Food: The Glue of Love
Okay, I know, “glue of love” sounds kind of… gross. But I truly couldn’t think of a better way to describe the magical properties of food to reignite friendships, gather families, diffuse awkward situations, strengthen budding bonds, heighten flirtations and bring people from everywhere and anywhere together. Like in the above picture, where my two puppies Hugo and Lulu are being quite literally brought together by the love of the same bone (this love would also go on to drive them apart later that day… but that is beside the point).
I just got back to Australia after a year away (sorry the blog has been so quiet, but I crammed as much travel as I could into my last month away and barely had time to sleep or breathe, let alone cook/write about it!). The most exciting thing about being back, apart from affordable Vegemite, has been seeing all of my nearest and dearest again. I’m very very lucky and know a lot of brilliant people in both Melbourne and Hobart, and in the last week and a half have tried my hardest to see all of them – and realised that every catch up I organised revolved around eating and/or drinking. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner… not a mealtime? No problem! Let’s get coffee, afternoon tea, beers, cocktails, late night dessert, midnight kebabs… honestly there is no time of day for which I can’t think of an appropriate culinary act.
I had some friends over for dinner the other night, and planned a simple enough dish – gourmet bangers and mash (which, COINKYDINK, is this week’s recipe!). I made the baked beans earlier in the day, and all I had to do was cook a few sausages, mash a few potatoes and steam a few greens. Super simple. EXCEPT it has been a bloody long time since I cooked for 10 people, and I forgot how long all that stuff takes. But because my friends are just the greatest (Jack requested a named shout-out. Here you go, Jack. Happy now?) they each grabbed a potato peeler and happily got up to their elbows in spuds, and we had the whole show on the road in no time. I feel like I should mention my mum also helped a lot, mainly cleaning up after my messiness (that has not changed). And standing around the kitchen bench, peeling and chopping and drinking and laughing with some of my closest friends, was about as warm and fuzzy and glued-together as I can ever imagine feeling.
And just to prove my point even further, I’d like to share a food-related anecdote I’ve been saving for an appropriate moment:
A few weeks after I’d arrived in France, I went out for dinner with a new friend I’d made, a gorgeous American girl named Heather. She and I are real kindred spirits – we had a lot to talk about. Over a delicious meal (I believe I had crab salad in tangy orange sauce as a starter, and duck in honey and spices for main) and a bottle of wine, we shared all of our thoughts and impressions of France, our feelings about home, a bit about our childhoods, our current love lives, etc. We made bawdy jokes and swapped salacious anecdotes. In a tiny restaurant in our little French town, we were happily ensconced in our little English-speaking bubble.
Sometime during the course of our meal, an older gentleman was seated at the table next to us. He was clearly a regular – the waiter greeted him as a friend, they had a short conversation in vernacular French. We paid him little to no mind as we continued to eat, drink, laugh and pour our hearts out. When he had finished his meal and paid, he approached our table.
“Excuse me?” he said, in a very posh and VERY ENGLISH accent, “I just wanted to say that you two young ladies are extremely articulate and express yourselves in a most engaging way. I wouldn’t normally say anything, but really, listening to you two speak has been better than a programme on Radio Four. I doubt we shall ever see each other again, so you needn’t worry, your secrets are safe with me!”
And with that, he winked, and left. We both sat there completely frozen for about a minute, mentally recapping everything we’d said in the previous two hours.
I looked up and said slowly “So, d’you think he heard… you know… the sex stuff?”
And then we absolutely lost it. We laughed until tears streamed down our faces, and thanks to this one meal, a lifelong friendship was sealed.
So, for your next family gathering/reuniting of long lost friends/impromptu dinner party, here is the promised recipe!
GOURMET BANGERS, MASH AND BEANS
This dish is not messing around. We are going to make baked beans from scratch (put the Heinz DOWN. Save it for a desperate hungover breakfast), two types of mashed potato, have some delicious and nutritious steamed greens on the side and use only the finest sausages. It will be a meal fit for the Queen. And also you, because you are a queen, and don’t you forget it. I’ve done quantities for 6 people, please adjust as needed!
12 x really delicious sausages (I got some lovely lamb ones, but you could easily go vegetarian with this!)
6 x largish Dutch Cream potatoes
2 x large sweet potatoes (or 3 medium ones)
Butter (quite a lot. Maybe 100g?)
Cream (ditto. Just buy a small container and expect to use it all)
6 x cloves garlic
2 x bunches asparagus
1 x bunch broccolini
For the baked beans:
2 x tins diced tomatoes
1 x tin red kidney beans
1 x tin butter beans
1 x tin cannellini beans
handful of brown mushrooms
1 x red onion
3 x cloves garlic
bunch of fresh basil
3 x tbsp tomato paste
1 x tsp brown sugar
1 x tbsp balsamic vinegar
1. Alright, beans first. Slice the red onions and mushrooms finely, mince the garlic, and put it all into a large frying pan with a slug of olive oil and a healthy knob of butter (healthy as in generous, not as in, you know, healthy) and put it on a very LOW heat to caramelise for 20-30 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, vinegar and about half the basil, chopped roughly. Turn up the heat a little and let simmer (lid on!) for 10 mins or so. Then turn it off and leave it. We’re going to add the beans about 10 mins before serving – they just need to heat through, and we don’t want to overcook them or they will turn to mush.
3. Put two large pots of water on to boil for the potatoes. Peel and chop them all roughly (or get some friends to do it for you. Jack? You there mate?). Throw them in when the water is boiling and cook until nice and soft, but again, not turning to absolute mush please.
4. While the potatoes are cooking, cook the sausages using your method of choice. For lots of sausages at the same time, under the grill in the oven is probably easiest.
5. When the potatoes are done, drain them and mash them (obviously keep the normal potatoes and the sweet potatoes separate if you want two kinds of mash) (which you do) with crushed garlic, butter, cream, salt and pepper. Be generous with all of these things and mash until smooth. Life is too short to eat bland lumpy mash, am I right?
6. Boil water to steam the greens. Drain your beans and throw them into the sauce – turn it back onto a medium/low heat. Reheat the sausages and mash a little if necessary and serve it all with a choice of condiments – I like to provide ketchup, HP sauce, mustard, BBQ sauce and maybe some nice relish to keep with our gourmet theme. Enjoy, and let the food glue you and your loved ones firmly together!