Lots has been happening lately. I've been on journeys. I've started to re-write the book (I can hear those sighs from afar...). My family has come from thousands of miles away to visit me. But today is all about food, because I'm participating in World Blog Surf Day, and like many other expat bloggers all over the interweb, I'm going to take a few minutes (and a few words) to consider something vitally important, on both a physical and a cultural level. Ten years ago I visited Britain for the first time. My parents and I toured the country for two weeks in a blue Ford Focus; I sat in the backseat listening to a Cranberries CD over and over again and writing stories in a green spiral-bound notebook. We came from California, where friends brought us eggs freshly laid from their free-range chickens, or lettuce from their organic vegetable farm; I picked my own oranges and watched my grandparents crack macadamia nuts with a machine in the garage. And we'd heard jokes, every one of them, the gist of which was: Haha! The English can't cook!
But the funny thing was, there we were, and we weren't having a hard time finding a good meal anywhere. We ate the best Indian cuisine we'd ever tasted; we had Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese. And pasties! Cornish pasties! After a long hike along the coast a pastry full of hot meat and creamy potatoes is exactly what you want, especially when it's just started to rain with such force that the parking lot has flooded and turned the stairwells into waterfalls. We had bread and cheese, glorious cheese; and ate more chocolate, I don't know why, than seemed humanly possible.
Ten years later, and here I am again in England, living here. The English are no longer the focus of quite so many food-based jokes; we've learned better, it seems. But what I like best, and what's most interesting, I suppose, is the European approach to eating. Here's what I mean: you can stretch a meal out. And there's no better day to do this than on Sunday. The Sunday Roast is the classic way of doing this, and it doesn't get more English than this: a hunk of meat (beef, pork, chicken, or lamb), potatoes roast in goose fat (or butter), vegetables (maybe some cabbage, carrots, parsnips, leeks), all slathered in gravy.
The thing that's nice is not so much the hearty sustenance (though I've no objection to it!), but that it's more of an event than a meal. A Sunday lunch (or dinner) is a social engagement of a very special nature; casual, gentle, slow-paced.
How to Have a Successful Sunday Lunch
- Plan ahead; but not too far ahead. Mention to your friends on Friday or Saturday that you're thinking of doing lunch, and would they like to come? But don't buy any of the ingredients until Sunday morning. Planning is over-rated, but also, you'll get fresher stuff. Go to the butcher, not the supermarket, if you can.
- Don't start cooking until your friends start to arrive; that would be silly (remember: planning is over-rated). They'll be late anyway, which means you have the morning free to do with it what you will.
- By this time, everyone will be starving. Serve some crisps and a few drinks. Commence the cooking!
- Forget a crucial ingredient; take a stroll to the corner shop and hope they've got what you need.
- Several hours later, the food will be ready, and boy will you be ready for it. But to wash down all that meat and grease, wine! Lots of wine!
- Remember halfway through the meal about pudding. Something quick--a fresh fruit crumble is always nice--that you can involve your guests with. Have them get their hands dirty making the crumble while you nip to the shop to get cream.
- Continue with the wine-drinking. For maximum effect, do not do anything even remotely productive for the rest of the day.
- (Tailor these instructions to suit your needs.)
And now, without further ado, I send you off to your next food-based destination: Nurinkhairi. Happy surfing!