Is it time to pension off the worn observation that recipe blogs always start off with a hackneyed story about why this particular dish plays such a prominent role in the writer’s life? It’s not that that isn’t true. But mentioning the fact has come to occupy the same space as complaints about airplane food or Arsenal trying to walk it in. All are unfunny, unoriginal banalities and we could do not having the bleeding obvious pointed out to us.
Explaining why bloggers preface their recipes with these inanities is easy enough. Google rewards websites that get their audience to dwell on them. If you stick around, a site must be delivering. Up they rise in the search engine ranking. Hustle culture, the ‘protestant work ethic’ tarted up for the 21st century, howls at us to leave no minute of our time unmonetised. Taking joy and pleasure in our hobbies and passions is not enough. We have to extract from them any shred of playfulness and instead keep travelling faster in a world already hurtling toward catastrophe.
Bloggers probably do the story thing to get better Google rankings. I choose to believe differently. Call it injecting some playfulness back into my free time.
Care and love are made manifest by cooking. Nothing tastes as special as mum’s cooking. Family recipes are cherished, tended carefully and handed down when the time is right. It is an atom of culture. Meals are eaten in common, stories are shared across dinner tables and heated arguments accompany the turkey during Christmas dinner.
Cooking and food are shared by all humans (though the latter needs to be shared more). Cooking is unique to humans. It is what made us us. It is important. Certain foods bring us back, Ratatouille like, to our childhoods. It is not just the associations we have with food, it is the food itself. That tomato tart I had in France, grilled fish in Donegal and practically every schnitzel I’ve ever had are still tasted every time I think of them. Enjoying food is the first, necessary step of learning how to cook food.
I think I’m a decent cook. I can do a roast dinner, throw together a sourdough and assemble meals nearly always from raw ingredients. My girlfriend doesn’t insist on me not cooking. But even if I didn’t think I was a good cook, I would still cook. I’m terrible at chess and still enjoy playing in the pub with my friends. You can enjoy something without being proficient at it. You can do something without having to make money out of it. I write because I get a thrill from putting something I’ve created out into the world.
It also helps that cooking is a pretty important skill. If you want to live a healthy life and not rely on restaurants or ready meals, you have to cook. We can spend a lifetime perfecting techniques and recipes. This is daunting, especially when you are just starting out. Stories and connections can help. Food is about more than taste. It is colour, texture, sound, smell. A good recipe can be more than just a list of ingredients and what to do with them.
I still sigh when I click on a recipe and I’m brought to a dissertation outlining the brief history and personal link the writer has with the dish. But I can understand why it’s there. We can allow ourselves time to play. Not all of life has to be lived at the speed of the rat race. We can savour it now and again.
Anyway, here’s how I do roast potatoes.
What to do
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and heat a roasting tray with oil and butter. The depth of the fat should be around 1cm
Peel and cut the potatoes into whatever size roasties you want.
Boil them for around 10 minutes
Drain them and then rough them up by shaking in the now empty pan
Coat with flour and salt. Again this is easily done by shaking them around in the pan all together
Place in the pan of hot oil and butter and put back in the oven
After 15 minutes, turn the potatoes so a new side is in the oil and butter
Do this once more, for a total time in the over of 45 minutes