Descended from folk perched on crags in inhospitable corners of Yorkshire on one side, and Calvinist Aberdonians on the other, I have been imbued with a greater than average penchant for penitence. I enjoy all of its varied forms, from preventing myself eating nice food, to going for long walks in the rain when I have failed at the former. Flagellation also hovers around the top ten, with buckets of boilign oil reserved exclusively for high days and holidays.
(ASIDE: In Yorkshire the other day I came across a beauty parlour called the ‘Nail Cellar’: can you imagine any name more evocative of Medieval torture? Answers on a blood sodden postcard.)
I am a terribly lax Calvinist. For one, I keep a blog. Wittering on about yourself for all the ether to groan over or laugh at is one of the most patently self indulgent things imaginable. So too are writing fiction, crying, and coveting dresses. I do all three with a pretty alarming regularity. But you, dear reader, probably crying and hooting and remembering all the times we’ve been out together and I’ve had a huge wodge of cake or cried about my love-life/pets/the state my wardrobe/the drop of a hat, or, never having had the misfortune of time with me, imagining it now, must understand that I at least have the grace to feel guilt.
Unlike, it seems, a certain Sophie Dahl, whose recent copious vomiting on the BBC was entitled ‘The Delicious Miss Dahld grins lasciviously at the camera for half an hour whilst telling you exactly what she would cook on her selfish days.’
I’m sorry: SELFISH DAYS? Entire twenty four hours where you ponce about cooking fish omelette alone, thinking only about yourself? Seriously???
Yes. Seriously. Seriously to phrases such as ‘of course, whenever I am along and I do something good, I buy myself an antique’. WHO ARE YOU? Oh. Yes. A woman famous for having a talented relative and a yo-yo-ing waistline, that’s who.
Nobody cares about your peanut fudge habit or your love of manicures, your desire to spend money in kooky shops or your anticipation of baked halibut. There is nothing inherently selfish about a baked halibut. The only selfish thing is your refusal to share it, and the fact that you are eating it along. And eating alone is not selfish, its unfortunate, depressing, and, if repeated, fairly unhealthy. There are charities to ensure the elderly who live alone do not have all their meals alone; there are kitchens and communal cafeterias and even restaurants, where you encounter that strange sensation of being alone and with people around you all at the same time.
I was almost crying with awkward discomfort by the end of it. Cooking is, for me, a pretty sacred act, reserved for one purpose: sharing.
When alone, I most often eat toast or cold chickpeas or whole tubs of fat-free yoghurt or eight pears or three diet cokes or a tray of cakes which I then hate myself for eating, or once, in an absent minded fit of boredom, I ate five raw parsnips. Seriously. Five.
But when there is even the faintest sniff of the chance of company, I run to the supermarket to buy ridiculous amounts of food and spend hours cooking with a big grin on my face. The main joy of having a girlfriend is the sheer amount of cooking I get to do.
So I thought, I an anti-homage (surely not, what is the word?) to Miss Dahl, I would give you a few recipes for my favourite things to make for company. I ought to add now that I am not a great cook, just a keen one, to the detriment of my friend’s digestive systems:
I then realized that I am not up to recipes, because I have an awful habit of doing it all by eye.
But here are some bits and bobs, nevertheless.
Risotto with squash and wine and parmesan.
Essentially, roast your squash, grate your parmesan, and then make your risotto, ensuring you fry the rice with the onions for two minutes before adding the stock – chicken, for preference – and your wine. Cook till it is delicious, and stir it all the time. Never let up. Be the stirring equivalent of a spartan warrior and you cannot go far wrong.
Add squash chopped fine, and parmesan and sage. Stir more. Serve to delighted hungry people. Eat with all the balsamic in the world.
Or sod the whole main course and eat only this: