Aliment, chow, comestible, eats, grub, nosh, nutriment, tuck, vittles; call it what you will, I love food. I love eating – that’s a given, and it’s why I have the wardrobe of three women – there’s fat me, slimmer me, and slightly slimmer me. There’s never a slim me. But I also love reading about food, pictures of food, shopping for food, preparing and cooking food, sharing food.
I was brought up in a family where food was used as a treat, as a celebration, for comfort, even for punishment (I can’t think of any other reason why I’d have been made to eat peas.) I was generally a well behaved child and rarely embarrassed my parents in public, but the one time I did it was about food – the packet of sweets I wanted and wasn’t allowed until I got home. Even now, I associate certain foods – Heinz tomato soup, for example – with being unwell. This is my ultimate comfort food.
Many of the anecdotes my family tell relate to food. The elder of my two brothers has always loved Chinese food. One year – it must have been about his 9th birthday – what he wanted as a treat was a big Chinese meal. We rarely went out to eat and all kinds of food were cooked at home, so my parents made a massive banquet of dim sum, sweet and sour chicken, noodles and steamed veg. There was enough food to feed a family for a week, but the six of us polished off most of it. However, there were tears before bedtime, as the birthday boy was so upset because he’d left food on his plate – it was so delicious that he wanted to finish it, but he was so full he felt physically sick.
Food was never wasted in our house. Our mom was the kind who would insist on a plate being cleared. No matter how much you whined, there was no way pudding was allowed until you’d cleared the main. Mom was a great cook; she baked fabulous gateaux and cakes, and made the best stew I ever tasted. Our birthday cakes, like the meals, were homemade, and it surprises me that these days so many children get mass-produced birthday cakes. A couple of years ago I’d baked a cake for my niece’s birthday party at a Wacky Warehouse <shudder>, and people were amazed that it had been made by a family member. It wasn’t that flash, or fiddly, or clever, but it didn’t come out of a supermarket box. The kids loved it. I love to bake and regularly take cakes or biscuits to work. Sharing home baking shows appreciation for what others do for me, and it means the team takes time out over coffee rather than grabbing a cup on the hoof and swigging it between lesson prep and supervising detentions.
Much of the day-to-day cooking at home was done by my dad; he still loves to experiment with different flavours and styles of cookery and we always enjoy eating there. My parents’ attitudes to food have stayed with me, and this has had a negative influence (I can’t leave anything on my plate) and a positive one (I love to cook.) The bloke and I always sit and eat together if we’re both at home; dining, whether it’s in or out, remains a social activity and a time for the building of relationships.