Those of you who read my blog regularly or who have followed me for a while will know that I have some issues around eating. Despite the fact that this has affected my body image considerably, it has never really interfered with my interest in cooking and baking. I enjoy trying out new recipes and love preparing food for others. Despite my own issues I still see mealtimes as really important social times and have always worked to keep them an important part of our home and of family life.
HL likes to cook too and we both enjoy preparing food for each other. We have a large family, all living at least semi-independently now, and all of them have inherited our confidence in the kitchen. And I think a lot of the time, it is about confidence. I have heard people say that they can’t cook but actually if you can read you are most of the way there, as it is just a case of following a recipe. However, that said, there are some tricks, tips and pieces of information that aren’t in the books and this is where I think there can be an issue.
A while ago I decided to shift to a plant based diet. I know that the advice is to do this gradually but I am sort of all or nothing so one day I just stopped eating meat and diary. Honestly it wasn’t a huge change as my diet previously was made up of lots of veg and pulses anyway. I ate cheese in things and occasionally as a snack, but have never been a huge lover of diary. I don’t like milk or cream and so would avoid food and drinks which contain those. I had been trying to limit carbs though, so that proved to be more of an issue.
We eat a pretty ‘clean’ diet whether it contains meat or not, and I think that this is part of the push for healthier options. I don’t know that I believe a vegan diet is better for you although I am happy to be persuaded. If you read and research there is so much conflicting evidence that I tend not to get too involved. I do believe strongly in the positives of a diet of meals prepared from scratch though. The less processed more whole foods you can have the better and I am pretty sold on that. I am also happy to do my bit to save the animals and the environment, although giving up my leather boots is a different story.
Anyhow, during my journey further into the depths of vegan cookery, I discovered that not everything was in the books. I realised that a lot of my culinary skill had come from experience and observation. My mum is a great cook and there is a lot I know that I just seem to know. I have learnt what goes with what, what can be made from what, and what you use when you haven’t got what you need. This sort of knowledge takes you beyond a recipe book and allows you to give things your own spin. It allows you to bring meals together. Basically it makes you a good cook.
Starting out with new ingredients that were previously unfamiliar meant re-learning some of this. Dishes that I had made for years were not just able to use substitutes – they often didn’t work. And I had to alter my expectations. Expecting a veggie version of something to taste the same as the meat version can lead to disappointment. I had to stop seeing my tofu as chicken and start enjoying it as tofu. How did I like it? What did I want it with? What could I do with it to make a meal I wanted to eat?
It has been fun finding new things to make and that was really part of my motivation with changing diet in the first place. I like spicy food and food with interesting flavours. Traditional British, or even Scottish fayre, leaves me pretty unexcited and is just not my sort of thing. I had grown bored of cooking what others wanted to eat as I didn’t want to eat it myself so it gave me the opportunity to choose more of the things I liked to have for me. I still cook meat for the rest of the family although slowly they are shifting to join me.
I have spent so much time exploring new recipes and trying out new ingredients and I have enjoyed spending that time. It has sparked my interest for cookery again and presented a new challenge that I have been able to embrace. I still bake as much as ever and that is also a huge part of what I do. There is something so comforting and homely about freshly baked cakes and bread, and food has become a positive focus for me again which feels good.
While I have always enjoyed cooking, my relationship with food on a personal level has been difficult in terms of the eating of it, and that has limited me in the past. I feel like I am really enjoying that side of it for the first time and I suppose it has become a hobby or a pleasure again, rather than being the more functional activity it was before. I am cooking things that I want to eat and I am learning and experimenting in a way which brings me some joy. And that has to be a good thing.