My new lockdown survival tip? Eat, Eat, and Eat Extra Eat
L.ockdown 3.0. Before this exciting new iteration was announced, I planned to write about Francis Bacon’s cooking: I read a new biography of the artist, and on every other page you will find a description of the miraculous meals he would apparently make for friends from the Nothing (oysters, fish, cheese, grapes). But it all has to wait. We have to be practical. I’ve looked around the place we’re in and I’m pretty sure it is: the Slough of Despond. I think we all agree that it’s a grim point: not quite the swamp of Bunyan’s imagination, but still a bit dark and damp – and strangely also depopulated, considering how many of us are now loitering here and quietly disastrous are. On the positive side, however, is a small kitchen. Will this help us hold out? Maybe. We can only try.
It’s perfectly okay to have a slice of toast for dinner – we all have our picky nights with bread and cheese
I think about the first time. What worked then? Lots of people baked. I didn’t really do it, mostly because my neighbor Julia is a fantastic baker and regularly delivers heavenly, just warm offerings to our doorstep. But I started making things in bulk – mostly curries and stews – and after buying some foil boxes to take away, I would sometimes deliver them to a friend who shielded himself, a service on wheels that I maybe enjoyed more than him. I hesitate to offer a recipe here, but I’ll say 500g shin beef isn’t expensive and you can stretch it out lovely if you’re careful. Fry it and slowly soften your Sofrito. Then put them both in a heavy saucepan with a few bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary, and some well-tinned tomatoes. Cover with a mixture of broth and red wine. Cook in the oven over low heat for at least five hours. Remove and chop the meat. Mix the tomato sauce until smooth and combine it with the beef again. Serve with fettuccine and plenty of parmesan.
What else? We didn’t have takeaways last time and I was nervous about ordering dinner in restaurants because I feared either a lot of palaver or cold food. 3.0 is a much stricter issue, however, and over the past week I’ve started researching it. I’ve already tried a certain pasta delivery company (the lasagna was junk and a rip off, but the crab ravioli was delicious) and I’m about to try Arrosto, a new delivery idea from Quality Chop House and the chef Nick Bramham who is vaguely inspired – get me! – From the Roticcerie of Naples (although I’ve obsessed the menu, I find that you can also order a “tribute” to a very famous Californian restaurant in the form of a fried chicken and bread salad “Zuni Cafe”).
But you will have your own mainstays, treats, and culinary distractions. What I really want to say – because that’s what I really feel – is that food is more important than ever in these times. Here is warmth, kindness, and punctuation. Though I think it’s perfectly okay to have a slice of toast for dinner sometimes – we all have our picky bread-and-cheese nights when we can barely move from chair to fridge – it’s well worth it Eating one a little better when you can: for yourself and for anyone who shares your captivity (even if you occasionally feel like you want to stick a fork in the eye).
If science is going to get us out of the pandemic, it will get us through too. The latest neuroscience tells us that rituals and small celebrations really calm us down and ease the bells in our minds that keep ringing: the end is near. Light a candle, fold a napkin and pour wine into a glass. Before the food is on the table, you’ll feel better: a sociable, hopeful, outward-facing person instead of a grunting, lycra-wearing caveman who hasn’t been further than the park in six months. Oh and one more thing. There’s no shame in fish fingers, supermarket Kiev chicken, and frozen Yorkshire pudding. There is no shame in anything if you ask me. In the right light, on the right plate, at the right moment, things like this are more delicious than ever: literally lifesavers.