Comfort food: hand to mouth

There are a few basic rules: no shame, no guilt, and make sure you get enough down you before the salad season starts

There’s such romance in a well-buttered slice of toast. In an amateur Snickers (two malted milk biscuits, one spread with peanut butter, the other Nutella, sandwiched together with love). In Nutella, full stop. Nutella eaten from the jar with a teaspoon warmed in a cup of Yorkshire Tea. Crap food (and by that I mean food you can eat alone, with your hands, quickly) is one of the great loves of my life.
Eating this way is both very childish and very grown-up – by ignoring the supermarkets’ recipe cards, by eating only exactly what I like, I feel as though I’ve transcended tradition. I’ve damned the man! But just as real cooking is notoriously tricky, it can be hard to get crap food just right. First rule: there are no rules. Ketchup goes with everything, including pasta. Breakfast works best at dinnertime. Second rule: no shame, no guilt. No sitting at the table when a perfectly good bath has just been run. Third rule: things that started hot can be eaten cold, and vice versa (see hot Ribena). Fourth rule: eggs.
There is a limited window where we’re really allowed to revel in this kind of thing – these dark-afternooned days when it’s OK to go straight home after work rather than stand around in the street outside pubs and pretend to be interesting. We’re about to enter the long season of salads – eat well now, while you still can.
One beauty of eating this way (this single movement from toaster to sardine tin to sofa, balletic and beautiful, a bit like Dancing on Ice) is that you’re spared a conversation about “carbs”. There are times when discussion about bread makes me want to bake myself then eat my own thigh, peanut-buttered. Toast should not feel like a treat. Bread is not an “Oh I really shouldn’t, but go on then” situation. Bread works.
The idea of carbohydrates as enemies (I picture them now like miniature Goebbelses, hunched into crusts) is one I can’t be doing with. Also: “I’m not really a desserts person.” LIES. If you are a person, then you are a desserts person. Pudding is lovely – I know that; I’ve eaten it. There are few sounds sweeter than the plonk of cream on scone. If you don’t want one, then shhh with your “Well, maybe just one bite – I didn’t have lunch”, because some of us are eating.
The things people say to make themselves feel better about the food they eat prickle me like nettles. So yes, that’s one reason to make time for eating alone. Another is the primal joy of the thing. The feeling that, by dribbling golden syrup over your Special K and having it for supper, you’re stripping away literally years of civilisation while leaning against the sink. This is post-washing-up living. One-pot cooking? Please. This is one-massive-bite cooking. It’s “huddling round the fire keeping warm” eating, fuel for all the energy we’re expending on working and full sex, which is prehistorically retro, really. I wave goodbye to the tyranny of cutlery nightly – you don’t need forks where we’re going. I laugh at formality, at trying hard. Who wants to try hard when they’re wearing slipper socks?
The pressure that we feel to present an Ottolenghi front to the world gets heavier and heavier. The pressure to make the stuff we see on cookery programmes (rather than simply guffaw at it from our sofas) grows each time they explain how simple it really is to salt a cod. It’s not about it being simple – it’s about it being nerdy. Cooking is not hard; you just have to follow the rules! You just do what the book says, step by step, as if putting together a flatpack bookshelf. Making really delicious cheese on toast is just as valid a skill as making a spatchcock chicken – they both taste nice in our mouths. Food is our friend. We shouldn’t be scared of getting it wrong.


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