Stop the Clock

June 2nd, 2007

Stop the Clock

In this fast-paced, high-technology world it’s sometimes nice to slow everything down and go back to basics. The convenience foods and flamboyant dishes on restaurant menus are part of the norm nowadays and sometimes it’s nice to strip all that away and return to a simpler, slower pace, even if it’s just once in a while.

At its most basic, cooking is a natural survival instinct: the hunting; the gathering; the lighting of the fire. That survival instinct has evolved – it’s had to – and it now often tells us to grab food on the go, eat for fuel – to keep us going rather than for pleasure. Yesterday I watched the talk Clotilde gave at Google and she mentioned this when talking about the differences between the French and American take on food. She said in France it is very unusual to see someone eating out on the street whilst walking; generally the French take the time to sit down and eat properly and really enjoy the process of cooking and eating.

Unfortunately the reality, certainly for many full time professionals working in busy cities, is that it just isn’t possible to find the time to do that in the whirlwind of the daily grind. It’s therefore all the more pleasurable, and precious, when we do get the opportunity and take the time to slow down and enjoy our food, whether alone or in company, at the kitchen table or on a blanket in a park. The enjoyment of simple, good quality, produce used in a no-frills, hearty and unassuming meal can sometimes be more satisfying than the most complex, the most acclaimed, the most expensive, procession of dishes – and certainly more satisfying than convenience food eaten so fast on the go you risk indigestion.

On the bank holiday weekend just gone Rob and I did exactly what I’ve described; we took the time out to slow down, get off the treadmill and go back to basics. We headed for Rob’s parent’s caravan for a weekend with my cousin, his wife and our adorable 8 month old God Daughter-to-be. It rained, the temperature dropped, it rained some more, but the weather didn’t bother us; we were just and happy to be together and step out of our busy daily cycles for a few days.

When you’re staying in a caravan you really do have to go back to basics if you’re going to cook for yourself. Of course, you could eat out, which is nice once in a while, but in a way it goes against the point of staying in a caravan. If you’re really going to embrace this type of holiday you need to experience the fun of cooking in a tiny space using basic equipment – and I promise you, it is fun. You really do need to forget fancy cooking; we’re talking two hobs, electric not gas, the risk of blowing a fuse if you plug more than one appliance in at once. Throw away the electric whisk and leave the cordon bleu cookbook at home.

The weather last weekend, along with the limited space and a need to cook for 4, called for a big pot of vegetable soup with thick crusty bread. My cousin’s wife was particularly taken with this idea as she’d never made soup before so was keen to learn. So, off we went to buy the ingredients.

Cooking with someone else can be an intimate thing; you’re putting your own style and taste into the pot along with that other persons, mixing it up and seeing what you can create together. It can also be extremely fun. It’s not something I often have the opportunity to experience but it’s one I’d like to repeat more often. Guiding my cousin’s wife through the process reminded me of the wonder in cooking and of the sense of achievement to be felt in transforming raw ingredients into a satisfying, hot meal for a group of family or friends. Together we carefully chose our ingredients, we chopped, we stirred, we tasted. It was easy and relaxed – the only thing I insisted on was that she had a glass of wine with me as we cooked – and it was immensely satisfying for us all. My cousin’s wife learned how easy it is to make soup, which she can now repeat in her own kitchen, I felt great for being able to pass on what I know and help someone else to become a more confident cook, and all four of us enjoyed the hot, tasty and nutritious soup.

As with all good things, the weekend had to come to an end, but when we got back on that treadmill we were relaxed, refreshed and happy.

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