Food, Glorious Food
Within moments of waking up I was thinking about what to cook today.
Let me make it clear. I love food and I love cooking. I love to look at vegetables, fish, meat, pulses, herbs, spices and all the paraphernalia of cooking. I love pans and spoons, mashers and peelers, long well balanced knives, steamers and blenders, measuring jugs and scales, scrapers and shuckers, forks and ladles. These are the things that consume me.
I eat my breakfast, perform my ablutions and leave. I’ve only been here for a few days but I love the food shops. There’s two leafy greengrocers, a swarm of fish shops, a hearty butchers, a delicate deli and an upmarket and a downmarket supermarket.
I’ve consulted the recipe books and today I’m going to stretch myself. I’m going to make something so complex and so precise that one slip and it’ll be ruined. I am determined to make it correctly. One batch may be less than perfect so I’ll buy enough for three. If I have to start over again from time to time I’ll accept it. I want to learn, want to be better, want to excite my senses.
In the greengrocer’s I stroke the slightly hairy exterior of the glossy courgette, smell the fennel bulb and inhale its aniseed aroma, delight in the shiny smoothness of the aubergine and squeeze the coriander to pick out its bitter tang.
Next, to the butcher’s shop and we discuss the cuts and placings from the haunches of the cow. He’s pleased to find someone who knows what comes from where and why it tastes the way it does. We move on to the pig. I tell him about cooking the ears and the nose and promise that next time I’ll bring him some to try. He chucks in some giblets for stock as I tell him that I prefer to spatchcock the bird myself.
I move on to the fish shop and on the way I have to stop, the sharp knife in my side shows its serrated edge and draws backwards. I pick my morphine flask from the shopping bag and take a sip.
My starter will need a cornucopia of little fish, some squid and a variety of sea vegetables like sampphire, carragheen and sugar kelp. The silvery skins of the tiny fish, the bounce of the squid skin and the salty tang of the veg make my heart skip a beat.
This is food. This is real food.
Back home I open a bottle of my finest Pinot Grigio. This is not your supermarket brand. I drove to the Veneto and tasted bottle after bottle as I moved from vineyard to vineyard. This one gives me apples and dry flint, a spring day and a clean aftertaste. It is perfect. Cook’s privilege – I pour a glass and the chill leaves a fine dampness on the outside of the crystal. I sip and then I begin.
I read, think, adapt the recipes of three different cooks. This will impress. This will be as good as it gets.
I line up my implements. Some are to be warmed, some are chilled and the rest are laid out in order of use. I sharpen my knives and test the edges. I take out my ingredients one by one. I shave and mash, peel and chop, dissect and dismember, gut and fillet. Each is laid out in bowls and plates. Some are stored in water so that they don’t discolour, some are refrigerated, some are left on the granite work surface. I choose my wine, open the reds to allow them to breathe and chill the whites.
I light my stove, warm my oven and begin.
There is flour, there is rolling out, there is organisation. Butter melts into olive oil so that it doesn’t burn and discolour, onions are softened, garlic is finely chopped and crushed and added, clouds of pungent aroma begin to float around my nose.
I put on some music. Mozart for preparation, Wagner for the grand finale.
I steam and fry, bake and roast. I boil, I mash, I add.
I take out with a slotted spoon. I stir with my wooden implement shaped like an off kilter diamond with a hole in its middle – an investment of less than a euro from a cookshop in Innsbruck. Money doesn’t always buy quality. I use my pans and pots, my roasters and baking trays. I put in and take out. I watch, wait and plan every move. I prepare for disaster and work out just what goes wrong. I do it again and it works. I test at every step and savour the feel as well as the taste. I imagine the combinations – how this will be with that, how that will be with this. I salivate and use the wine as an enhancement of my pleasure.
Now it is so close. ‘Service’ I call, next comes the ta-da moment of revelation, the table a-glitter with its polished cutlery, its starched napkins, its glowing crystal, the condiments aligned, the water jug iced and full.
I sit. I eat and each mouthful resonates through my body. I chew slowly and lovingly, lingering on every flavour.
Finally I am replete, satiated and satisfied. I will not do better. I am at peace. I take the pills and drift off. This way, the pain will end. This what I’ve planned.