Tag Archives: cheese

On the gradual decaffeination of life’s pleasures

One evening this week, at dinner with a friend, the waitress cleared our plates and asked us whether we’d like desserts. Since we hadn’t been too impressed by the food, we decided to go straight to coffee. And for the first time in my life, I ordered a decaf.

There’s something BC/AD about opting for decaf. The first time you do it, you’re mentally bisecting your life, cutting what is to come adrift from your devil-may-care, stimulant-fuelled past. You’re making a statement, and that statement takes many forms, the most anodyne being, ‘I need to get a good night’s sleep tonight’, with more cynical interpretations including, ‘It may be only 10pm, but I’m already thinking about getting home and going to bed’.

For me, the message was, ‘I’ve reached that age where my body now partly dictates my lifestyle’. Which is a daunting admission that elicited a raised eyebrow from our waitress.

It’s part of growing up – and growing old – this gradual shift to moderation. At 18, I’d wake up on Sunday mornings feeling bright and dewy, despite having gone out the night before. Of course, I’d affect a hangover for form’s sake, but in private I naïvely assumed I was someone whose system just didn’t bow to hangovers. Reality set in with each passing year, and now, within reaching distance of 30, I’ll drink only one glass of wine more than usual at dinner and find myself the victim of a stealth attack hangover that leaves me staggering around, miserable and uncomprehending, for two days. As a result, I’ve learnt to eye all alcohol from a respectful distance.

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Fondue or die

I can remember with cut-glass clarity the most extreme consumption I’ve ever subjected my body to. Early contenders include the 13 slices of pizza I ate as a child and the all-you-can-eat buffets in vast hotel dining rooms that I hungrily re-re- and re-visited nightly as a teenager. Close runners-up comprise the six-month homesickness-induced binge that was my gap-year work experience placement, and almost every Christmas of my life. America, the continent, I remember as a blur of physically exhausting confrontations with mega-meals – I emerged from the other end of that trip a changed woman, mechanically topping up my stomach to the very brim every time my body contrived to create a little bit of room in there. But things never really got beyond uncomfortable in the States. No: it was in France that I went a forkful too far and where stomach rupture loomed as a near-inevitable end to my evening. And the perpetrator? Fondue.

The thing about melted cheese is that it’s the stealth plane of food. It slides into the gut undetected and lurks behind your stomach walls, trying to pass unnoticed. It’s saltily and oozily moreish, and cunningly surrounds itself with an array of tempting tart and tangy crudité accomplices, the better to disguise its richness. So you dip into the cheese, mix things up with a juicy gherkin, return cravenly to the cheese, try a crisp radish, dip another radish into the cheese… and before you know it, you’ve slumped to the floor drenched in sweat and are clawing at your distended belly, while your red-faced friend asks, ‘Excusez-moi, est-ce qu’il y a un hôpital près d’ici?’.

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It’s a tough job, but…

As an antidote to London Fashion Week, I thought I’d take you behind the scenes of a food photoshoot, where bellies are rubbed, not sucked in, and where mouths salivate rather than pout.

The rules

Rule one: food can be photogenic or otherwise, much like people. A ripe, rosy plum will be a natural in front of the camera, requiring only a bowl to sit in, some fellow plums for company, and favourable lighting. Life’s plainer ingredients, however, need tarting and gussying up like the mother of the bride in order to shine. The difference, of course, is that food will never writhe, smile more widely, or respond to calls of ‘lovely, that’s great, keep it going, you’re a confident, fierce bratwurst!’ It’s up to the team to sex up those pesky German sausages.

The team

The Photographer: usually a surprisingly skinny man.

How to spot him: the only one not making primitive ‘mmm’ and ‘aah’ noises – he’s not gazing longingly at the food; he’s looking at the light. Like a ripening pear whose flesh melts to mush in the time it takes for you to run to the kitchen and grab a knife, the light will tease your photographer, changing by the minute, every passing cloud or sunbeam frustrating his efforts. The only person in the room who understands the challenge he faces is…

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