Not the Sunday Times column – s01e01

About a month ago – I was approached with the possibility of writing a food column for a Large Sunday Newspaper (believe me, the best kind of phone call one can possibly get – apart maybe from the one where a kind lady says that the test results came back, and they’re negative).  

The particularly good thing was that it was meant to be a printed version of the kind of stuff I do here – with the same tone and subject matter – which was great and all very exciting.  Alas for one reason and another, it ended up not working out,  but not before I’d written the first four columns.  So, I’m going to put them up here in the order and with the timing that they would have appeared in the newspaper.  

Spring Cleaning or Where Exotic Ingredients Go To Die

Right now, my kitchen cupboards look like they were packed by blind, OCD meth-addicted nut-collectors (yes, this is a thing).  But you know what?  That’s okay, because at least I can find the Marmite when I need it.

Most of the time.

My kitchen is tiny – around the same size as the single bed you wish you didn’t have when you start having girls over, and there’s not really a lot of space to go around. And so, I haven’t got neat storage spaces with special places for the Tabasco sauce, but rather a sliding door that holds back the Condiment Apocalypse Of Death And Things That Smell Funny But You’re Too Nervous To Find Out What They Are.

I’m sort of at peace with this, because I think that’s really the purpose of a kitchen cupboard – a place to keep the two or three things you actually use (recognizable because they’re usually at the front), and then also a whole heap of other crap that you bought when you were either a) trying to impress the girl who’s later going to be disappointed by your single bed, or b) inspired by some smarmy cooking show to make some ridiculous exotic recipe called Fakmung, the primary ingredient of which is rat poo. But only the expensive kind that you get in supermarkets.

You think this is exaggeration?  Pah.

A quick rifle through my cupboards and without even having to try – I’ve already found:

  • Some Japanese whole-wheat spaghetti that honestly looks like someone cut strips of carpet and then put them in a packet with a logo of a dandelion holding a dagger on it.
  • A tub of novelty ‘Christmas Spiced Nuts’ that taste awful (is it sweet, is it savory? It’s so confusing).  Because, “Hey, do you want to come up for my spiced nuts?” is a killer line even when it’s not Christmas.
  • A bottle of Vietnamese snake wine – complete with an actual hooded cobra artfully coiled up in the bottle, preserved forever with an expression that makes him look like he just thought up a concept for Survivor: Uitenhage.
  • My watch, which I’ve been looking for for about 6 weeks now.

The snake wine was a present from my mom.  She’s a fairly weird (but lovely) lady who has literally dressed only in purple since about 1999 and frequently interrupts conversations about the petrol price to say things about ‘spiritual envelopes’.  I still have it because what else do you do when your mom gives you a bottled snake?  Well, shove it in the back of the cupboard and forget about it of course. The problem is that this gets to be a habit (and this is the point) even for the stuff that’s not weird or life threatening.

So although I might be okay with the fact that my storage spaces look like an alien nest, this is the time of year where people get twitchy and start to clean things for no apparent reason other than it’s slightly hotter than it was last week.  Which means that for me, and I suspect a lot of other people, the whole process of ‘Spring Cleaning’ can sometimes be a chastening exercise, because at the end of it you’ve got a heap of stuff that represents every single culinary brainfart you’ve had in the last 12 months, and would rather not be reminded about.  It’s the same for clothes, and when men get slightly older, Personal Assistants.  I can’t tell you how many things I’ve bought during flights of fancy when I think that I’m suddenly Rick Stein and that I actually know what to do with dried lime leaves.  The thing is, Spring Cleaning isn’t really about order or neat rows of vanilla essence – it’s actually about sloughing off the silliness of a previous year and clearing the decks for another round, which is entirely fine and part of being someone who has a stove that they make things on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to make Fakmung, with a side order of snake-wine whole-wheat spaghetti flambé and spicy Christmas nuts.


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