I’m thinking about food.
Dinner. Buttery crab-stuffed ravioli swimming in a creamy tomato sauce. Breakfast. The salty, smoky taste of bacon, smothered in orange yolk. Copious hot, bitter cups of coffee. Lunch. Piles of brightly-coloured vegetables drowning in olive oil. The sharp tang of balsamic vinegar. God, I love balsamic vinegar.
My gluttony is relentless. If writing is my first love, food comes a very close second. Writing about food? Well, that’s the dream.
Recently, I’ve been working on a piece about spaghetti on film (yes, someone actually commissioned that idea), meaning I’ve spent a lot of time watching sun-kissed stars scoffing carbs in gorgeous technicolour. It’s been great for my writing. Not so much for my waistline.
I’ve always loved to cook. My grandpa and uncle are chefs and my grandma taught home economics (and, by all accounts, bakes an absolute belter of an occasion cake). My mum is a great cook and always encouraged (uhum*forced*uhum) my siblings and I to help her make dinner. Now, I cook to relax, to show love, to alleviate boredom and to indulge my own greediness. My living room is full of cookbooks, their pages splashed with sauce and sticky with the remnants of past culinary experiments.
I like to claim that I have a few signature recipes – a ham hock pie with mustard mash, butternut squash stuffed with feta, a really great chilli. Failsafe crowd-pleasers that I whip up again and again, the recipes so ingrained in my brain that I can make them while holding down multiple conversations and mixing myself a G&T.
I didn’t make these recipes up off the top of my head, of course. I’m not yet that inventive a chef. But, along the way, I’ve adopted them to fit my personal taste – adding or removing an ingredient, grilling instead of frying. My chilli is a delicious amalgamation of various recipes that I’ve tested over the years, cherry-picking my favourite parts from each to create something that perfectly suits my tastebuds.
When does a recipe stop being a list of instructions and become part of your identity? Is it after the first time you’ve worked through it, painstakingly measuring every ingredient and timing each step to perfection, until you giddily present the slightly-lopsided result to a tableful of expectant faces? Or do you have to earn the right to call a recipe your own by cooking it again and again on numerous occasions, over numerous years, in numerous kitchens?
The way I see it, a great recipe is like a hand-me-down; yours to receive, try on for size, alter to fit and, eventually, pass on to someone else. Every hand it passes through adds a layer to its value. Seen from that perspective, the best part of cooking is the collaboration.
Oh who am I kidding. It’s the food.