Today I did one of those things that is quintessentially British and as soon as I’d done it I asked myself why I’d done it!
At lunchtime I popped to our local supermarket for a few bits and bobs – we had a desperate need for milk
why, oh why did I ever stop the milkman delivery?! and bin-bags. At the end of one of the aisles there was a stand where they were offering a taster to try to get you to buy something; there’s absolutely no pressure to buy and they just hand a small sample out to anyone who walks past. Today the sample was a small piece of hot cross bun topped with some chocolate sauce and a slice of tinned pear. I think the idea here was that you used up all the hot cross buns that you hadn’t eaten over Easter and made a quick and easy dessert for tea.
So, it was free, I was offered it, it looked good and I didn’t say no (British thing number one!). Bleugh! The hot cross bun had been toasted to try and disguise its slight staleness, the chocolate sauce was obviously from a bottle as it had a horrible chemical aftertaste and the tinned pear was hard as rock. This is where my British manners really kicked in – the lady on the stand said “So, what do you think?” and I of course replied “Lovely!” As I walked down the aisle, desperately trying to look interested in the boxes of cereals that I didn’t need, I asked myself why I hadn’t told the truth? As a culture we’re so conditioned into reacting in a certain way and this is definitely the British way!
I wouldn’t be satisfied with this as a dessert; but I wonder how many people then bought a bottle of chocolate sauce and a tin of pears as a result. This, I think, is another symptom of being British – we want a quick fix for delicious food. Sometimes I’ll do exactly that but I always end up disappointed. As a nation we seem to have become convinced of the fact that we’re all too busy to cook from scratch and we need to buy ‘cheats’ to make sure we can get a meal on the table every evening. I know that sometimes I resort to pasta splodge (recipe – pasta and a sauce made from a tin of tomatoes, whatever vegetables I have in the house and some herbs from the garden!) if I’m late home from work but, as a rule, I often relish the chance to create something in the kitchen – it’s a good form of relaxation for me.
Now I know that if I said that to some of my friends and work colleagues they’d give me a funny look! I appreciate that a lot of people see cooking as a chore, especially if they’ve got a family to chase around after or fussy children to feed, but I think that by using convenience foods they will always be disappointed with the outcome. I also feel that there’s an issue of too many cooking shows on TV that show perfectly presented and complicated dishes, leaving your average family cook feeling that they can never produce ‘cooking’ like that – but it doesn’t need to look like that; it just needs to be delicious and nutritious. After a quick look on the internet I found a chocolate sauce recipe that would take less than 10 minutes and a poached pear recipe that could be cooked while you’re preparing and eating your main dish.
I also think we’ve lost the ability to write a shopping list – most people I know seem to do their food shop on their way home from work and don’t have a real idea of what’s in their fridge or cupboards – I’m as guilty of this as the next person. This means that we buy items that are on offer, rather than things that we actually need. The supermarkets don’t help by putting two-for-one type offers on food so that you buy more than you actually need, because you feel you’re getting better value for money; but if you end up throwing it out, that doesn’t represent good value. I tend to buy some meat and fish and create a weekly menu in my head as I go around the supermarket, thinking about what basics I always have in the cupboard and fridge. I then write this list on a post-it note on the fridge and decide what I’m in the mood for each day. I really like this wipe off weekly menu board from Little Birdie Secrets but I don’t know if I could ever stick to it! I’m very much a mood-food type of cook and while it’s just the two of us, I can get away with that!