When I was little and went out shopping with my Mum – not supermarket shopping, but proper driving-to-Newcastle shopping – we would go to the John Lewis cafe. To eight year old me, this was the height of sophistication, sitting up at the tall stools and slim bars. We tended to go there for tea and cake, and the lemon drizzle cake remains in my memory the best cake I have ever tasted, I’m sure more for its air of glamour than its baking merits. But there was one item that always called to me from the hot food counter: The Welsh rarebit. Even the name sounded exotic.
I have a little electronic diffuser in the room I write in. It is a small white cylinder, that sits in the corner of the room, far away enough from my desk so that I have to actually get up to fiddle with it, but close enough that as it pipes out its scented steam, glowing and vibrating ever so gently, it feels comforting, as if it’s quietly breathing alongside me.
I have eaten an awful lot of crumpets over the last month. It’s been a selfless endeavour, needless to say, not at all motivated by a love of anything leavened that will support a slab of butter.
I made my first wedding cake this week. It was, without doubt, the most nerve-wracking bake I have ever done, and could probably even compete with some of my scarier criminal cases in the nail-biting stakes.
When Sam and I first started dating, I would occasionally make him neat, thoughtful packed lunches as an act of love. They invariably involved expensive ingredients, or time consuming preparation: smoked salmon, or proper homemade chutneys. I composed salads that would make a grown man cry, with mackerel and beetroot and horseradish, or tiny potatoes, with dill and creme fraiche and gherkins. He would probably have been as happy with a haphazard cheese and salad sandwich as anything else, but for me it was a way to send him off to work with affection. Fast forward four years and he now survives on a combination of leftovers and sandwiches he hastily makes himself. Until now.
It must have been twenty years ago that I first tried mussels on holiday, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to shake off the sophistication I felt when eating moules mariniére for the first time.
Almost six years ago to the day, I completed my graduate diploma in law. A month later, I secured pupillage at a fantastic set of chambers, and prepared myself for a lifetime of criminal law. I was absolutely certain that I wanted to be a criminal barrister for the rest of my working life. But, four months ago, I handed in my notice. And yesterday, I left the bar.
It’s been an unusual week. A busy week. A week mostly of faltering but also of jubilation. A hot, damp, sticky week. And the last thing I thought I’d be doing would be celebrating with a damp, sticky cake. But here I am, with malt loaf in my sticky paw, celebrating.
For a long time, I didn’t really understand breakfast. As alien as ‘eat to live not live to eat’ is as a mantra to me, breakfast always struck me as something of a chore, a waste of a good meal. As a child, it was a non-negotiable sit-down affair, and the food as boring and repetitive to a child as the routine; porridge or weetabix, maybe toast if we were lucky.
We were away last week. We went on holiday over a long weekend, and ate gorgeous food, and coveted beautiful houses, and met brilliant people, and saw more paintings of 17th century militia than I previously thought possible. We get home late on Monday evening, and put the washing in the machine and slippers on our feet, and I move through my kitchen, touching things. Things that ground me. My chopping boards. My tea towels. My measuring cups. The little things that make our home, well, our home. And then I pick up a tin and a mixing bowl, and choose a knife. And I make cornbread.