wooden spoon tipping tomato pasta onto a plate from a pan

Hungry heart

Each memory I make is usually plated up with some sort of delicious dish.

There’s the bread I baked the day after we ended things, for the second and final time. The Jamaican prawn dish I absentmindedly ordered moments after my date mentioned his allergy to shellfish (shockingly, we did not end up together.). The lentil soup my mum whipped up each bonfire night – tangy tomato and lentil sliding like lava down my throat. The nachos we shared on our third date in four days, when I explained I wasn’t in this for a fling, and he didn’t flinch. The sharpness of pineapple and cheese on sticks delicately arranged on doilies in Nannie’s chilly dining room. The Thai curry that made my nose bleed in Denmark. ‘Wait-And-See Stew’. Nutella, with a spoon. Chorizo.

Allegedly, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s an old-school, and somewhat sexist, saying. We’re led to believe that this is the way to win your beau over: to woo with jus; to get laid with souffle; to seduce with rich chocolate mousse.

It’s a dated phrase in most aspects, but while the feminist in me is fighting against her fourth eye-roll of the morning, I can’t help but feel there’s a little truth to it.

The way to a person’s heart is often through the stomach, insomuch as a moment can be solidified and cemented in the mind and soul when it’s served with a slice of something.

At least, it is for me.

So many of my happiest childhood memories are framed with a knife and fork at the kitchen table. Marking momentous occasions with dinner is important to me; a birthday isn’t a birthday without cake; dates should be done over something delicious; the best kind of ‘just because’ gift is home-baked, sliced and wrapped in greaseproof paper.

I try to remember this now, as I write this, deciding what to make for dinner on our 95th day in lockdown.

With all the uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and unpredictability of lockdown in the UK, food has become much more than a necessity. For me, and so many others, it has also been an undeniable and constant source of joy and comfort.

When the shelves were bare from panic buying, it was clear that our first instincts, naturally, were about survival. But as it quickly transpired that long-term shortages weren’t on the horizon after all, attention turned to food as a distraction from the disaster unfolding before us.

Banana bread and sourdough starters fast became isolation icons. Dalgona coffee was a short-term revelation. The humble takeaway has reverted to indulgence, and not the daily habit it once was for many. Local businesses have inventively led the way with take-out food and drinks. The ordinary weekly food shop is cause for celebration. Small bakeries have been delivering delicious pastries to our doors. Edible care packages from loved ones are a delight. Fresh eggs, yeast and flour have, at times, been like gold dust.

With many restaurants closed for an extended period, and working from home making picking up lunch en route to the office impossible, households have had to try their hand at more home-made meals.

I’m lucky that I enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, and am much better at it than I used to be. But as someone who ‘ate out’ at least twice a week, and who relied on her local Pret a little too much, the question “what shall we have for dinner tonight?” quickly began to evoke a sense of dread after the novelty of it all wore off a month in.

This, thankfully, has been remedied with ingredient subscription boxes, ‘ready steady cook’ challenges, and DIY kits. We’ve slowly made mealtimes an event once again.

Meals have become a milestone in days which endlessly seem to bleed into each other; cooking itself has returned to the therapeutic act it deserves to be, instead of a pitstop for fuel between one commitment and another.

Lockdown has become a season of seasonings. A series of months in which I’ve made even more memories with food, despite restrictions; when things I once took for granted – daily iced lattes, grab-to-go salads, spontaneous pizza at the local pub, and pre-theatre dinners – became the luxury they always should have been. These have been the weeks in which the best gifts were slices of chocolate cake or bags of self-raising left on our doorstep; in which mealtimes were moments to share new food with my partner, to nourish each other, and to spend an hour together (one that wasn’t set aside to watch the Daily Briefing, at least)

There’s the day we made his first loaf of banana bread. The chocolate cookies he whipped up with Mint Aero chunks inside. The pizza we had delivered after the Big Flat Move. The Korean rice we couldn’t get enough of. The arguments we had about how to pronounce ‘Soreen’. The lemon cocktails with too much vodka.

Bowlfuls of moreish paneer curry. Scoops of vanilla ice cream cooling microwaved chocolate fudge cake, volcanic sauce splattered obnoxiously up the side of the bowl. Extra-buttery scrambled egg on thin, white, cheap sliced toast. Stuffed-crust margarita slathered in creamy garlic dip. The religious roast dinner experience. The first sip of fresh coffee in months from a McDonald’s Drive-Thru. Perfecting the art of poaching eggs. Frying our first (and probably last) homemade spring rolls. Breakfast in bed. Popmaster and tea at 10:30, every day.

Among the awfulness of being caught up with the rest of the world in a global pandemic, silver linings can be found in leftovers wrapped up in tin foil, the glint of a fork against a dinner plate, the wobble of a whisk, or the rip of the tab of a fresh carton of milk being opened.

In the weeks of being restricted and cooped up inside, food has offered a taste of freedom, and sweet release from pandemic preoccupations.

My lasting memories of lockdown? The positive ones, at least, I can eat.

 

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