It is mid-morning on day whatever of this lockdown, and I’m doing what I need to do to be me. I am standing in front of the open fridge, surveying the contents, which sprawl across each other like donated shoes at a jumble sale. Plates of leftovers perch on top of each other, a function of catering each night as if, come the morning, an invading army will be pillaging the land. I spot a couple of cooked sausages, the cheap ones made with less loin, and more nostril, lip and nipple because one of my family members likes those and right now, we all get what we damn well like. I tear off a solid inch of cold, cheap fried sausage. I pop it into my mouth, slam the fridge door shut and move on. Nothing to see here. I delight in the way my teeth crack through the taut artificial skin to the heat-set, unnaturally pink, salty protein inside.
Judge me at your peril. As far as I am concerned, the only way through all this lies in a mixed emotional economy. Yes, we need friendship and compromise; selflessness, understanding and a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc at day’s end. But an inch of cheap sausage also has a part to play. Of course there are grand, intricate cooking projects to give our days texture; one morning I discovered I was fortunate to have, hidden in the freezer, some chunky pork ribs. In total I spent six hours searing, braising, glazing and grilling them. It was a perfect distraction, with dinner to finish.
But where food is concerned, I have concluded that making it through the days also demands taking joy in the very smallest of things. They are the florid punctuation marks across aching expanses of untextured time. There are the obvious ones like stopping to sniff the newly opened pack of coffee, which we know smells better than the coffee ever tastes, but we must all of us learn to live in the moment. Then there are those which are more personal. I love running my finger along the flat of a knife at the end of breakfast to gather up the leftover smears of butter and Marmite and perhaps the odd toasted crumb for texture. I try to do this unwitnessed because I don’t have the energy to deal with other people’s ill-formed judgments.
If I told you I was capable of stopping at the cupboard to take a neat teaspoonful of crunchy peanut butter you would think less of me. So I won’t tell you that. Instead I’ll tell you that, occasionally, I might return to the fridge, find the piece of stilton we keep for blue cheese emergencies and crumble off the smallest of pieces between thumb and forefinger, just to get the tiny flavour hit.
In the same way, I love the fragments of vinegared spring onion that get left in the emptied salad bowl. I have also never met a tiny, crusty bit of indeterminate something – baked blood? Incinerated dairy solids? – caked to the bottom of the tin after a chicken has been roasted in it that I didn’t adore. See also the brown crunchy stuff in the pan after frying bacon. Mind not to burn your fingertips, though let’s be honest: the pain is worth it.
I am aware that these confessions display a pronounced lack of shame. Well, innocent as charged. Because, in a pandemic lockdown, when your family has become your social life, the world is literally too small and enclosed for feeling shame about things which aren’t shameful. Weird is not the same as wrong, and we all need to find our joy where we can. If I find mine in a nugget of cold, cheap sausage I think that’s OK.