Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"It does put a little cushion between you and the abyss.”

“Do you ever eat Aligot?” I ask my French housemate after reading about this marvellous, hug of a dish which - because it is French, is clearly so much more than bog-standard cheesy mash.

I’m lying on the sofa with the book I just started resting on my stomach. Probably won’t be that committed to it tonight, I concede. Other important matters to put to bed. The ‘Year in Cheeses’ book is found easily on the shelf and consulted. Made with Tomme de Laguiole, served with a Morteau sausage.

“Morteau…does that mean, like, Sausage of Death?” I ask, imagining something Black Pudding-ish. “No,” she shakes her head, “ it’s a region.” We leaf through the book together in silence. There are infinite new foods to eat, and sausages to know the names of. When am I going to learn French? I think to myself. All that, and then the normal things too, like the unread books piled on my bedside table, the e-newsletters to open, films to catch while they’re still at the cinema. Vague panic about the small things starts the rise.

“Aligot doesn’t fix anything,” one Aligot advocate writes in the New York Times, “but it does put a little cushion between you and the abyss.”

We’re three weeks into November and I am consumed by food. Consumed with thinking about it, tasting it, reading about it. After three months of living in this house, I’m getting to know my housemates better. We talk about men, they tell me about the films they’ve watched as they come through the door and unravel scarves, we notice the fit of each others jeans, we talk about food. I, perhaps, slightly more lustily than they. One’s a cheesemonger, another a sommelier - a fact I make a point of sharing when people ask about my living situation, to show how truly I have lucked out, like those smug New Yorkers talking about their rent-controlled apartments in 90s television shows.

My broodiness for food is revived after a spell of dormancy. While the interest in food itself didn't fade, the ability to nurture myself with rustled-up meals did. It was dulled by a general weariness, apathy blotting the effort of making a proper meal in favour of something quick and 'enough'.

Looking for that "little cushion"

The instincts for warming ritual, which coincide with early winter have awakened a somewhat primal urge to fill up and build a nest. Looking for that "little cushion" has become a gastronomic endeavour, in much the way that buying three lambswool jumpers is the equivalent sartorial effort. Hot baths, whiskey in drinks, wrapping up wherever possible. Reading hungrily about Aligot, slicing cheese onto toast, my body leans into a natural desire to hibernate.

And so with this stomach-rumbling reawakening, this November could be recorded as a food diary alone. A quick scan of my bank statement would tell the story. On Sunday 6th, I ate herring roe for the first time. Meaty, and curled in on itself in tumbling piles over toast. We ate it before the ceilidh at the Herring Fair in Hastings. And seconds after the dancing, because it was too good not too. In a demonstration for pickling Herring the woman says that Herring can live up to 22 years old, though you wouldn’t want to eat them when they're that big, as they tend to have picked up more pollutants over time. I ask her how long other fish usually live for, and she doesn’t know, but we agree that 22 years seems surprisingly long.

On Wednesday 9th, I ate a Braeburn whilst listening to Trump's victory speech through headphones, and disbelief allowed my need for sustenance to override the usual appley sweetness as I walked to the Doctors in the rain. The ends of my new trousers sucking moisture from the pavement. My GP didn’t know it had happened until I told him.

On Sunday 20th I went on a date and recalled meals eaten this week. I don’t think i’ve said the word “aioli” so many times in my life as over those two drinks, and I revelled in it. Aoili makes me think of that scene in Girlfriends where she buys herself fizzy wine and three giant prawns to celebrate a new job. Prawns are best when there's a jar of mayonnaise to hand. Aioli is made to go with food that absolutely requires you to lick your fingers after the last piece and before the next.

On Monday 21st, I once again fall into that end-of-the-day Thousand Yard Stare when faced with the boxes of vegetables outside outside the grocers. To pick one of the root vegetables I would never buy, take it home and drive a knife into it or… stick with what I know? Stick with what I know. I carry lychees and plums home in a plastic bag for pudding.

On Wednesday 22nd, which is the day today, I am writing this and drinking one of the bottles of pink Moscato I bought from Australia last year. I bought it back with me, anxiously wrapped alongside a box full of pottery, only to see it casually for sale in a shop in Manchester. It tastes good, because I don't have to share it with anybody else and wonder whether the transit was worth it. If somebody else was to share it with me, they might say "God, that's sweet", and it is. It tastes like those fizzy apricot Haribos you can very occasionally find in a shop. They too, are worth the transit.

My designated fridge shelf is above the shelf where J keeps all of her cheese. The smell hits me each time I open the door. She eats cheese with most of her meals. White, matte bits of goats cheese, like paper clumsily bashed off a wall with a chair leg. Sometimes just chunks of (I don’t know the names) cut straight off the block and eaten at the counter. At the market over the weekend I buy two cheeses. One is a truffle pecorino, which I gather is rather trashy because who needs their pecorino infused with truffle oil? Still, it is utter crack and I plough through it in two days. The other is softer, good for melting over a tomato sauce. I take our breadboard, piled with slices of bread, the cheeses in their wax paper, and caramelised onion chutney from Co-op, into the dining room and spread out at the table. Rain thuds down on the plastic roof over the utility room. Storm Angus dutifully arrived. Really no reason at all to sweat the small stuff, the unopened newsletters, the episodes my colleagues have watched and I have not, when you can make a Sunday afternoon taste like this.

Reading and Listening