It is mainly upon reflection when you realise how greedy you are. In the moment, you’re hungry and there’s not a lot you can do to resist, even if you only ate breakfast an hour before. When you eventually think back and you become aware how much time was dominated by food and consuming said food all you can do is shake your head with a wry chuckle, a murmured, ‘What am I like?’ and, more often than not, start thinking about your next meal.
Last week was one of those weeks. My family and I traversed up and down the canal on the outskirts of the Brecon Beacons in Wales, the four of us piled into a canal boat, which in fact had only one double bed, although a table and bench could fold out to make two more narrow beds which we padded with cushions, and chugged along carrying with us a toilet and shower, and a miniature kitchen. Each day my parents cooked morning eggs on toast, eggy bread and bacon sandwiches, which Fiona and I would then add on an extra two or three courses, dinners of Thai salmon fish cakes squashed together with coriander and lemongrass, homemade curry and teriyaki aubergine and chilli pak choi. An Asian themed week aboard a tiny boat in the rainy Wales countryside.
Most of the time, my mum and dad would man the tiller, trundling us safely up-river, while Fiona and I, after disastrous attempts as skipper, were little help and instead would make cups of tea, eat Mum’s chocolate chip cupcakes, sit on the front deck and watch the marshy green scenery float by. In the evening we would park alongside a bank, tie the boat to secure rings buried in the grass, then descend on a local pub for a pint, a packet of crisps and free wifi, or order a pub dinner of pie or scampi and chips. On our final night we bought polystyrene trays of fish and chips covered in salt, vinegar or lemon, with my dad’s favoured sides of onion rings and mushy peas, then returned to the safety of the boat to tuck in with an elegant side of sparkling wine. Thanks to this gluttony, general lack of exercise and our bench beds which were essentially wooden boards, we didn’t get much sleep throughout the week. But that was bearable especially when you whiled away the hours spotting herons amongst the reeds.
On our return to stable ground, even though I stumbled around with sea legs for a good two days afterwards and splendidly staggered into a table at a busy cafe, I tried to forget about the week of daily elevenses, late breakfasts, early lunches and my fourth cream tea in six days. Luckily there was some excitement on the horizon.
My friend Lauren used to work with me before moving on to pastures new to focus on gut health. She is a force to be reckoned with as this week she hosted a supper club, complete with Pilates and mindfulness sessions, and single-handedly cooked three courses for all twenty-five guests. My friends and I arrived at the bar, first purchasing enormous goblets of gin and tonics as a pre-Pilates tipple, then were led up some back stairs into a private dining room. Tables were grouped around and laid for the guests, menus placed just so along with linen-feel napkins (at Lauren’s request), softly glowing candles and miniature succulents. After a stretch in Pilates and some mindful relaxation, I felt incredibly at peace, surrounded by friends and soft light. To complete the serenity, the starter was delivered. Charcoal crackers were adorned with thickly spread labneh, curls of purple and hot pink beetroot-cured salmon, dill and a sprinkling of lemon. With a mere crunch and lick of my lips the crackers were devoured. Throughout dinner we chatted, laughed and ate two more delicious courses – broth with miso and edamame beans, and thick wedge of orange polenta cake with pistachio crumb – a balanced meal in keeping with the evening’s theme.
Then, to round off the week of good eating and living, my friend Anthony decided to cook. This is a rare treat, let me tell you, as Anthony has never gushed about his cooking prowess. In fact, he does the complete opposite, referring to it as ‘cooklexia’ and describing the sloppy, gloopy pasta sauces he made at university in visceral detail. Now, however, a corner has been turned and he is willing to share his skills with eager connoisseurs.
I arrived at his flat, bottle of wine in hand, and under his instruction avoided the kitchen where he was bustling around chopping onions, slicing aubergine, frying and baking. Meanwhile, I drank a couple of glasses of wine and avidly discussed Game of Thrones with his housemate, oblivious to any muttered swearing coming from the kitchen. Suddenly, dinner was served, the table laid and I gazed at the spread before me. Anthony served fried halloumi and aubergine, bread rolls filled with hummus, and a homemade smokey harrisa relish, all to be piled up as a halloumi burger. Alongside were crispy sweet potato chips, zesty olives covered in herbs, and sundried tomatoes and mozzarella balls which Anthony admitted were an impulse buy. We tucked in, gobbling down burgers and nibbling on fries and olives, then going back with greasy fingers to grab extra pieces of halloumi and aubergine. The proof was in the pudding, or literally, dinner and I will not stand for Anthony’s claims of ‘cooklexia’ ever again.
I find food is the stimulus for fantastic memories. I will not look back at this spring thinking, ‘Bloody hell, what a fatty’; instead I will be remembering the cheese and chilli jam sandwiches my mum made, the walnut and date cake she bought and served with pears and custard, Lauren’s artistic plating, the bright colours of the salmon, and the table groaning under the weight of laden bowls and plates at Anthony’s. Each of them put such passion and care into their dishes, whether it was just to feed loved ones, to make an enjoyable meal or to promote the benefits of eating well. Embrace the greed and feast with friends and family. Food is comfort and being fed well by people you love needs to be savoured.
‘Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate‘. Alan D Wolfelt