Someone asked me recently where, as a vegan, I would go for a gourmet holiday. This made me realise that I cannot think of anywhere I would rather eat than in my own home or the homes of friends and family. Eating in restaurants is OK but all the best food is home cooked with love and care. My Mom was a great cook. She cooked from fresh ingredients every night and passed on to me the expectation that this would happen in my own home. And it does. By far the best part of every day is when Dave and I settle down in front of the TV and eat our evening meal. Cooking for friends and family is a real joy. It is both creative and practical, interesting and relaxing. It is how I choose to spend my free time rather than a chore. I have been cooking on a daily basis for over 30 years and I never get tired of it.
I started to cook when I was quite young and my speciality when I was about 8 years old was cheese straws. I then moved onto scrambled egg sandwiches and grilled chopped pork and ham. When I was 18, I took a year off between school and university and I spent a lot of that year cooking. My Mom had a full collection of Supercook magazines and I used to spend hours each week poring over them and trying to cook some of the dishes. Mostly, they were not good but I kept on trying because I liked eating so much.Unfortunately, as a result I put on a lot of weight so I started to learn how to cook healthy stuff.
I had my first wok as a Christmas present in 1981 and my first food hero was Kenneth Lo (long before the days of Ken Hom). I loved cooking my version of Chinese banquets, using every pan and dish in the house and leaving the mess for someone else to clear up. I also cooked my first curries back then and Mom and I made our first lasagne with those thick pasta sheets that you had to precook and had the consistency of big rubber bands. As with most of the British population, we became more experimental with what we cooked and ate during the 80s.
At university in the early 80s, I often spent my grant on buying ingredients from the food market in Birmingham and making huge meals for big groups of friends. I remember an Indonesian banquet I made once, having no experience of South-East Asian food. I am not sure how authentic it was but it was a lot of fun to make and of course students always love a free meal so it went down well. During those years, my real food hero was Keith Floyd. I learnt a lot about French cooking from him and followed all of his series and bought his books. My other hero was Maddhur Jaffrey. She really stoked my love of Indian food and my interest in learning all about it.
In my late twenties I started to travel and this stoked the fire of my interest in food even further. Often dishes I had eaten abroad were not readily available in the UK so I used to cook them at home for friends and family. By the time I was 40, I had travelled and lived in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia and was able to draw upon all of the food I had experienced.
There is definitely a preponderance of Asian food cooked in our home but I also love Moroccan and Mexican food and have created some good, hearty Italian dishes that satisfy our vegan need for non-meat protein. In the winter, I still draw on Keith Floyd’s influence and make succulent stews with red wine and lentils that remind me of the beef stews I used to cook when I still ate meat more than 18 years ago. In the summer I love to make up new dips and salads and Berlin has reintroduced us to the pleasure of picnics where you can share what you have created with friends, sitting on a blanket in the local park or at table in a wine garden.
It really upsets me that many people do not know how to cook and that families no longer eat together. The highlight of my day is to sit down in the evening with Dave and eat something I have prepared, knowing what the food is made of and that it is tasty and nutritious. So many people do not have the skills to prepare and cook a simple homemade meal and far too much processed food is eaten. I am lucky to have family and many friends and acquaintances who still love to cook and produce healthy, honest meals for their loved ones. We need to find ways to spread the word about home cooked food and encourage others to see its importance. My current food hero is of course Jamie Oliver. I believe that he really cares about what we eat as a society and he is prepared to try to help us to change. We need more people like him around in the public eye.
Please enjoy my blog. Try to cook a meal at home whenever you can. It does not have to be fancy.I really believe that home cooked food is the key to being well nourished and being well nourished is the key to a long, healthy and successful life.