28 January 2009

I declare...

Gosh, I'm leaving this year's theme announcement late.

Each year I decide to focus on one foodish area of concentration. Previous years had me in a soup, developing my tarty ways, deciding that
vanilla really isn't so boring and, of course, last year I cooked through the Milk Calendar's recipes.

Between work and the various non-work-that-sometimes-seems-like-work, more often than not I just feel run off my feet. I know I'm not alone--many people I know seem to be looking for that elusive balance. Long, shortstaffed office hours, swarms of deadline-a-dactyls, family and personal commitments that are best met with a combination of
TARDIS and highly caffeinated drinks are no longer the exception, but the norm. Add ubiquitous, expensive and pervasive marketing lobbed to convince us of our own personal inadequacies via our appearance, age, bank balances, capabilities in the workshop/kitchen/bedroom, and the myriad layers we carry (by choice or foisted upon us) seem to bury us.

Some of us are lucky to have our own self-righting mechanisms: friends and family, physical escapes to cottages or a half-day at a spa or hobbies such as music, writing or a good hour or two at the pool. Me, I find peace in solitude; I draw the curtains and retreat into a quiet space with some music and a stack of books. Instant therapeutic bliss is usually discovered within the confines of my kitchen or a bowl emanated from someone else's kitchen.

I find no fault in foodish comfort, although I know some do. Perhaps its because so many traditional comfort foods use a combination of fat, sugar and salt--all daemonised in today's nutritionism-cum-marketing gone awry. Although the restorative properties of fruit, veg and spices are well known--and I've partaken in such things, I personally have never found solace in a raw carrot stick or a 100-calorie pot of low-fat anything. Really. When I need consoling, a bowl of ice cream with fudge sauce works more miracles than every probiotic, blue algae-imbued, Omega 3ed high-fibre, low-fat energy bar.

Comfort and restoration are incredibly personal things. What comforts me may discomfort you. I understand that. What restores me may make you run for the hills. I get that too. Different things restore me in different ways. It's not all butter, sugar and cream. Sometimes it's a clear broth or a hot cup of tea. My foods that comfort rarely use recipes. It's by usually by feel and instinct. Even though I think it important to know what lifts our mental load, I don't necessarily want to know why it offers respite. Sometimes the only real explanation needed is "because it does."

So betwixt and between all the scurries of life, all the demands placed upon us and we place upon ourselves, I hereby declare 2009 the year of comfort and restoration.

So, what's my January restorative? What am I drawn to to bring not only comfort, but balance? Miso soup. After the traditional Christmas-New Year somewhat zhuzhed gluttony I want the converse. I want simple and I want clean. I don't want to fret over the stove and prepare a long list of ingredients, but I don't want a heat and dump meal.

Miso is a thick paste made by fermenting rice or soybeans with salt, some fungus and some soy. It can be used for sauces, marinades, spreads, pickling vegetables or meats as well as soups. If you've not tried it, it's a bit salty and the ones I've tried have an earthy, yeasty (think vegemitish) aroma.

It's usually my starter at a sushi supper--bits of seaweed, green onion and tofu floating in the broth--but at home, I'll make a light supper or lunch of it. I still keep it Spartan--a teaspoon of miso mixed into a mug of boiling water alone, or sometimes with a few thinly sliced mushrooms.


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