24 Nov 2015

Popcorn: the guilt-free confession

I blame the salmon. Okay, my freezer door does advise that fish should only be stored for a maximum of six months, and the use-by date on the pack of salmon fillets was 29th December 2014, but that doesn't necessarily mean food stored beyond a best-by date is dangerous to eat. And it looked okay: well wrapped and not doing any iceberg impressions. So, perhaps it wouldn't be at its best ... but how bad could it be? Let's ask the judges. Dry, chewy. A culinary disahster, daahling. Six months over the six months is obviously a few months too many.

And that's how we ended up eating this:



No, I mean that's how we ended up eating ALL of this:



All 350 grams, 14 servings, 1274 calories of it. Although we were watching a movie so I guess there was a certain air of synchronicity.

And there was one other mitigating circumstance: lettuce, which didn't live up to its bright pre-cooked promise. 



Did I use the wrong type? Nigella used Cos or Romaine on 'Simply' the other night. I used large but sweet Little Gem, which isn't that different, and left out the anchovies from her drizzle of olive oil and crushed garlic and sprinkle of sea salt. Perhaps she has sharper cutlery and/or stronger jaws than us: damn, that stuff gets stringy! Did I cook it for too long?

To commandeer a popular slogan: food doesn't get worse than this

Despite the need for reparation after a dodgy, unsatisfying dinner I was a bit surprised we polished off the whole tub of popcorn quite so quickly, but I enjoyed every tooth-sticking mouthful. I didn't feel any regret, which is what I do feel after demolishing a large bag of Kettle Crisps but that's a physical response from all the sunflower oil slicking around in my stomach. And I didn't feel guilty either which, if Google is to be believed, would be the most common response, particularly amongst women, to stuffing yourself with a small cinema's supply of toffee popcorn.

Google 'guilt' and 'food' and you're overwhelmed with information. There are people who feel guilty about eating deli-meat, coal-fired pizzas and lamb; there are people who can help you eat without shame and people who will sell you guilt-free food treats. And then there are the infinite 'guilt-free' recipes: pancakes, sticky toffee pudding, brownies ... name your favourite dessert and someone will have found a way to make you feel better about eating it. Or at least, that's the message. 

I can understand guilt in response to inhumane animal husbandry or farming practices that are detrimental to the planet. But we can make choices in responses to those issues and move on, can't we? But saying we feel guilty because we had dessert, because we ate that large bar of Galaxy, or stuck our fingers into the peanut butter and finished half a jar? Isn't that just self-indulgent wittering? 

In his article, 'The Joy of the Memorised Poem', American poet Billy Collins says: I think I read recently that we’re not suffering from an overflow of information—we’re suffering from an overflow of insignificance. He's specifically talking about poetry as an oasis or sanctuary from the forces constantly drawing us into social and public life. But it feels relevant to how we act and talk about our relationship with food too: let's not be drawn into the media's insignificant obsessions, faddy diets, the idea of food as reward and punishment rather than nutrition and enjoyment. We should value our intelligence more. And not perpetuate those ideas either. 

I know, intuitively, that it's not a good idea to munch my way through a big tub of toffee popcorn on a regular basis. But I'll damn well enjoy it when I do. 

Which brings me back to Nigella and her trademark voluptuousness. She just isn't lettuce. She's spring lamb with its fat crisped in the oven. Just sayin'...


15 Nov 2015

Apples everywhere


I've been running through them: on Friday morning's off-road run around local orchards with Meopham and Malling Ladies Joggers on a day that forgot it was November, at least for the first couple of hours.

While at home I'm living, breathing, chopping and slicing them. Apple sauce, apple puree, chunky apple pie filling, apple crisps (in the dehydrator), and enough grown-up varieties of apple jelly to get you singing: Golden Whapple (Golden Delicious with whisky), Rumley (yep, Bramleys and rum), Bourpple (you're with me now) and Chapple (with chilli). The Bourpple was more the result of discovering half a bottle of Jim Beam wearing a thick and sticky blanket of dust in the back of a cupboard than any deliberate planning. The Whapple and Chapple are repeats from last year. Rumley is this year's innovation and, as well as Bramleys, also contains the last
of the Russets from the single tree (out of ten thousand) in our orchard. But Russrumley was too long to write nicely on the lid of the jar. 

But despite my apple industriousness I won't even manage a small bite in the fruit remaining in the orchard after the best harvest in the South East of England for a decade. And best here means glut. The money crop, (and the majority of our trees), Cox's Orange Pippins, has all been picked and stored, but the minor crops and pollinators (Bramleys, Golden Delicious and Idareds) were left and, since this weekend's blustery weather, have mostly dropped. 


Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about the aftermath of a storm

I feel particularly bad about the Idareds, but not for the right reason. I don't really like them to eat: they're tart, white fleshed and juicy but don't have the depth of flavour that the other apples have. I'm not even that fond of them after they've been baked or stewed. 

I feel bad for them because they are the most exquisite fairy tale apple: the apple you want to see glowing like a jewel in the gnarled hand of a bent old woman in a dark forest. They're arty apples: the ones tumbled in a small bowl on the table in a still life canvas, the splash of red in an otherwise muted palette. They're an interior designer's dream in a white room. They are glamorous apples. Apples that turn heads. Even amongst the cleaning and Sunday dinner cooking chaos of my kitchen this morning they are striking a shiny, 'love-me' pose.


So, I have carefully wrapped around 80 of them in newspaper and stored them in the cellar ... and I will return to them over the next few months and hope they can dilute my prejudice towards them as I attempt some new apple recipes, pink apple sauce among them (if, allegedly, you cook them in their skins then strain). That one dish might be enough to make me love them a little.

Loving is better for us than disliking, I'm sure.

7 Nov 2015

Remember Remember the 6th of November

After the heat of the bonfire, after the newspaper stuffed guy, with his paper bag head and your dad's old trousers and worn plaid shirt, turned to black flakes. After your dad pinned Catherine Wheels to a post and warned you to keep away from the rockets ready to launch from milk bottles. After the Jumping Jacks and Roman Candles. And after you wrote your name with the brilliant fizz and crackle of sparklers against the night sky and rescued the potatoes wrapped in foil from the fire's warm heart. After the sausages. Even after you tipped towards sleep, the whizzes and bangs a memory and a glitter of lights fading behind your eyes, after you woke-up ...  


Then you began your search for them: in your garden, along the nearby streets, the spent ones still smelling of cordite, the charred cases, the bent sparklers, collecting them like treasure, the proof of everything you had, and didn't have, that had once burned so bright.

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about a light in the darkness