It’s Saturday evening and I’m in bed eating a Toblerone. I told myself to find a small package of this devilish triangular chocolate; a few quick nibbles and that’s it, I’m sedated from my chocolate cravings. This hunt for a small bar was completely unsuccessful, however (do they only exist in duty free?) and I was then coerced into buying the large version for only £1 by a very insistent off license shop owner. I scuttled, both ashamed and delighted, back to my flat, clutching my purchase to my chest. Cutting through the station under-pass I passed a mystery pianist holding court at the graffitied piano to a crowd of onlookers, and managed to walk right across the field of someone filming on their phone – my night time snack and my guilty expression is now recorded for ever more.
There is a reason for this calorie fix desperation. Recently, cooking or just preparing food for myself has taken a downwards spiral, hitting close to rock bottom with a dinner of Weetabix the other night. (With chopped banana on top it hits nearly all the food groups so why not? A balanced meal in thirty seconds.) After a day of dashing hither and thither between an induction stove, the toaster and the walk-in fridge, after a day consisting of countless scrambled eggs, endless slices of tomato, strips of bacon and dollops of smashed avocado, and at least one new burn, the concept of repeating the ordeal in your own home is unappealing. Cooking for others is a passion; I love sending out creamy scrambled eggs cascading over a hunk of sourdough toast, beside baby cherry tomatoes having just split their seams and teaming with sweet juice. The satisfaction, alongside a rewarding cup of tea, after a long brunch service is pure and all I want to do is clean down, go home and crawl into bed. However, to my supreme annoyance, there is my rumbling tummy to consider. Nearly all restaurant chefs feel the same – to quote one in particular: ‘No chefs cook for themselves’.
My dinner options are limited. Either brave the microwave and blast a potato to eat with cheese and beans, or if that is too much (which it often is) maybe stand at the stove and stir some porridge for about five minutes and eat it with chopped fruit and chocolate. Still that can be too exhausting. In those situations it is an evening of Weetabix and toast. There is nothing more indulgent than a cup of tea with a couple of pieces of toast on hand, dripping with sticky strawberry jam or, a new purchase, peanut butter with maple and pecans. It is the perfect energy hit, the filling sugar rush which can send me into a satisfied saccharine torpor.
If I feel adventurous I will practice an up-coming dish on the menu – the amount of fried eggs on toast with tarragon mushrooms I consumed this week is embarrassing – just to know what a customer will be experiencing and how can I perfect it – maybe garlic toast, maybe blue cheese, no not blue cheese… it’s all trial and error on a nightly basis.
These sporadic cooking excursions are concertinaed by a quiet tired calmness, an ambivalence if you will. This resorted to me cooking my dinner by torchlight in a dark kitchen last night – I stirred my rice in seeming acceptance of the situation. Yesterday evening I moved into my new flat, rejoicing the accomplishment of carting my suitcase up the stairs and not needing to move my car from the permit zone until Sunday night. This was an unusual evening – I had energy, I needed to unpack, I had an agenda and thus with it came dinner. So, as I negotiated my way round the new kitchen, the light outside was dimming, quickly turning the pretty room to grey-scale. I reached for the light switch. The kitchen stayed dark. Nervously I texted my flatmate concerned I had blown a fuse but by then my salmon was gently cooking on the stove and the pan of water was simmering ready for the corn on the cob. Before I knew it I was cooking my first real dinner in weeks in the dark, my phone torch my only resource of light. Maybe dinners should regularly be a twilit activity; my salmon speckled with chilli flakes and dried herbs was salty and succulent alongside a juicy corn on the cob and wild rice (from a microwave packet). I devoured that plate of food, enjoying piled forkfuls with abandon. Maybe I should admit that Weetabix is a bit boring.
My days off are cause for treats. After a long lie in I am ready to tackle the kitchen again. Shakshuka is a breakfast treat, rich and smoky, and its slow simmer is ideal for a lazy day, or for a lazy person.
I followed this recipe, tinkering here and there by using tinned cherry tomatoes and a long thin red pepper for sweetness, and spices I was able to buy at my local Sainsbury’s. I also crumbled feta on top to mollify the heat from the harissa I sheepishly dolloped in with my peppers and onions (against all shakshuka rules but delicious with eggs).
My dinner time adventurousness will return in due course, I don’t doubt. In the meantime, I am going to eat this Toblerone.