As you’ll know if you follow me on social media, or have read any of my previous food posts, I love to cook. One of the many great things about being a writer is that I don’t have to settle for a snatched sandwich for lunch, or get home too late to cook a proper dinner. Working from home, as many people will have been forced to discover, for good or ill, means that the kitchen is part of your extended office space, and if you’re inclined, you can incorporate cooking into your working regime.
But though I’m one of the lucky few whose day-to-day routine hasn’t changed radically I’ve discovered, during the course of this pandemic and the various forms of lockdown we’ve been enduring, that my attitude to food has changed significantly.
For a start, mealtimes have become more important. It’s not only that we have limited opportunities for going out to eat in a restaurant, a bar or in the home of friends or family, it’s the whole feed and nurture thing. Planning a meal, preparing it, cooking it, presenting it, to a loved one or simply to ourselves, is a way of showing we care.
I have no idea if I’m typical, but in the early days of lockdown I resorted to cooking a lot of comfort food – stodge, old-fashioned dishes that my mum had taught me, food that makes you feel very full and happy: minestrone soup with soda bread; macaroni cheese; pies; steak and chips – in fact anything with chips.
Bread is another favourite comfort food I’ve been making way too often. Janice, my sourdough starter has come into her own with my current favourite baguettes, but she also makes fantastic pizza. In fact I’d go so far as to claim that I’ve perfected my sourdough pizza recipe in the last eight months, and I’ve definitely become more adventurous with toppings, such as fresh tuna and anchovy – try it, honestly you’ll love it.
But food for me is as much about the ritual as the eating. Fantasising about my ultimate meal at a time when the prospects of ever going anywhere again seemed bleak, it was always a bistro in France, usually Paris. So at weekends when I wasn’t working, I started to travel ‘virtually’, setting off on a food odyssey from my kitchen table, with the help of a new favourite chef who shares my love of all things French, Simon Hopkinson – or at any rate, his book!
I created a café/bar in my porch (more on that project later), and served up all sorts of cocktails, from my favourite classic martini to mimosas, negronis and (of course!) margaritas. I made nibbles to go with the cocktails, tapenade, cheese biscuits, cheese gougeres (me and Simon also share a passion for cheese), and humous – and yes Simon, I did take the time to peel the skin off every single little chick pea.
Another positive outcome from the current situation is that local producers, some of whom had previously only supplied the hospitality trade, started to do home delivery. In Argyll we have the most amazing larder, yet much of it was actually difficult to access for those of us who live here – most of the shellfish, for example, goes straight to the continent. Between home deliveries from Loch Fyne Oysters and the wonderful Tony, whose fish van comes once a week from the east coast, I finally managed to satisfy my seafood craving. In addition to local wonders, the supermarket started selling less well known cuts that never used to feature – ox cheek, flat iron steak, rose veal liver – in that sense, lockdown has been foodie heaven for me.
I’ve had the time to conjure up really posh nosh too, to dig out the Michel Roux, Tom Kerridge and Richard Olnay cookbooks full of recipes that were previously just too time-consuming for everyday use. And my siblings have all been doing the same. On a Friday and Saturday night, the pictures we share on our WhatsApp group look like they’ve come straight from Masterchef. We can’t be with each other, but we can still share our food. And recipes too.
Another positive! We have a little neighbourhood Bake Off going on, my neighbour and I, sharing our baking with each other and some of our other less culinary neighbours. Thanks to Mary Berry and my gran’s well-thumbed Woman’s Institute book I’ve been handing out gingerbread and other calorie-loaded cakes, and receiving all sorts of delights in return. (And here I must shout out to Ronnie, your shortbread is the best ever!)
Of course there’s a cost, and yesterday I forced myself to face up to it. Onto the scales I lumbered, and out came the dreaded measuring tape for the first time in six months. So it’s back to a more frugal regime for me during the week, and a much more regular workout with Jillian Michaels. But at the weekend, the oven gloves are off, or should I say on!
Have your eating habits changed during lockdown? Are you turning to comfort foods, or have you discovered a whole new world of cooking. I’d love to know.