I'm not ashamed to admit that many of my childhood meals were prepared by Ronald McDonald or on a production line. We were a two-working parent family and the concept of cooking daily meals from scratch would have required a time machine or a house elf. We had neither and yet here I am today, alive and (mostly well) so it can't have done me too much damage.
But I have somewhat muddled through my own home cooking experiences for the past decade. With the absence of many ancestral teachings or cookery lessons at school, I've learnt mainly from the likes of Mary Berry, Jamie Oliver and Queen Nigella - alongside a more recent pinch of salt from Hemsley/Hemsley and Fearne Cotton (metaphorically, not literally of course).
Yet I must confess that I always go for the easy option. Something with too many ingredients or a recipe that requires my making of another recipe before the making of the main recipe - I'm looking at you bone broth - has me edging closer and closer to the Deliveroo app.
But just recently, my boyfriend's brother's girlfriend (more of a mouthful than I expected), Nic came to stay. She's not only a chef, but a chef who has grown up in a household of:
Cooking things from scratch.
And by this I mean when the recipe says to use garlic oil, Nic will add chopped garlic to oil, not just buy 'garlic oil' from the shop. If serving bread to mop up your garlicky prawns she'll make that from scratch too. Living with Nic for a week taught me an immense amount. Not just about how much money we can save if we just had a little bit more time to prepare our food ourselves, but also about how confusing this very simple method of cooking from scratch has become.
Food buzz words are thrown around like marketing grenades. Organic, quinoa, vegan, sugar-free. Is cake good or bad? Is organic overpriced or justified? Is bread making us fat or is it one of our greatest traditions? Can you only be healthy if you're living off sugar-free, turmeric-infused, tiger nut lattés? This flurry (no, not McFlurry) of information has the potential to confuse and exhaust.
Intimidating and exotic ingredients are not the only paths to wellness (step forward chia seeds), yet when time is scarce and nutritional ideals in the media are conflicting, it's all too easy to end up going one week like Deliciously Ella and the second like Deliciously Stella.
Yet having completed my first fermenting workshop just recently, I have learnt that whilst some are ludicrous and unnecessary, many 'health' foods are exactly that: healthy, and we should try not to turn our nose up at cacao and raspberry energy balls, rather think of them as perhaps a 'black belt' in cooking. We wouldn't run before we can walk, so as this is the beginning of my own food eduction, I'm starting at the beginning. Or you could say, from scratch.
All wisdom below borrowed from Nicola Matthews.
- Buy Organic eggs, over free range. The conditions for the hens are much better.
- Pay mega bucks for good meat. Paying for expensive meat is not like paying for an expensive handbag. You are not being ripped off, the welfare and taste of the animal will be reflected.
- Buy jersey (or similar) butter, not spreadable if you want maximum flavour.
•Shop at Farm Shops. These places are like small corners of joy and have become my new Zara. I wholeheartedly recommend Chatsworth House's farm shop, especially with its Christmas grotto in place
- Eat your 5 a day. This one has been a revelation for me, especially if I get myself into the usual Christmas-induced Celebrations/Roses lull. It's crazy how much of a lift a piece of fruit can give you. Throw an apple, tangerine and banana in your bag and when you're feeling peckish walking past Greggs, reach for your fruit. Or if you're not hungry pass it on to someone sleeping rough who might need it more than you.