Do you remember harvest festivals at school? Those uncomfortably half-pagan rituals that have been absorbed into the Christian calendar – a lesson in keeping your friends close but your foes closer? I don’t know whether things have changed these days, but when I was at junior school, harvest festival was one of those annual events that, despite being lauded as A Good Thing, made parents either groan or panic.
The week before, schools would give their young charges a brightly coloured piece of paper to take home to remind mum and/or dad of the happy event. This would immediately be stuffed to the bottom of each child’s bag, only to resurface months later. Savvy to this possibility, and taking no chances, teachers would remind the class again the night before that they should all bring something to donate to those less fortunate. And so it would begin: a parental sigh of exasperation, followed by the excavation of unwanted food for the greater good.
In essence, that’s what harvest festivals are: charity shops in edible – or semi-edible – form. The acceptable face of fly-tipping; a clever dance whereby the recipient shows more gratitude than he should and the benefactor less. Harvest festival is a dumping ground for things you wish you’d never bought or know you’ll never use again: the BOGOF bargains and ill-considered impulse buys that got out of hand; the tin of condensed milk you bought for a recipe and never used; the free sample of beef jerky that no one tried; a dented tin of plum tomatoes; a random box of stale ice cream cones. My mum once exhumed a vintage tub of strawberry milkshake powder and looked at me doubtfully for approval – upon closer inspection it had expired the year before I was born.
Posted in daily bread
Tagged beef jerky, capers, condensed milk, fairtrade, free-range, harvest festival, ice cream, ice cream cones, organic, pasta, plum tomatoes, Ready Steady Cook, strawberry milkshake, sustainable, wine
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.
Posted in gluttony, restaurants
Tagged alcohol, bhuna, cheese, chilli, chorizo, coffee, decaf, dessert, dinner, espresso, indigestion, korma, tea, wine
Last night found me embracing the picnic aspect of the concert I went to at Kenwood house rather too enthusiastically.
No sooner had we settled on the grass among the other fans than I found myself – much to my boyfriend’s dismay – peering indiscreetly at other people’s picnics. In fact, before we’d even unpacked our own dinner, I had craned my neck this way and that and smugly rated the efforts of everyone around me.
There were the M&S devotees, rifling through their lime-green plastic bags and yanking open aggressively sealed plastic containers of Parma ham, hummus, and mozzarella balls with sun-dried tomatoes (then passing round the Percy Pigs). Yawn, I sighed.
Then there was the Waitrose camp, their Waitrose convenience food stored in convenient Waitrose cool bags (or else nestled in large designer hampers). They were tucking heartily into mini pork pies and posh-ly processed potato salads. They had all the gear – not only wine glasses but wine glass holders – but there was no… X-factor.
There was one pitiful girl sat spearing vegetables from a slab of couscous in her single Tupperware: everyone in her group was also guarding the one dish they’d brought along with them. I averted my eyes, embarrassed for them.
As for the couple in front of us, they were tucking into just one course: a bottle of red wine. Enough said.
Posted in gluttony
Tagged aubergines, broad bean, Carluccio's, couscous, feta, gourmet, hummus, M&S, meatloaf, mint, mozzarella, muffins, Ottolenghi, pepper, Percy pigs, pork belly, pork pies, potato salad, potted rabbit, restaurants, sensitive gluttons, Serrano ham, strawberries, sun-dried tomatoes, vegetables, Waitrose, wine