I wanted to make something to stave off the inevitable hunger pangs that reliably hit around 4pm everyday. I have started eating fruit when this happens, which helps to a certain extent, but I inevitably also follow it with random handfuls of dried fruit, nuts and seeds. So I decided to combine these into a snack that would give me energy, whilst also being substantial enough to keep me going until dinner. It is also a desperate bid to get rid of a jar of ground mixed seeds that I have hanging around, which I am not particularly fond of – I end up finding small pieces of hemp seed painfully lodged in my gums after sprinkling them on my morning porridge.
I tipped pretty much the entire contents of my food cupboard into these – beginning with oats and mashed banana, then joyfully pouring in the ground seeds, tahini, peanut butter, cashew nuts, ground almonds, and anything else that needed finishing off. I also found some dried sour cherries hidden behind the pasta that I had bought on a whim several months ago, then completely forgotten about. I opened them and discovered, after chomping down on one rather hard, that they still contained their stones. So I spent a rather tedious hour soaking the cherries in boiling water, then popping out each stone individually.
This sort of thing is all the rage among the nutrition and exercise obsessed, who see them as the perfect ‘post-workout’ snack. There are numerous versions of homemade ‘energy bites’ and ‘high-protein snack bars’ out there, with increasingly ridiculous names – the best one I found was ‘healthy almond joy protein bars’. No joke. This version is raw, which gets a whole host of people on board. ‘Raw’ food is seen as superior by its advocates, as cooking is thought to ‘denature proteins’ amongst other evil things. I’m not prepared to jump on that bandwagon just yet (well, never), but I simply wanted to see if everything would stick together without the need to cook it, more out of laziness than health concern. Turns out it did, although they were much easier to shape into balls than press into bars, leading to the dubious name of ‘seed balls’.
I am writing this in the throes of a brutal hangover from one of the many festive get-togethers that happen at this time of year, always inevitably involving gin. And more gin. Christmas is the only time of year that I seem able to drink on consecutive evenings – culminating in the all day booze-fest that is Christmas Day.
On the day itself, it is perfectly permissible, verging on mandatory, to start consuming something with an ABV of above 10 before 10am. Along with some poor excuse for breakfast, such a Lindt chocolate and a stale mince pie. These nibbles would be an ideal thing to wash down with copious amounts of booze all throughout the day, safe in the knowledge that you haven’t really eaten anything. And anyway they’re vegetables. This leaves ample room for a large roast later in the day, followed by the obligatory Christmas pudding. At which point all pretense of sobriety goes out the window, and the Baileys is poured directly on to your pudding.
These nibbles can be easily made in advance, then just whacked in the oven to cook on the day. I chose to make my own mayonnaise (it really is a doddle) but you can just mix mustard into some bought stuff if it’s too much hassle.
I was sent a link recently to a series of images where the photographer had recreated meals from all their favourite books. This got me thinking about books that I had read and remembered particular things that the characters ate, or meals that were vividly described. From childhood, I can recall exactly the pie that was eaten by Danny in Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World, wrapped in greaseproof paper, and containing whole eggs in amongst the filling.
I have just finished reading The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. In this book, two worlds run side by side. In one of them, the two characters seem to incessantly eat popcorn. There are many passages devoted to their choice of topping, how they cook it, and so on for a surprisingly long time. When I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about popcorn. So I decided to make some.
I experimented with both a savoury and a sweet topping, these being smoked paprika, and cinnamon and sugar. There are many others you could use – some options I remember from the book are parmesan, thai five spice powder, and mixed herbs. There is a certain amazement in these dry yellow things suddenly magically transforming into the stuff you get at the cinema. It took me a few tries to get the temperature just right, as the oil can’t be too hot as it will burn the kernels, but it needs to be hot enough to make them pop.