Thoughts on Food
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Thoughts on Food

Entry 1: Tuesday 5th April 2022

Barely thirty seconds after leaving Katrina’s, I knew the day would start with some light hedonism. Nearly a fortnight lays ahead without her — and while I could work, I am in the shade of a longing to come. I will settle now for indulgence. So, with indulgence in mind, I headed to Queens Road for a double espresso paired with a gratuitous purchasing spree. Most mornings begin with black coffee, and while the allure of a quickly-barista’d high-street one is strong, expense and sheer lazy convenience often imposes its own will for the instant watery counterpart. But I couldn’t be lazy — half-an-hour of walking through a windless March drear demanded some degree of effort on my part — and so I felt no time better than now to head to Costa and finally cave into that morning whim. It was bitter and unremarkable; suspended like a puddle at the bottom of an oversized paper cup, going from hot to cold in a matter of moments. I visited the bookshop and the media store — my pretentious materialist polestars — where I purchased the following:

The Photographer’s Cookbook is one that I had noticed before, but upon that first encounter I either did not feel indulgent enough to justify the purchase or was creating the half-justification that I should just wait for my next student grant payment. Since more firmly acknowledging to myself that food (the experience of eating and preparing it, and all the further curiosities that have not been named here) was one of my deepest sensory interests, I’ve been wanting to amass a greater collection of culinary texts. Go to my mum’s house and you’ll see several shelves of nothing but cooking books, mostly celebrity chefs and vegan cooking guides (I do wonder whether she actually enjoys possessing them or whether she’s simply found herself accumulating them as presents and hand-me-downs and has now just accepted their eternal reoccurrence in her life). I cannot help but think a part of me wants to replicate this sense of Home, my enjoyment of food after all is inextricably connected to my childhood — but it’s a replication moulded after my own intrigues; my own curation. No book better communicates that then my copy of The Usborne Beginner’s Cookbook: an ordinary recipe book by objective standards, but one whose images and recipes — oil-stained pages, crusted remnants, and bold textual simplicity — are a potent nostalgic trigger. The night before, my mum had visited and brought the book along with her (at my request). We watched TV and leafed wistfully through the recipes: recalling simple jammy buns and biscuits, fudgy flapjacks and refrigerator cakes, with the mushroom croustades and baked eggs which we always said we’d make but never did. That evening I made conchiglie pasta with green beans, garlic and capers — for dessert, bread-and-butter pudding with apricot jam and almond custard. I’d end up taking the cookbook with me to Katrina’s later that night — in part because I’d mentioned it only a few hours before but also as a way of warding off the sadness of goodbye (no matter how short the absence) with a playful sharing of nostalgia. For her, this child’s cookbook was something of a culinary zeitgeist — brownies with roasted walnuts and banana cake sprinkled with chopped peanuts recalling an era before, or at least in contest with, the nut allergy panic that beset a generation of parents across the country. I dog-eared the banana cake page and drifted off to thoughts of food and future longing.

It was now 10:20am — the stores were only just open but my shopping day was virtually over. I put my headphones back on (Vashti Bunyan’s Lookaftering, replaying ‘Feet of Clay’) and began to head back to my flat. I walked past The Allotment, a greengrocers which I knew sold homemade soup but which I had never tried — today’s listing: parsnip and apple. It stopped me in my tracks for a moment, and even as I walked on — firm in my belief that my impulses would finally be quenched with an excessive amount of cereal (apricot wheats with oat milk) — all I could think about was the soup. I recalled roast pork rolls with apple sauce at village fetes; strong cheddars or Christmas leftover sandwiches with apple chutney; the apple tree in the garden of my old house and the jars of slow-cooked apple butter I’d make with its offerings — lathered on fresh toast or porridge. Yesterday I’d made a rushed apple crumble for Katrina — I had kept the skins on to save time but the result was too oddly-textured for me to fully enjoy. Still, the apple’s finer qualities spurred me on to devouring my whole portion. Its sweetness is certainly evident, but the apple — alongside its pomaceous siblings — has a tartness and understated earthiness which makes its presence alongside the earthier choices, like roast pork and sharp cheddars, so complimentary. By the time I’d hit the traffic lights at the end of the road, waiting for the red man to change to green, the thought of glistening honey-roasted parsnips had also flooded my mind — and so I immediately turned back towards The Allotment. I went in and ordered myself the soup, served in a brown recyclable cardboard pot from a station nestled amongst boxes of other root vegetables — amongst them a pile of celeriac, freshly-delivered according to the grocer, from which I took one for roasting at home. Content before I’d even tasted it, I headed out and began to gently sip.

Though food is certainly not the sensory pivot upon which all our gratifications orbit, food’s ability to reflect our spiritual state is truly incomparable. The soft indulgence I required could not be quelled with bitter coffee, nor could retail therapy adequately round-off that self-indulgence. The parsnip and apple soup straddled that soft indulgent line — soup’s homely connotation colliding with an intrigue: a flavour combination that made sense yet written into a context new to me. The two flavours balanced wonderfully— the specific earthiness of each complimented each other so elegantly as to almost be unified, as did the heartiness from the parsnip’s robust starches and the pleasant crunchy mealiness of apple chunks gliding throughout. The bright acidity from the apple and the almost fresh carrot-like tone from the parsnip suggested that these constituent parts were perhaps roasted just enough to release their essential notes, but not long enough to introduce the caramelised and potentially bitter tinges that such thorough roasting can impart. The result is a freshness that maintained the guttural savoury comfort that all good soups should provide. It also clarified to me the importance of a good stock and base: one with clarity and substance but whose flavours and notes do not overwhelm. My greatest sin with all homemade soups is to pack the base with strong flavours — piles of garlic and plenty of onion, olive oil in generous glugs, and an overzealous dusting of flavour-appropriate spices and seasonings — rather than to let the actual defining flavours speak for themselves. My go-to leek and potato soup recipe is Jacques Pepin’s, but even that is technically a garlic soup — the leek and the potato are rendered simply watercarriers for the revered dominance of that pungent allium. Only a few weeks ago, I’d prepared a spinach and parsley soup based on J Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe — and while it’s certainly a recipe I will continue to return to, the hearty mushroom stock and the overabundance of garlic in my interpretation certainly had more to say than those leafy greens. Such a mistake was not made here though. Whatever stock was used, or whether there was even any stock at all, let that parsnip and apple hold the conversation. It was the perfect context; a sparsely-unctuous stage set for the main duet.

As I sat on the park bench, swirling the remaining sunken chunks at the bottom of my soup pot, I revisited the idea of writing about my relationship to food. Much like the tone of the day and frankly most of my writing — and perhaps admittedly my ongoing PhD studies — it would all be an exercise in soft indulgence. Countless times I have gone to eat — from visiting a restaurant with friends or preparing a full meal to train-station sandwiches and a lazy-day bedridden McDonalds — and found myself with the urge to recount the splintered and tangential thoughts which inform that moment. Like most times I attempt this kind of project or journal, whether I manage to maintain a consistent (or at the very least attendant) account remains to be seen. Perhaps the urge will wane, and I can return to enjoying food without feeling the need to elucidate the formless buzz of thoughts that the sensory world ignites. Or maybe I’ll keep on writing — though films and music and literature ebb to the tide of fleeting abstract hungers, food is a near constant. Even with my lowliest appetites, in the moments where I look at a stove or steaming countertop as more struggle than stimulation, I will — probably — always need to eat.





A journal of sorts dedicated to recounting and recalling my relationship to food.

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Dan E. Smith

Dan E. Smith

Doctoral studies: History of Art and Film (M4C) @ UoLeicester. BA/MA Film. Letterboxd: