Confession time. I am a committed foodie. Addicted? Personally, I’m not so sure, though I think some of my friends and family would be more certain. There, that’s out of the way. I’m also a writer and editor, a gardener and a walker. But I’m always, always, a foodie.
Several years ago I came to my senses. I suddenly realised that I could work from anywhere, I could go back to the sort of environment in which I grew up; I didn’t have to be in London. And so, inspired by one of my oldest friends who had recently returned to North Wales, I quit.
Yes, I swapped the dubious charms of my view of Streatham nick (over my garden wall), for one which is considerably more inspiring – just a bit – but I didn’t leave work. I must have been subconsciously preparing my flight because I’d been building up work as a freelancer, as a self-employed editor and writer.
All I stopped doing was working in house and I didn’t miss that, especially after London gave me a special farewell gift – a three-hour gridlock in the Russell Square area. But I did miss certain things, mostly food (and friends, I add, hastily).
While I freely acknowledge that I’m a hack – if my gay friends can reclaim the word ‘queer’, I can reclaim the word ‘hack’ – I do specialise in food, food issues, and drink (especially wine) and feel quite violently about many aspects of prevailing food culture; I’m a member of the Guild of Food Writers. But I found myself suddenly transported to a different world in Snowdonia, one far removed from the metropolitan lifestyle I’d been adopted by and become adapted to.
I’d also halved my income and spent a silly amount of money trying to stop an old cottage from doing what it wanted to do – set itself on fire with ancient wiring. However I was determined to still eat well, to still enjoy myself doing so and to continue hunting out all sorts of foodie possibilities, including growing my own. And do all of that without breaking the bank, most of which was promised to the electrician anyway.
It’s been easier than I thought and, boy, is there a foodie revival going on in Wales, one which is building from year to year. There’ve always been great traditional dishes, often bastardised, frequently argued over (the vexed question of whose bara brith is a true bara brith can take over the village show, and the fallout may last for months). Now there are many more Michelin-starred restaurants and great cafés, plus there are loads of fantastic producers and creators of everything from sensational beef to amazing, silky chocolate. But the scale is different. Once I had everything on my doorstep; it’s a bit more of an effort these days. But it’s worth it. Really, really worth it. In fact the situation has improved so much that I’m now quite easily able to test and try new recipes without resorting to eBay (surprisingly useful) or the more obscure corners of the internet.
Blogging about all this was a natural development and, apart from pauses when I’m being paid to write by other people and get bogged down in deadlines / can’t bear spending more time in front of a screen, I’ve been doing so ever since. I have recently decided that I’ve been getting a bit – well, lazy. So I’m deliberately trying new-to-me recipes from my, um, extensive collection of books and blogging about the experience, as detailed here.
Sydney Smith found himself ‘twelve miles from a lemon’ in the early nineteenth century. Lemons, I can do in the village – as long as I don’t want organic or unwaxed. But I’m still fifty-five miles from fresh yeast in the twenty-first, though I’m not letting that stop me. (And given how hard it is to find it anywhere other than on the internet, I suspect this would still have been true in south London.)