Ode to a Fish Finger Sandwich

tumblr_m4mvmvePe61qjcl1qThere are days sometimes when I have moments of calm clarity. Often on these days, I am hungover. Strange that these moments come when I’m feeling most detached mentally; perhaps those are real moments of me, and ironically I’m able to think clearly because the monkey mind has been momentarily put to bed with a headache.

At this moment, I am sat in the sun, in my garden, listening to the Smiths, and I don’t think today could get any better. There was a moment this morning that I thought maybe I was going to be non-functioning today but I seem to have been revived by two cups of tea and a fish finger sandwich.

I only discovered fish finger sandwiches via my lovely friend C, about 5 years ago. The first one she made for me was a revelation – warm, crunchy and slightly fishy, with a hint of tangy, sweet but savoury ketchup and fresh crunchy iceberg lettuce on toast. I had found the holy grail of hangover foods. See, our body craves sugar and carbs after drinking because it’s missing the sugar in the alcohol. That is why it is a dangerous thing to be wandering around a supermarket when you’re slightly worse for wear, lest you come back with donuts and a packet of crisps. And whilst there is little sugar in the sandwich, you can still get your carb hit with the bread. But a fish finger sandwich does more than just fill the sugar void left by 4 (ahem) glasses of wine. We all know fish is brain food and I have never once finished one without feeling a million times better, and since that point I have always defaulted to these after nights on the trot.

Food writing should be less about recipes and more about experiences and circumstances and I once heard it said that writing about food should really be writing about life, because food is really a metaphor for life. And whilst it may seem a bit silly to write an love letter to a sandwich, these little noshes are representative of nights out with people I love and one of the best things is devouring one of these babies whilst piecing together the events from the night before.

This morning was once such morning. I woke up in a dear friend’s flat in Hackney and after a few “urghs” we both drank pints of apple juice and began the assemblage of the sandwich whose sole job was going to make us feel more human. H had bought fresh bread from the bakery so there was some debate over leaving it fresh and soft or toasted. H went soft; I opted for toasted. I kept it simple: four fish fingers, some ketchup and some pea shoots to give it a freshness. H went for a more involved one which included cheese and mayo. Quel blasphème! But the heart wants what it wants, and I shan’t judge. And so we sat, ate, and laughed and talked about the night before. It was wonderful, and again, this little inconsequential sandwich finished off what was a remarkable Friday.

Have a great weekend everyone. Enjoy the sun. As someone said to me last night, there is no other city the world but London that is as confident and amazing despite its consistent lack of sun. But on the days when the sun does comes out, it truly becomes the greatest city in the world.

Photo courtesy of www.dicksdaily.co.uk

Letter

Spoiler alert. This post relates nothing to food whatsoever. It is more romantic reflection, shall we say, but I thought I’d write about it anyway because what happened made such an impression on me.

Yesterday, I nabbed a seat next to a woman on the Tube, probably in her early 70s, her kind and wrinkled face staring out patiently as she made her way to her destination, wherever it was. Of course, I thought nothing of it as she sat there, but as the train pulled away, she pulled out a letter and gently started to read it, seeming to savour every word. This instantly grabbed me. First, I thought, how lovely; someone still writes letters, even in this day and age. But then I noticed the yellowed quality of the paper and its scratched handwriting and realised this must be something else entirely. This woman and this letter, on this crowded Tube train, was so out of the ordinary, my interest piqued and I pretended to read my book but all the while tried to steal glances over her shoulder to see what letter said.

I caught descriptions of a driver and surroundings and words like ‘my darling’ and ‘I miss you’ and instantly I was ashamed of my invasion on this woman’s personal history. She finished the letter; I saw it end with ‘your lover’. She gently folded the letter into a similarly yellowed envelope, covered in stamps I didn’t recognise, and put it back in her bag. In it, I caught sight of other envelopes in similar states of age. She got off at Oval and of course I won’t see her again.

In situations like this, my imagination runs away with me and instantly, I imagine her, young and full of life, wistfully missing this lover, who was so far away from her. I imagine the longing they must have had for each other, the total emptiness that can only be filled by the proximity of the other person; these letters their only lifeline back to the other. I imagine that she married this lover when he came back from wherever he was and they were happy and shared a life together for many years until he died, maybe a year ago, maybe 10 years ago, I don’t know, but she misses him daily, sometimes to the point where she can’t breathe. And she carries his letters as a reminder of their love and their history.

Or perhaps it was documentation of a clandestine affair she had many years ago, which made an unhappy marriage slightly more bearable, and she reads them now just to remember how, for that period of time, she felt desired and longed for.

Or it could be nothing like that.

Memory and Taste

I have been happily making my way through MFK Fisher’s tome The Art of Eating and came across a small and delightful essay in Serve It Forth called “The Pale Yellow Glove”, which are anecdotal musings about memories ensconced with food. In it, she mentions that people are often loth to divulge stories of pure unadulterated gastronomic pleasure and only two or three times has she been successful in harvesting these stories. This I do not understand. Maybe it was the era she was living in, but in this day and age, with the immediacy of Twitter, every time I look at my feed there is someone talking about something amazing they had at some amazing restaurant. Even so, she rightly believes that “[o]nce in the life of every human, whether he be brute or trembling daffodil, comes a moment of complete gastronomic satisfaction.” For me, the many occurrences of gastronomic satisfaction, circumstantial and unforgettable, but impossible to recreate without transporting myself back in time. I now see this as the beginnings of my own food obsession.

I always had a fascination with taste, even as a child, when our palates are rudimentary and untrusting. At the age of 8, I used to take dried pasta from our larder, pour hot water over it to soften it, then I would chew it. It had a faint nutty taste and I genuinely liked it; in fact writing about it now I can distinctly remember the flavour (though I have no desire to recreate it, you’ll be happy to hear). Or when I used to take bitter chocolate and dip it in sugar. If I grew tired of it, I’d leave it to dry out in a cup under my bed for my health-obsessed mother to discover several days later, much to her horror.

These are not things I remember with the same golden memory as, say, the time I first tried grilled portobello mushrooms at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party in Napa. For the first time, surrounded by my family, the sunshine and the grape vines, I had the realisation that a fungus could take on the guise of sirloin and it totally blew my mind. But this memory is nothing without the clinking of glasses, my aunt’s laugh and the surrounding California countryside.

Memory and food are clearly emotional. Think of the silent meals with soon-to-be ex-lovers, the distressing green vegetables your mothers made you eat before you were allowed to get down from the table to go play, or even the late night kebabs which we remember with headachey shame. We feel the meal; we remember it because we are emotionally tied to it. Well, maybe not the kebab as we normally don’t remember it and are only reminded that it existed by the discovery of its remains the next morning.

MFK Fisher was a devoted follower of Brillat-Savarin and his writings are often intertwined with anecdotal musings about meals he had and the circumstances around them, so I am not surprised this little chapter made it in to Serve It Forth. However, in my experience, much of today’s food writing and blogging is more about making things and telling people how to do it. Or, taking photos of food on one’s dining experiences and talking about what it tasted like. To me, this is a waste. How do these writers feel about what they were making and why did they choose to blog about it? Why do these bloggers choose to take a photo of their meal instead of describing how it made them feel to eat what they did, where they did? Perhaps that is not what the masses like. 

These ‘souvenirs of eating’ should be relished and remembered, if only for our own pleasure. Just as Keats did a letter to his friend from 1819, quoted in Fisher’s essay. “Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine – good God how fine. It went down soft pulpy, slushy, oozy – all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry. I shall certainly breed.”

Now there’s a memory in the making, surely.