Spoiling

Peaches 2When a child throws himself on the floor and wails because he cannot have what he wishes for, we wrinkle up our noses and mutter to ourselves disapprovingly, “spoilt brat”. This is no compliment; look up “to spoil” in the dictionary and you’ll find “to diminish or impair the quality or character by excessive indulgence.” But why the lesson in language?

Cast your eye over your Facebook feed until you find that frequently used post-birthday refrain, “Thanks everyone, I had a lovely day and feel well and truly spoilt”. In being spoilt, it seems, we feel loved and cherished. The act of spoiling is something to be celebrated – and it’s this new, positive use of the word, which I believe is so revealing about our relationship with food.

We don’t “treat”anymore, we spoil. A treat, more modest in size, would not be enough, because what really makes us happy are treats in such excess that we feel spoilt. Any supermarket at Christmas time is laden with evidence. Christmas food stocks no longer consist of a big turkey and a box of chocolates. Dinner is lavish - with hams, sausages, sweet sauces, honey-roasted vegetables and potatoes three ways. And then there are the things which go alongside in the weeks before and after. The mountains of sweets dressed up in different wrappings: mince pies, iced Christmas cake, chocolate oranges, turkish delight, chocolate-covered nuts, enormous boxes of Quality Street, Dairy Milks the size of a table, the list goes on.

Austerity Britain it may be, but even the smallest occasion is a legitimate reason for feasting. Just think of the size of cakes in cafes: vast creations, three storeys high and slathered in sugary icing – rival only to Bruce Bogtrotter’s monstrous chocolate cake. A Delia Smith Victoria Sponge looks like a scone by comparison. But then, you’re meeting an old friend you’ve not seen for a while for lunch, so you should both treat yourselves. Go on, why not. Children’s parties with their never-ending supplies of cream-covered cupcakes, Smarties, lollipops and sugary drinks are perhaps the worst. Indulgence gone too far; the treats are spoiling us, making us fat and lethargic and unhealthy.

Spoilsport (which you’re likely to call me) takes on a whole new meaning, because we don’t do sport anymore - spoiling spoiler is more accurate. Do you want to know the meaning of the word “treat”? “Anything that affords particular pleasure or enjoyment.” No excess required. But back to our wailing child. A spoilt child will not have any easy march through life, constantly disappointed that his expectations are not met. The kindest (and the hardest) treatment is to resist the child’s demands and distract him with something else until he cheers up.

And our spoilt bodies? Is it not better to resist their rumbling gastric cries for more shop-bought cake and to teach them one square of exceptionally good dark chocolate at a time that the odd modest treat is so much more rewarding (and delicious) than a face and belly full of junk.

A truly sumptuous summer treat - I challenge you to find something more delicious.

Ingredients: 

  • Greek yoghurt
  • 1 ripe peach
  • A few raspberries
  • A drizzle of honey (if you must)
  • 3 – 4 pecan nuts

Method:  

Put three tablespoons of greek yoghurt into a small bowl. Rinse your peach, slice round the middle with a knife, twist to break open, pull apart and discard the stone. Slice each horizontally in two and then cut into smaller pieces. Carefully drop these onto the yoghurt, along with a few washed raspberries. Crumble a few pecan nuts (though any nut will do) in your fingers and scatter on top.

I prefer the concoction without honey. Those with a sweeter tooth might prefer it with a little drizzle – but really, if your peach is ripe, it’s utterly unnecessary. And if you’d rather not eat dairy, then dairy-free coconut yoghurt works just as well.

 

 

An ode to strawberries

Strawberry plant 1

We have been feasting on strawberries. Each day, I walk to the strawberry seller at the end of our road and buy a kilo for 5 euros. A third of these I take with me for the children to eat on the way home from nursery. The rest we devour at the end of our evening meal – a great bowlful in the middle of the table, green stalks cast off on our dirty plates.

One of the most evocative fruits (though pedants among you will say they are not really fruits at all – bearing their seeds on the outside and being only accessories to these), summer without strawberries is hard to imagine. Quartered and sugared with a dollop of cream, or rinsed and left with the stalks on, the sight of these plump red jewels conjures up an array of images: a hot day in the fields with friends; the cool shade of the living room with the thwack of the tennis ball on the telly; scones with Granny as the summer rain drips down outside the art gallery window; pudding in the late fading light in the back garden; one more glass of warm Pimm’s by the river before the university holidays start. Continue reading

In the children’s play centre

Orange junk food

Being away may make me neglect writing this blog, but not thinking about it. Its original intent guides me through most days and leaves me scribbling notes on napkins. One such stained and biro-covered beauty, which I shall recount here, happened to be from a children’s play centre we visited out of desperation on the very wettest day of our recent trip. Big bumpy slides, snot-smeared ball pools, luminous cushion-covered climbing frames – you know the scene.

On arrival, despite their mother’s preference for back gardens, my two four-year-olds went racing off with excited screeches to clamber over squashy purple triangles and throw themselves head first down the least terrifying slide they could find. I chose a seat and took out my book, only to be too distracted to read. Continue reading

Talk about food – or salmon for dinner

Wild Salmon 2The purpose of food has become hazy. As I see it, this ‘purpose’ (too grand a word perhaps) is twofold: providing our bodies with the best possible fuel available; and, with its taste, smell, and appearance, providing us with a great sensual pleasure. For this haziness, our busy lives are partly at fault, as they leave us no time to prepare or even think about food. But the language of food marketing, full of false promises and hyperbole, should take some of the blame – and is, indeed, my main concern here. Continue reading

Supermarkets again

photo

We went away to the North German coast for a few days. It wasn’t a remote spot, though you might have thought it from the deserted beaches and windswept sand dunes. The surrounding infrastructure – discount supermarkets, cafes, restaurants – suggested summer saw busier days.

As is standard on holidays with small children, when we first arrived we went to the village’s only supermarket (a Netto) to stock up. Our list was modest: apples, bananas, cheese, butter, milk, bread, yoghurt, and jam. Mostly, we thought, we’d eat out.

Despite the simplicity of our culinary ambitions, Netto proved disappointing. Call me a snob, but I don’t believe not sure I have ever been in a supermarket with fewer things I might consider buying. Wherever we turned, we found junk. There are no other words for it. Continue reading

Tales from the soda stream

Apple on desk

In the office space I share with a collection of other freelancing nomads, we are equipped, beyond the desk and chair, with a soda stream and a coffee machine. There is a small kitchen too, but here I am mostly concerned with the gadgets.

From my modest desk in the middle of the room, I have observed an interesting and perhaps more than anecdotal trend. To excuse my apparent lack of attention to my work, I should add that both machines whizz and fizz so loudly that they are near impossible to ignore. Crouch behind my laptop and stare furiously at the screen as I may, I cannot help but notice the comings and goings. Continue reading

Fresh from the greengrocers – an ode to purple sprouting broccoli

Purple sprouting broccoli

Would we eat better if cookery programmes were axed from the telly? Almost certainly. Inspiration for the few, oppression for the many: it’s my theory that they set absurdly unrealistic expectations of the meals we should serve up on the table each evening. Creamed this, glazed that, breaded, roasted, toasted, marinated; nothing short of a restaurant-style meal will do.

Most recipe books (written often by same said TV chefs) are just as bad. And, slave to their instructions, we scour the supermarket shelves for expensive and exotic goods. Quick fix 30-minute, nay 15-minute recipes books may pose as more straightforward, but in requiring their own host of unseasonable fare or flavour cheats – curry paste or, worse, ketchup – are merely a milder symptom of the same problem. Continue reading