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reflections on eating, cooking and a lemon drizzle loaf

Up until recently I always thought my mum loved cooking and that feeding my brother and I was her love language. I feel grateful to have been raised in a home where there was always food in the fridge and the cupboards, and where mealtimes and eating together as a family was never a negative experience.

I was very surprised to learn, many years later, that although my mum does love my brother and I dearly –  she does not actually love cooking that much. When she was growing up, children and parents always had homecooked meals and she wanted my brother and I to have the same.

I smile now when I think of being a teenager having pancakes before school on a random Wednesday morning or afternoons spent standing in the Halal butchers on the other side of town – simultaneously feeling slightly nauseous but comforted by the smell of raw meat. I requested lasagne for every single birthday tea until I was 16 and, it was at 12, I undertook the humbling experience that is frying plantain for the very first time.

Home and food have long been two sides of the same coin for me. It was only when I moved into university halls at 18, I started to make my own food memories. Like the £2 brownie box mix that started a friendship that now flourishes despite oceans and time difference. As we progressed through our degrees, meal deal lunches became library-avoiding-brunches and, now, they’re long overdue catch ups with cheese and wine. Birthdays celebrated with Greek sharing platters and coffee dates turning into long tapas dinners. Perhaps it’s the Taurus in me but, whether there’s an occasion or not, sharing food with my friends is one of life’s loveliest pleasures.

It’s not just the eating, it is also the cooking. At 18, it was the first ever time I had complete control over what was in my cupboards and fridge and what I cooked. I experimented and tried new recipes and learnt how my body feels if I don’t eat what is best for me: lessons that I kind of forgot over the last year or so. Although I find the physical act of cooking and eating imperative to both my mental and physical health, it had become a routine task that I kind of hated. I was stuck in cycle of not eating well, not feeling like cooking and then when I did, following extravagant recipes without enough time and care. The end result would often be a disappointment with leftovers abandoned in the fridge and me frustrated at myself for not doing it right.

Then lockdown happened. As I stood in the middle of our living room trying not to panic about what this sudden uncertainty meant and wondering if the plans I had made would even be possible, I said to my mum that I would cook dinner three nights of the week.

It makes sense that this was my gut reaction, although I didn’t fully grasp it in that moment. With so much of life as we know it changing in an instant and so much time to be spent at home, cooking three nights a week was my way of taking back control where I could and knew how to.

When I feel quite anxious, the act of turning on the cooker, heating oil in a frying pan, chopping vegetables, adding seasoning, boiling pasta… whatever it is, all of it, it calms me. Cooking during lockdown has calmed me, it has provided more structure to my days and something to look forward to. With a bit more time than before, my evenings have been filled with kneading dough for focaccia, baking brownies and gluten free chocolate cake and perfecting my macaroni cheese.

One Thursday I decided I was going to make a classic lemon drizzle cake. Determined to get it right, I printed off the recipe and spent an afternoon avoiding work on a quest to find eggs. I was set on the idea that this loaf had to be made today. Eggs were found, I followed the recipe to a tee, and into the oven my loaf went. Forty-five minutes later the timer went off, the smell of baked lemon goods filling the house. Excitedly, I opened the oven door to find an exploded sunken loaf, the remnants burning onto the oven floor.

My eyes began to fill with tears – because of the cake, but not because of the cake. I went to bed in a huff with myself, the oven and the recipe, none of which were too blame.

The next day I cooked jollof, calmly and carefully, following my mum’s instructions and my gut instinct. I put on a podcast, I laughed out loud to an empty kitchen and my shoulders dropped. My jollof banged, my mum approved, and I had forgotten about the lemon drizzle loaf. 

I’m tempted here to insert some metaphor about what it all means, but it’s not that deep or maybe it is? And our relationship with all things food is so personal and different for each and every one of us. If you can, eat, cook, cry when your oven lets you down, cheer when it doesn’t and opt for delivery even when you know you could really collect your order, it’s up to you. Enjoy.

favourite lockdown recipes:

tomiwa foloruso is a writer, presenter and creative based in Edinburgh. She specialises in communications and digital production and is also a project manager with the Empower Project. See her and read her here: instagram, twitter or website

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