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Frank Talking: “You are what you eat” – Oh dear, I hope not!

It appears that formal dinner parties involving place settings and fancy dishes are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. This sort of social gathering both made famous and mocked by the late 1970’s television ‘Play For Today’ – Abigail’s Party, has all but disappeared from modern life.

The more up-to-date dining arrangement for friends is more often than not called ‘supper’ and usually involves fairly modest food that your host feels comfortable cooking. Unlike in days of yore, our heroine doesn’t have time to fiddle-about too much with the grub and waft about in an elegant manner making brittle conversation with people she and hubby are hoping to impress.

Nevertheless, more than half will clean the house from top to bottom which is a bit of a bonus really I suppose and 90% will indicate to their menfolk just where, and where not, they can go to the lavatory before guests arrive. No, I don’t know why – don’t ask me! Anyway, this got me to thinking how the food we eat has changed over the years and not always for the good.

For instance I remember when wraps first came in – that was a turning point in my approach to a snack lunch. “Do you know, I think I might have a WRAP?” you’d say. Then you would come back into the office with your wrap, and everyone would crowd round for a look at your wrap. They’d ask concerned questions like, “Does it fill you up, your wrap?” “But does it fill you up as much as a sandwich?” All very important wrap-based questions, because at the time I was at the very cutting edge of alternative office lunches.

This was on the days that I couldn’t get out to the pub at lunchtime and drink vast quantities of ale as befitted my profession. That legendary contributor to the satirical magazine Private Eye, isn’t called Lunchtime O’ Booze for nothing you know! I wrote somewhere else recently that for almost ten years I dined at lunchtime on steak & ale pie, chips and peas – this was because there were only three things on the menu at the local pub I inhabited – one was something to do with pasta and the other a fussy colleague once found a fingernail in his cod & chips once and so that wasn’t ever an option I’m afraid to say.

Then sushi came onto the scene, and as I thought myself to be incredibly cosmopolitan and chic, I would dutifully eat it both at home, at work and socially, while all the time finding its taste deeply disgusting. I would spent about seven quid a day on sixteen grains of rice wrapped in a piece of green tarpaulin, which over the course of six months added up to the cost of a modest bungalow near Bournemouth.

Nowadays, with no need to impress anyone as to my sophistication I take no notice of modern trends and so when asked what I would like to eat of an evening I leave it up to the woman in my life and then moan about it all afterwards. Nevertheless, I still treasure the memory of the night my mum and dad caught a bus into Southampton during the mid-60’s and went to a Chinese restaurant.

So impressed was my dad by the food that night, he’d stop strangers in the street to tell them all about the ‘Hong Kong Dragon’ restaurant and the fact that he had a go at eating with these little stick things and that Chinese food was “quite the latest thing.”

I thought about dad the other evening when I blithely tucked into a Moroccan dish and wondered in this day and age who would be overly impressed by almost any nationality of foodstuff or style of eating? Funnily enough, as we become more adventurous in some ways regarding food i.e. name a nationality and we’ve eaten it!

But at the same time, the grindingly familiar fast-food eateries are everywhere, ubiquitous in their dreary blandness. I am proud to say that the last time I went into a fast-food joint was over five years ago – but there’s the rub, happily I can afford to eat elsewhere when others might not be so well blessed.

Or is it that simple? Some foodies insist that good food does not have to cost a fortune, but where are the skills gone whereupon everyone knows how to make good food from scratch? My nephew who is a headteacher at a large comprehensive school tells me that lessons such as domestic science and cookery have been abandoned a long time ago. Why would this be I wonder, when being able to cook for yourself and your family is surely an important yet basic life skill?

Happily, over the years I’ve noticed that more and more men have become keen amateur cooks. My son, son-in-law, brother-in-law and two brothers are all keen cooks, and yet, and yet, – I have yet to catch the cooking bug. It’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just that I prefer to help in the preparation, rather than take total responsibility for the food. Unlike most men, I like shopping for meals at any time, or on occasions if we have people around for dinner I am happy to do the ‘shop’ beforehand and help with the ‘prep’ but the actual cooking fills me with dread.

That’s why perhaps, I will try to be a little more adventurous in the kitchen, moving on somewhat from my Philadelphia cheese, salad and ham wraps, which have become my signature dish in the kitchen.

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