Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope the year ahead is full of exciting things for you all.
The turning of yet another year generally passes me by without much to mark it. It took me precisely one occasion of legally being able to drink on New Year's Eve to realise that going out via all the official channels - pubs, clubs, restaurants - is not only overrated but overpriced. It took one occasion of spending New Year's Eve on the sofa with my boyfriend to realise that I am a bit of a loser who is perfectly content with such domestic pursuits and in no way inclined to put on uncomfortable shoes and drink more wine than I want to in an attempt to have a good time on the one night of the year where it is apparently mandatory. I haven't bothered with new year's resolutions for years now - all the usual ones (healthy eating, going to the gym regularly, taking up a new hobby) I do anyway out of habit and without thinking about it.
This year, however, the new year seemed an occasion worth marking.
Perhaps it was because I actually had plans consisting of more than lying on the sofa watching the London fireworks (every year, along with most of the nation, remarking upon how horrible it must be having to try and get home through London as soon as those pretty lights end). I spent the turn of 2011 with some good friends, eating good food, drinking wine and generally indulging in those moments of amusing immaturity that I've so missed since leaving Oxford. It made me think about all the things that really matter, and in turn about what I want from the coming year and will strive to make happen.
So for the first time in ages I've actually made a list of new year's resolutions. The main theme is to get out more, do more interesting things, and see more of my friends, who I feel I've somewhat neglected over the past few months.
But, this being me, I've also made a separate list of food-related new year's resolutions. Because when planning for the year ahead you think about how to enrich or improve your life; when a large proportion of your life is food, it follows that you should make promises to yourself in that area too. So here they are, my food-related resolutions for 2012:
- Make sourdough bread. I've been telling myself I'll do this for years now, but for some unknown reason I've never been able to take the plunge and complete that first step, even though it's laughably simple and - as far as I can glean - basically involves adding some water to some flour. Enough procrastinating: 2012 is going to be the year in which I make even myself jealous by constantly pulling freshly baked, tangy-crusted loaves from the oven.
- Eat more cheese. Whenever I visit food festivals or markets and see the staggering array of different fermented milk on offer, I always chastise myself for basically eating the same three cheeses (feta, goat's and Parmesan) and never branching out. I sometimes think how terrible it would be if I died tomorrow and had never got around to tasting the sheer variety of cheese out there, especially as I have yet to find a cheese I don't like. This year I resolve to try and buy a different, new cheese at least every fortnight to try out and experiment with in recipes.
- Make sticky toffee pudding. Probably my all-time favourite dessert (no pathetic panna cottas or crême brulées for me - I need something stodgy that comes with ice cream, or it's just not a fitting end to a meal), yet I've never tried to make one myself. I can't even claim it's because knowing what goes into it would put me off, as compared to something like a chocolate brownie it contains relatively little butter. I must definitely give this one a go, though I doubt my waistline will thank me for it - it's so damn moreish.
- Experiment with my new waffle maker. My first attempt is documented, in pictorial form, above. It took a bit of fiddling with the temperature settings and trying different quantities of batter to get the waffles right, and I still feel there is room for improvement. Plus I haven't even begun to experiment with different toppings (for the above I just used sliced banana, ricotta, blueberries and toasted almonds) - I can't wait to try a savoury version with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, or with poached rhubarb spooned over the top.
- Use my cookbooks. I have a lot; I hoard them for their lovely photos and enticing descriptions. Yet the more I cook the more I become comfortable with inventing my own recipes, and rarely use cookbooks these days. However, I've recently been spoilt with a wealth of beautiful books for Christmas (most notably, Scandilicious by Signe Johansen and Roast Figs Sugar Snow by Diana Henry), and am determined not to let them stagnate on my bookshelves. Instead, I'm going to let them liberate me - sometimes it's nice to just have a set list of ingredients to buy and a few instructions to follow; it takes the hassle out of cooking.
- Find a new lunch. For the last three years or so, I've eaten basically the same thing for lunch every day. Couscous, roasted vegetables (tomatoes and peppers, but sometimes squash, aubergine and red onion too), herbs (either mint, coriander or basil, or all three), and cheese (either feta or goat's). This is largely due to convenience - if you roast all the vegetables in a big batch at the beginning of the week, all you have to do each day is pour boiling water over the couscous and mix it all together. Delicious and nutritious. However, I feel it may be time to branch out. Not that I could ever get bored of the delicious sweet, charred edges of caramelised vegetables coupled with strong salty cheese, but I'm aiming this year to find something new that's just as tasty and convenient.
- Use up my fancy storecupboard products. The relics of Christmases past, I have a whole cupboard full of lovely things like grilled marinated artichokes in oil; posh jams and chutneys from Fortnum & Mason; fig cheese; pasta flour; a small hunk of bottarga (dried fish roe, an Italian delicacy) purchased by my mum at vast expense from the Real Food Festival; dried chipotle chillies (not cheap); half the range of Tracklements mustards, one of which is personalised with my name on it...plus there are the things I've made myself, like bottled apricots and bottled rhubarb, which if I'm not careful will sit there until the next apricot and rhubarb seasons come around and therefore render the whole preservation process a tad pointless. I have an awful habit of hoarding things "for a special occasion" that then never arises. This year I will seize the day. Seize the beautiful and delicious yet pristine and unopened storecupboard goods. And eat them.
- On a similar note...eat more jam and chutney. Simply because we have a whole kitchen cupboard that is testament to my love of preserving, and I can't fit any more homemade condiments in there. We have fig jam, apple jam, apple and blackberry jam, rhubarb orange and ginger jam, rhubarb chutney, tomato and chilli jam, quince jelly, quince paste, blackcurrant jam, marmalade...and those are just the ones I can actually remember. Perhaps I will combine this with resolution 1, and enjoy delicious toasted sourdough and jam in the mornings.
- Utilise my comprehensive array of kitchen gadgets. I have a KitchenAid blender and a pasta machine that are just crying out for me to make more smoothies and ravioli.
- Bake more scones. Because nothing is more conducive to the collective happiness of humanity and myself than the sight and aroma of a freshly baked tray of scones, still steaming when you prise them apart to smother their fluffy innards with jam and clotted cream.
So these are my food resolutions...what are yours?