judging from this conversation.”
“The foul-smelling gunk is my home,” said the frog. “But don’t worry. None taken. I’ll go and get it for you if you like.”
“Would you really?” trilled the princess. “It is worth a small fortune. My father will blow his bean if he finds out I’ve lost it.”
“Really?” said the frog as he slid into the depths.
The princess waited by the poolside for several hours, but the frog did not return to her. Eventually it dawned on her that he was not coming back and she trudged back to the palace wondering how she was going to explain the loss to her father and also how she had been detained in the garden until past midnight by a talking frog. But she need not have worried, for when she opened the door to the king’s chamber, she saw the golden ball upon a cushion by his side and, beside the ball, the frog resplendent in silken robes.
“Thank goodness,” said the princess. “You have the ball.”
“No thanks to you,” said the king. “If it had not been for this warty amphibian by my side I would now be ball-less. In gratitude I have promised him your hand in marriage.”
The princess stared at them both open-mouthed for a while before the truth dawned on her.
“Of course,” she said, hugging her father. “The frog is actually a handsome prince who has been cursed by a wicked witch. Shall I kiss him now?”
“Can do,” said the king.
And so the princess kissed the frog and absolutely nothing happened.
“It’s just a frog, isn’t it?” she said.
“Yup,” said the king. “Now go and get measured, the wedding’s on Wednesday.”
“Ribbit,” said the frog…