Illustrated by Ellie Bassford // @lovefromeleanor_
“Nourish yourself as if you’re taking care of the most precious thing in the world: strengthen your bones with milkshakes, patch up cuts and bruises with cheese on toast. Eat for your life."
– Taken from Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh
One of my earliest memories: I am a toddler, maybe two, and I’m screaming in the back of the car. My nana, in the front seat next to whoever is driving (most likely my mum), stretches out her hand to me and offers a chocolate button. I taste one and instantly stop screaming. I’m actually not sure if that is a memory – the story has been told so many times that it is probably more likely it has planted itself in my head. But of course, one button wasn’t enough, and I spent the rest of the car journey quietly gobbling the rest – the adults grateful for the peace and quiet.
After that day, chocolate became my very favourite thing. I didn’t eat it every day, and I didn’t usually have it in my lunchbox at school (unless you count a Penguin or Wagon Wheel as chocolate which, quite frankly, I do not. They are biscuits). But sometimes, on our way home from school, my mum would stop at the sweet shop and we could choose whatever we wanted to eat on the car journey home. My little sister preferred sweets; always straight for the Jelly Tots or Starbursts, whereas I loved nothing more than a bar of chocolate – a Marble (a now discontinued white, hazelnut and dark swirl chocolate) or Dream (also discontinued white chocolate) or a tube of Munchies.
The very best treat of all was something my Mum made when friends came over for tea. She’d fill a wine glass with Angel Delight and decorate the top with Smarties or Jelly Tots or M&Ms. My friends would always exclaim, “Wow! Your Mum is so cool”, and it’s true – she was. She is.
I still love having treats – it is the way I break up my day, or my week, and having tiny little things to savour and look forward to has made the past year slightly more tolerable. My weekday eating is made up of food that will keep me sustained while I’m working; porridge for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, chicken or stir fries or pasta for dinner so I save the weekend for my very favourite things. On Saturday mornings, I have freshly baked pain au chocolat with a mug of steaming coffee and on Sundays I eat my favourite brunch: fluffy nduja scrambled eggs with hash browns. We tend to have a roast on Sunday evenings, and I always have a pudding: chocolate torte dusted with cocoa powder and raspberries, sticky toffee pudding with custard, brownies with fresh cream.
For me, seeking out little instances of joy has been a saving grace. I am trying to pay attention more, and more than anything, the last year has taught me how to do that. I am trying to hold onto the moments that I find so beautiful they take my breath away: the purple haze of sunsets, the soft sigh of my dog as she settles down to sleep in my lap, the endless magic I find in books, in films, on television.
As well as that, I will always turn to food and cooking for joy. The simple pleasure of a leisurely brunch with the Sunday papers, baking a lopsided birthday cake for someone you love, just unwrapping a bar of your favourite chocolate after a day best left behind.
Treats do not need to be monumental, expensive things. Of course, a bottle of Champagne or a ribboned box of chocolate truffles is lovely, but these aren’t what get us through the darkest and strangest of times. Sometimes when I have had a particularly long day, the things I look forward to most are the most trivial: the cup of Yorkshire tea with a slice of banana loaf my Mum has made, the blisteringly hot curry on a Friday night after the week is done, the hot chocolate in my favourite chipped mug before I go to sleep. These little rituals soften the sharp edges of difficult times, make life that little bit more bearable and bring light and pleasure where they are so desperately needed.
The next time you’re about to eat a bowlful of something you love, and you find yourself wondering whether you should, remember this: you deserve pleasure and you deserve joy – take hold of it whenever, wherever and however you can.