If you follow Shared Kitchen every week you will have noticed that I haven’t sent out a newsletter for the past 2 weeks. You probably imagine I’ve had a nice holiday, and while I did go overseas, it was only from Waiheke to Auckland, and it wasn’t a particularly pleasant destination I was headed to. I was off to the maxillofacial surgeon for what became known as my ‘jaw op’ – a slightly more dramatic way of saying I went to an oral surgeon for a procedure under a tooth that could only be got at by going through the jaw. I only mention this because I found myself on a liquid or lump-free diet – no seeds or pips allowed – and experienced several revelations during this time.
First up, guacamole is outrageously good but eaten as a smooth purée off a teaspoon it tires after 3 spoonfuls: it begs for crunch. Silky velvety potato mash is, well, silky and velvety but the smoothness becomes cloying after 4 large spoonfuls and as it passes the lips it goes straight to the hips. Damn. Smashed the myth that I could live on a good potato purée! Mashed banana with lemon juice and maple syrup, or with yoghurt, does not a breakfast make. Perhaps for one day, two at a stretch, but 10 days? I think not. Ice cream is fabulous, but after an ice-cream-a-day for 3-4 days, you begin to miss nuggets of hokey-pokey or shards of nut brittle or scrolls of chocolate crack, or at least a sugary cone to crunch on amongst the lick-lick-lick of sameness. And eggs. Oh god, eggs, my lifesaver when I am tired, miserable, broke, or all three, suddenly the thought of eating another soft-boiled egg with nothing to dunk in, or another fluffy scrambled blob without a crust of toast simply palls.
Revelation: Life without crunch is boring. It’s the contrast of smooth and creamy set against texture and crunch that makes for a party in your mouth, and the lumpy, grainy, gritty, dense texture of ingredients set against pillowy soft and creamy smooth that makes food enjoyable.
I head to the supermarket to find me some smooth stuff. Yeehaw. I’m not going to cook, I’m going to buy, and the prospect is exciting. Having walked through the produce department and putting NOTHING in my trolley (too many seeds or pips, too hard, too much fibre = too much work with all that sieving!) I skirt around the chocolate department, and eventually stop by black Doris plum with roasted almonds, white chocolate with gingerbread biscuits and sea salt and caramel brittle, and while I dream about eating them, that’s too much crunch for me. I grab a bar of plain chocolate. Before I know it I’m looking at socks and jocks and pills and potions. There’s not enough food in my trolley to feed a sparrow for a week, so I press on.
I pull my trolley up alongside the chiller cabinets and start soup-snooping. Hawkes Bay Beetroot and Horowhenua Broccoli stand out among a dozen ways of putting pumpkin in a pouch, then North Indian Wellness Bowl and Okinawa Wellness Bowl with Brown Rice and Seaweed, and Thai Jungle Curry and Vietnamese Noodle thingabobby and so on grab my attention – I’ve moved from the east coast of New Zealand to the Asian continent without as much as a turn of the trolley. I make way for a worker loading baskets with home deliveries but can’t help a peek: Parmesan & Red Onion Sausages, Tofu Sausages, ready-made guacamole & hummus…
I trundle on, to the suckies department. Surely I can have one of these? I read the back labels. Too many ingredients and so much sugar. Then I find myself where I knew I would – I may as well have taken a direct route to it – in front of the ice cream cabinet. Paddle pops, icy pops, cornettos, vanilla slices, choc bars, mini magnums, double-dipped, yoghurt on a stick… but why sweat the small stuff? It’s straight on to the TUBS. Whoever first put those two words together hit the jackpot. TUB + ICE CREAM. It sounds generous, urging you to dig into what will surely be a bucket of goodies. In contrast, a container of ice cream sounds like a metal box that’s just been unloaded on the docks.
TUBS. Honey bubble crunch, peanut butter, fruit & nut, berries & biscuits, honeycomb crunch and cookies & cream all pale into insignificance once you get to ‘birthday cake with sprinkles’, ‘movie night’ (can’t even imagine what this is), brown-eyed girl chocolate brownies ice cream bad boys & berries smokey pokey choco covered pokey caramel sea salt. Zzzzzz. Mind boggling. Half-baked brownie ice cream boasts ‘with chewy chunks of half-baked brownies’. I wonder why you’d want something half-baked? Chiller cabinet doors open to the left and right of me as if there’s a shortage of tubs as shoppers hurriedly fill their trolleys with hundreds of preservatives, stabilisers, thickeners and colour agents.
I’m still checking labels, looking for the shortest list. Kaffir ice cream has 18 ingredients and even ‘real’ ice cream has too many to count. It’s scary. I want to get well, not sick.
I get shunted to the dairy-free, vegan, zilch fat and no-joy cabinet. At least the traffic is a little slower here though the shoppers no less rude.
By the time I reach the smoothie packs @ $12.95 a pop I’m tired and confused, can’t focus on labels anymore, and the trolley is practically empty.
I wheel on to the Party Foods cabinet. I’m in new territory, way out of my depth. I didn’t even know this existed. My jaw drops (well, it would have done had it not been stitched in place), but seriously, I can’t believe the range of chuck-em-in-the-deep-fryer or throw-em-in-the-microwave stuff masquerading as good edible food. The lightweight promises of, ‘cook like a pro’ and ‘your dinner solution, ‘your party-friend’, blur before my eyes.
I get home disgruntled, starving, jealous of Humpf who heads straight to his bowl to spend the next 5 minutes shattering cat biscuits with his tiny pointy white teeth, seemingly enjoying the echo in his furry little ears, before exchanging a head butt or two. I mull over what I have just experienced.
I had NO idea what was in those chiller and freezer cabinets. It occurred to me you need never cook again if you make regular visits to these aisles. Ignorance is bliss, maybe, but now I know, I know, and so I know (I hate to be repetitive but you get my drift) I have to try even harder to get people to cook from scratch before we make this place called home, the earth, the planet, sicker, and in turn our very selves sicker.
Another breakfast of mashed banana and yoghurt, lunch of buttery egg fluff and supper of lumpy soup and I reach for the chocolate bar. I dissolve cube after cube in my mouth and thrill to the smoothness, so sweet, so soothing, and wash it down with green tea, and then a strange burning sensation starts deep in my throat and it slowly rises up. Sickly sweet, hot, acidic, burning and horrid.
This doesn’t happen with great chocolate, it happens with cheap chocolate that is full of sugar. It makes me feel sick. Perhaps it’s something you get used to. I don’t intend to.
I dream of vegetables. I dream of crunch, the noise in your ear as you crunch through crusts and crostini, iceberg lettuce and celery, nuts and seeds, apples and pears. Noiseless eating is not much fun. Food without bits and bobs, food without texture and food without taste (thanks to the drugs) is not much fun for a day, a week. Imagine a lifetime of such a diet? Some people have just that, and having experienced it briefly, it has helped me understand what that must be like.
I resolve to be a little more considerate to older folk, or those who take a little longer to manoeuvre around the aisles and chiller cabinet doors.
I make a note to be there for friends on restricted diets after an op with innovative smoothies and magic potions to make them feel better and heal faster.
But more importantly, I intend to bang my drum even louder: I urge you to fill your trolley with food, stuff you recognise or that is as unadulterated as possible, and to cook from scratch. It’s what we used to do. It’s what we need to do again.