// hospitality

Somebody pointed out that Nigel Slater made an appearance on yesterday’s blog, and slightly unexpectedly at that. Part of the reasoning behind that is the fact that I have just discovered his cookbooks, and the philosophy behind them appeals to me more generally, in a way that seems to tie in with the general themes of this blog. Previously I’ve tended to swear loyalty to Jamie Oliver when it comes to cookbooks, but when I cook from Jamie I often feel like I’m trying to impress somebody, even if I’m alone in the kitchen at the time. In contrast, what I respect about Nigel Slater is his ability to communicate the evocative power of food and also the pleasure of good food with good friends. He manages to do it in such a way that it reminds you why food is a gift in the first place, and that’s a real skill.

I’ve often wondered what it is about cooking that makes it so pleasurable, to me at least. It’s one of those activities that consistently succeeds in turning off my brain (and those are activities that I am always grateful for, as there aren’t nearly enough of them). Lately a couple of friends told me in a couple of different contexts that they think I am, in their words, “too intelligent” to deal with, or that I think too deeply about things for them to be able to understand where I’m coming from (there’s a backhanded compliment if you ever heard one). Occasionally I have been tempted to believe that this is true, that my personality is simply such that normal social interaction is impossible for me, but if anything it is the purity of good food, oddly, that serves to counteract that.

There is just something so simple about it. Good food stands on its own. You don’t make it taste good, you just combine it in such a way in such a way as to accentuate certain flavours and textures. And you don’t always need to have a full meat and two veg planned out each night, just something that reminds you of how food is a blessing as well as a necessity. Nigel Slater lists a number of occasions in The Kitchen Diaries where dinner consists of nothing more than a tomato and some good bread, and there is a glorious simplicity right there. It is only pressure, or habit, that compels you to do things in a certain way.

I like that as a philosophy, because it keeps cooking from being a chore and it also keeps you deeply appreciative of what you have been given. It is consistently amazing to me that God does provide for us in the way He does, but the regular and mundane trips to the clinical aisles of the local Tesco don’t half strip away any sense of His provision (or wonder, for that matter). The way Slater sees things, though, you can simply focus on how amazing it is to have been given anything at all, let alone food that is as good as we have it, and to have been given the capacity to appreciate it too. Too often we forget to give thanks for what we have, whether or not we say grace before meals. In my eyes, home should be the place to stop and to rest – to appreciate things as they really are, which is good. Too often I make it manic and exhausting instead, and so in the midst of that the rhythm that is offered by cooking properly is joyous, in itself a gift.

But it’s something to be shared, too. By instinct I am both an introvert and something of a depressive, and so my tendency in the evenings is towards comfort food, and to simply eating alone. There is arguably little that is so disheartening as eating good food on your own and, conversely, there is little that is as pleasurable as sharing your table with good friends – irrespective of what you’re eating. Every culture on earth recognises that, and it pays to do so, as well. It’s a place to remember that life doesn’t revolve around you, no matter how often it feels like it – that the food you eat is given by God, that the home in which you prepare it is a gift from God and that the context in which you can enjoy what you have been given is always, and only, God. It is all about Him.

I want my home to be a place of hospitality and appreciation, a place where I use what I have been given to honour God, and it’s not at present, for the most part – at least for me (to be fair, though, my housemates are doing noticeably better than I am).

Instead it’s currently a place of Bird’s Eye Chicken Dippers in front of the TV and dammit, even if I have to fight to change that – and, no doubt, I will – I am determined to.

So – who wants to come for dinner?

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    • Rachael
    • October 18th, 2010

    Our house is not a birdseye chicken dippers in front of the TV house! (Unless inbetweeners is on). We’re super sociable and I invite randomers around for dinner all the time and you have to put up with it 🙂
    Also… can I come for dinner? You’re an *amazing* cook, and I wouldn’t have to go far.

    • alanna
    • October 22nd, 2010

    yes please 🙂 – can i bring my housemates? we definitely need to do dinners i think — you guys must come here too!

  1. Alanna,

    Dinner definitely sounds like a plan. Let me know what nights work for you via text and how many of you to expect and i’d love to cook for you guys!

    Rachael – in my defence, i did clarify. It’s just me who’s eating Bird’s Eye Chicken Dippers. You’re way more sociable. But it’s all going to change, just wait for poker night.

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