I’m not big into New Year’s resolutions. I used to make them (nickle-dime stuff like not biting my nails or largely uncontrollable stuff like getting people to love me), but not really believe I was going to stick to them because a) no-one does and b) if I cared that much about doing those things I’d just Do Them and not Resolve To Do Them.
So really what I’ve found is that rather than starting the year with a resolution, I might happen to finish a year with a move forward into something new and interesting that has just developed through being alive, and busy and interested. Last year it was running, and that was great until it stopped happening (I don’t want to talk about it). These past few months, I’ve developed a new obsession: food.
Now, obviously, I’ve always eaten plenty. I’ve even appreciated the difference between good and bad food, though clearly not enough to stop eating the bad food. And when I say ‘bad’ food, I don’t mean ‘bad for you’ (I don’t give food a moral status if I can avoid it; as Crowded House remind us, everything is good for you, if it doesn’t kill you), I mean actually bad: bad-tasting, badly-cooked, bad-looking and just plain bad.
I reckon I’ve had enough of eating bad food. A combination of reading Health at Every Size (and everyone should), cyber-stalking Great British Chefs, obsessing about MasterChef and a bit of hypnotherapy has had me, for the first time, actually paying attention to what I eat. I still eat hunched over a book, or in front of the television, or quickly before Ramona wakes up and tries to run off with my plate, but I simply don’t eat anything I don’t enjoy, or that I’ve already had enough of – when I’m concentrating enough to realise that.
Weirdly, I’m finding I’m enjoying things I thought I hated. After years of waxing furious about my hatred of meat and fruit eaten together, I found myself heaping chicken with cranberry sauce, until Ash asked who I was and where his wife had gone. I braised red cabbage (not very well, actually, but that’s cos I was impatient and tired). I created salads with chicory and freaking-delicious-made-up-as-I-went-along blue cheese dressing. I started saying things like “we’ve had enough rich food this week, let’s have something else”. Tonight I turned down one of my favourite fast foods, pizza, because I didn’t feel like it, and made strapatsada instead. You probably have to had had a similarly disordered and dysfunctional relationship with food to understand why that’s remarkable.
In the last month of 2011, I also had three of the best meals I’ve ever had. And now, a bit in the manner of my Dad who likes to itemise everything he’s ever eaten, I’m going to tell you about them. Come back another time if you’re looking for recipes. There are no photos of the restaurant meals because there are times when whipping out an iPhone and snapping away just isn’t right.
Best Meal Ever: Private Dining at Marcus Wareing @ The Berkeley
I have to admit, this one was purely jammy (pardon the food pun). Ash and I stood in for another person who couldn’t attend, and enjoyed Dinner Menu D. Enjoyed it until we felt like exploding with the sheer delight of it. The wine-matching over the three hour meal was also lovely, as was the Aussie sommelier, who patiently responded to Ash’s questions about MasterChef and described her former boss, Matt Moran, as extremely good to her and strict only in the way that he had to be. Which was nice.
I won’t describe each course because I’ll end up sounding like a pretentious tool, but also because the three most charming things we had aren’t specified on the listed menu. The first was an amuse bouche of almost piping hot Jerusalem artichoke soup topped with a gorgeous cold sunflower cream and sunflower seeds. The second was a pre-dessert of the most beautiful, light white chocolate sorbet with frozen redcurrants. The last was an extremely clever non-dairy chocolate ganache slab.
And that doesn’t even touch on the deliciousness of milk ice cream, devoid of any sickly aftertaste and with a clean, pure, nostalgia-inducing taste.
Oh, okay, I sound like a pretentious tool anyway. But one that’s had a seriously good, bucket-list type meal.
Best Meal I’ve Cooked: Christmas Roast Beef
Here’s where I crow a little, but seriously. I cooked Christmas lunch for the first time in 2010, stepping into the breach to rescue a flu-ridden Mum from the stovetop. It was good, but I didn’t feel like I’d really got the roast beef just right.
This year I planned to take the helm, and I got the roast beef 98% Just. Sodding. Right. (I dock 2% from myself for not browning it better before roasting, cos it was still a little tiny bit browner around the edges than I’d like and for not cutting it thinly enough). But it’s still really good. Don’t take my word for it; look at it.
(The photo at the top includes my mother’s outstanding chicken liver, mince, chestnut and pine nut stuffing, which I admit looks like cat food but tastes like heaven. There are also goose fat roast potatoes. And there weren’t just peas, it’s just that at that point people stopped taking damn photographs and ate.)
Best Romantic Meal Since Ramona Was Born: The Cinnamon Club
Okay, that’s a dodgy title. But it’s not the best romantic meal ever (our first anniversary at Asia de Cuba nabs that). Still, it was a really lovely meal, and what was wonderful was actively craving a mainly veggie meal and knowing that I was in good hands – if you can’t get a good vegetarian meal from an Indian restaurant something’s gone badly wrong.
Mainly veggie except for the astoundingly kick-ass masala chicken livers which I just had to finish all on my own because Ash doesn’t do liver. The gorgeous crusty mushrooms, the fulsome cauliflower parcel, the amazing Jerusalem artichoke and red onion side, and – also not veggie – the perfectly cooked sea bass bites I cadged from Ash… well, they were all delightful. Also, you’ve got to love eating in a converted library.
And yes, since you’re not asking, I paid.
So there it is; not my New Year’s resolution, but my New Year’s adventure. To cook food. To enjoy food. To obsess about it, for the first time in my life, the right way.