There’s only one man I could ever marry. That man is Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall.
Let’s examine the facts. *Puts on glasses*
Well, he wears a jumper well. He has a slightly suave accent. He squints a bit in his glasses, in a clever-looking way. He knows to how rear animals and organise a last-minute al-fresco lunch for friends who happen to be stopping by. I know this from his TV show. He also seems to be running a business empire based on being nice, and treasuring your life, and living excellently on this earth.
In his book River Cottage Cookbook he writes about how great lunchboxes are because they’re cheap, tasty and packed by someone who loves you (i.e you. Or someone who lives with you and is quite fond of you). Then he offers recipes for some of the lunchboxes he makes for his wife. I can’t imagine a nicer life than setting off to work with a lunchbox of quinoa and pancetta, cooked and packaged up by my husband. I’d like to wake up on a Sunday to the smell of bacon crisping exquisitely in a Le Creuset pan on the aga, knowing that fluffy-haired Hugh is busy mixing the parmesan scones to go with it. Bacon that came from the pigs we raised, the pigs that frolicked in the muddy yard out back and had their bellies tickled daily, just as they pleased.
Yeah, I’ll have all that. That sounds good.
But just one second. *Takes off glasses thoughtfully. Like Columbo*. On the River Cottage website readers are heartily encouraged to join in with recipes and tips – and it was there I saw one post titled ‘How to catch a rabbit with ferrets’. I just… uuugh… I’m just not so sure about Hugh anymore. Does he endorse this sort of thing? Where I grew up, it was not unheard of to have a freezer full of venison because someone accidently hit a deer with their car. That’s just making the best of a bad situation. But to go hunting rabbits… with ferrets? That makes me feel bad for the rabbits and the ferrets. I don’t think I’m man enough – I’m just not Ernest Hemingway enough – for this sort of thing.
And what about our pet pigs? I tickled their bellies every day. I gave them names. Now Hugh is blithely frazzling them up for breakfast. How stony-hearted of him.
Then there’s the issue of his loveliness. Being perfect is a great attribute for a husband to have. Just great. At first. And then, I don’t know, maybe slightly annoying. Picture the scene: on a sleepless night, sneaking down to the beautifully stocked kitchen to unearth my secret supply of frozen profiteroles and bung them in the oven. Hugh appearing in his slippers in the doorway, melancholy, a sad little drift of hair in his eyes. He’d look upon me with infinite regret.
‘I could have made that for you from scratch, you know’.
There would be a very unhappy silence.
‘Did you buy those in Tesco?’ he’d ask pointedly. I’d nod. Hugh would turn away. ‘You know I hate Tesco’, he would whisper desolately as he left the room.
It’s a tricky one. As my future happiness depends on it, I mulled the idea over at length while getting stuck in to his roast chicken soup recipe. I think all I’d really like is someone affable to cook for me and bake pies now and then. And happily, I can already cook and bake pies now and then myself. I realised then that it could only ever be an imaginary love-affair of the intellect. Much like my other passionate, tempestuous and entirely imaginary love affair with philandering alcoholic James Joyce.
Hugh and I can commune over recipes without ever meeting. We can share our mutual fascination with bread baking. He will always be there to advise me on chicken welfare. And rightly so. I made the soup from his recipe and finally came to the contented realisation that I can be my own Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall. Momentous.
For now I’ll be buying bacon labelled ‘outdoor reared’, rather than eating bacon I had formed a meaningful bond with when it was alive. I’ll take the River Cottage recipes and leave it at that. Which is just as well really. It would never have worked out. We would have bickered over what to do about our troop of elderly pigs, growing doddery and senile in the muddy yard out back, flapping their little old ears in the sunlight, with not one anxious thought about frying pans ever occurring to them.
Lest you feel a bit cheated by a whole post about food with no actual recipes, here’s one small slightly useful bit at the end. Luckily I live near to my work, so I can go home and cook my lunch. Tis a rare luxury. However these also work well in lunchboxes, so you can take some actual nice food with you to work. These are from The River Cottage Cookbook with some slight messing about on my part. Both are just enough for one serving, and taste good cold too.
Chicken, almonds and green beans
I made this with strips of chicken picked off the roast, which is the best. This recipe is quick and easy – a ten minute deal.
Mix the sauce: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon French mustard, a splash of white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey and a dash of salt and pepper.
Throw a packet of green beans (buy them trimmed and ready) in a pan of boiling water for 5 mins.
Meanwhile, throw a handful of almonds into a dry frying pan and toast them for 2 mins.
Then add the sauce and cooked chicken to the almonds. Stir on a high heat for 3 mins, then when the green beans are done, drain and throw them in as well. Give it a quick stir and then on to the plate. My addition to this was some strips of chorizo. I add chorizo to everything.
This is a prepare-ahead affair. First, mix the sauce, a crimson-red beauty: 5 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 2 teaspoons of paprika, 1 teaspoon honey, a pinch of chilli powder, a dash of salt and pepper.
Cook about 150g wholewheat couscous (add boiling water until the couscous is just covered. Put on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s absorbed all the water).
Pour the couscous into a bowl with the sauce and mix it all together until the couscous is a rich red colour. Leave to cool completely.
Now add: finely chopped little tomatoes and raw courgette, and a finely chopped sprig of fresh parsley and one of fresh mint.
Lay a couple of handfuls of walnuts out on a baking tray and toast them for 5 mins. When they’re toasted and have cooled, chop/crumble them up and add to the bowl.
Let it all cool and then taste – you may wish to add more salt and/or chilli if you’re the dangerous type. I would also venture to add some turmeric, but that’s just because it is a magic food full of good things, that help your body heal, grow and look increasingly sexy every single day. Hope you enjoy. Happy lunching.