Recently someone asked me what ‘my food’ was- what was my style, my writing angle etc. Totally caught off-guard I stared back at them, mouth open, eyes wandering the room, guttural ‘uhhhhhh’ escaping from me. No one had ever asked me that question point blank, and I had never really asked it of myself.
Thankfully a friend chimed in and answered, “She writes about using real ingredients in kind of a nice, family-friendly sort of way”. “Huh”, I thought “I guess I do. How boring!” And how totally oblivious of me to have never reflected on this before. Especially as someone who is continually looking to define my ‘voice’.
So since that conversation I’ve been doing some thinking.
Over a year and a half ago I begin writing this blog as a reaction to an experience during which I felt invisible. With the desire for personal and professional growth coupled with the fear of becoming stagnant increasing, writing my own blog, no matter the readership, seemed like the best way to respond. Season and Sprout began in the interest of having a space to develop my own voice, explore interests or thoughts or food memories to whatever capacity I had time to do so, as well as flag up, clarify and expand upon some of the things that have endeared the power and sentimentality both food and cooking both to me, as well as its relevance and presence in every day life. But despite all of this, I worked in much the same way that I always do; head down typing away with my to-do list beside me, in attempt to get (photogenic) food on the table and regular content on the page, not really utilising this space in the capacity that I had intended to.
So, as work and home life have picked up in fury, I feel the need to slow down here. To return to the original intention of using this space as a journal of sorts, rather than just a place for pretty food or cute pictures of the girls (of which there are both below because frankly, I like them!).
When I push myself to think of the most powerful memories I’ve ever had that revolve around food, very few – really only one actually- have ever taken place in a restaurant. I have eaten in some extraordinary places, and I can remember the specific dishes I ate in some of those places with explicit detail and great fondness. But, in terms of the food memories I have that evoke something more than just salivating taste buds, the ones that come with a feeling of intimacy, or understanding, or a new-found knowledge, those have always been very simple home cooked meals, prepared by someone who is showing love or kindness through food.
I have a deeper connection with making a particular recipe; a whole-braised celeriac from Tom Kerridge’s book, than I do with eating the very same dish at his Michelin-starred restaurant (for which reservations were made five months in advance!). When I made the dish myself I was heavily pregnant with Isla, and ended up cancelling our fancy restaurant reservations booked for Valentines day to stay at home (in my finest stretchiest sweatpants) to prepare it as one of our ‘last meals’ before her arrival. Did I make the dish better than Mr. Kerridge did? Certainly not. But I made it a memory.
I remember the first meal I ever had in France, at the age of twenty, in the home of a complete stranger, whom we came to stay with one night unexpectedly after spending a terrifying twenty four hours plus in our tiny frozen European car on a standstill highway, in the midst of a blizzard. Friends and I sat in the dark, warming up around this stranger’s kitchen table, eating freshly made crepes stuffed with herbed lentils. A simple meal, made by a kind woman who did not know us (she was the host mother of one of our friend’s sisters… it’s a long story). A meal that was so deeply comforting and reassuring, I will never forget it.
I remember the first meal my husband made me; a jacket potato. It was before we were married and I was in a job that I hated. One that made my stomach cramp up at the thought of going to it each day, one that brought me to tears almost daily. I had decided to take an ESL intensive weekend course in attempt to find a way out of my hell hole. The course itself was stressful and exhausting, using up my precious little downtime trying to learn to do something new that I wasn’t even passionate about or interested in, but hoped it would serve as a ladder and help me climb out of my very dark work situation. At the end of the first day I got lost taking the tube home, and ended up coming home much later than expected. As I opened the door to our flat, fighting angry tears and frustration there waiting for me was a warm perfectly-cooked, crispy-skinned, creamy centered baked potato, made by my then boyfriend (who, at the time, only ever made protein shakes and cereal!). I felt so loved. So cared for. So understood. Who knew a potato could have so much power?
The people and places and events that have most endeared themselves to me through out my short(ish) time on this planet thus far have all been pinned there by a plate of food, and the weight of care behind it. The way to my heart is most assuredly through my stomach. And so when I cook, especially at this time of year; where the root vegetables are at their sweetest and the nights are beginning to close in, I pour my own intentions of giving another person that same irreplaceable feeling of being safe, and loved, and accepted. My children, my husband, my friends, all of us slogging through the weight of responsibility, my extended family whose time with us is precious; what they eat at my table matters to me. And when anyone asks for seconds or pushes their plate away satisfied at the end of a meal, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of satisfaction myself, as though my message has been received. That is what I aspire for ‘my food’ to be.