Our Food Writer Sam Grapples With Age & Asian Cuisine

Batman, Broken Social Scene, Fight Club & Cliffhanger get involved in a scrap with glistening hunks of goat butter in the latest edition of Sam Herlihy's food column

I think it was Batman that said something along the lines of, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” Batman was obviously never woken up by a two year old kneeing him in either the small of his back or his balls, depending on which side he was lying on. The breaking of dawn seems to me a pretty linear curve; black to grey to blue to hellish early winter sun bleach white. The light from around the blind is as evil looking as the light around the fridge door in Ghostbusters.

I’m writing the gist of this while hanging off the edge of my bed. My skull is being gravity-fed with warm iron rich blood. The Mini-Kid has her toenails in my kidneys. Baby feet are sweet and “so small and purdey” I know, but right now they feel like five tiny razor tipped rasps stripping flesh from my spine. Her other hand was on my shoulder but she just removed it and called me a “bear”. I obviously need to get my back waxed or Veeted or something, but I haven’t done that since I was in a band. It seems unseemly to me to Veet. As a prematurely old man who used to be in a band, and is called Sam. Cobbled together rhymes worked then, and they’ll work now I’m sure.

This is surely not how bestsellers are written. There’s no way you are coming up with the Phileas Fogg theme and Forrest Gump-isms of that Cloud Atlas book on the ‘Notes’ app on an old iPhone at 5:10am. That insanely popular book about that couple meeting up every Pancake Day to bone was definitely not conjured up while hanging upside down from a bed, silently hexing the birds who have now woken up and are starting their day with a bickering screeching sing-song like drunk girls in Cardiff city centre on Saturday night.

Full disclosure; I have never read either of those books. I am a whiney book snob. If it’s popular and can be read by the majority of opposable thumbed human beings, I will, on principle, decide to loathe it. The only books I read are miserable and crap.

On a bitter and snobbish side note, I saw an advert for those Stieg Larsson books on a train platform last week. Instead of being plastered with quotes from critics showing praise on them, the quotes were from ‘dur publick’. Because Gary, 36, Call Centre Worker from Dundee says that these books, “Blew my mind! You HAVE to read them!”, means that I absolutely do not have to read them. Karen, 51, Hospital Waste Disposal Consultant from Swindon says “Amazing!”. I can surely take this to mean “Woeful”. The best one was Mark, 61, Retired Greenhouse Chemical Supplier, Cumbernauld who said, “Smart, Sexy, had me on the edge of my seat! Do it!”. There is clearly no way one can take the advice of a 61-year-old retired man who talks like a teenage girl who has just come out of a screening of Saw 15: Bits, Cut Up.

My head is filling up with blood because I don’t want to forget this idea I had. All these food things I write seem to be about the same thing; memory. Every cookbook I read seems to drone on the same theme. Family and history and tradition and memories of halcyon days on and on and on. Like that Oneohtrix Point Never record, where nothing ever happens. The Kid said this morning when I dropped her at school, “That record stinks Daddy.” It does.

Within the last paragraph were two references to Deerhunter. Deerhunter are what started this whole thing off. Them and Broken Social Scene. I used to love them both. I couldn’t wait for their respective new records to be released. 2010 sucked. Halcyon Digest has two good songs, Forgiveness Rock Record maybe one. What happened?

A quote you could also attribute to Batman is, “It’s not you, it’s me.” He must have said it to Tom Cruise’s Beard, aka Joey Potter, in the first one. If not, then he definitely would have had to say it to Robin before Chris Nolan turned up. The Nolan don’t roll with no homoeroticism on Imax film. Batman had changed. Pacey’s missus was still a lovely lady, but he had changed and moved on. 

I have changed, and moved on too. Maybe Halcyon Digest doesn’t suck, but I would just rather eat Vietnamese food. Perhaps my old favorite band, BSS, kept a run of great records going, but I would just rather make noodle soup.

To explain the above: it’s all because of goat butter. (As always, not prison slang. Would make a great band name though, but not as good as Butt Magician, my current puerile favorite.) I used to love food that could be described with the same adjectives you would use to paint farmer’s wives; hearty, warming, rugged, slow-cooked, thick. My first committed kitchen endeavours were always meals that would take all day to cook. These were meals for Sundays, for steamed up kitchen windows and teamwork. There was no room for delicacy and daintiness. This was about long and slow, braises and simmers, hunks of dumb vegetables like carrots and leeks. No vegetable intellectuals like aubergines or diced shallots, always spuds and onions and whacking great clods of green leafy stuff. The only herbs I cared about were parsley and wooden ones, thyme and rosemary. Sage sucked then and sucks now. 

This food wasn’t garbage and slops, however. It was the true meaning of the word ‘good’. It was lush. It wasn’t some Northern honesty food routine. It wasn’t ‘onest ‘n’ ‘ardworkin. It was bloody pricey Islington farmer’s market mutton and rare breed beef. Braving a farmer’s market anywhere can be a hideous life-sapping twat extravaganza at the best of times, but Islington hungover on a Sunday morning was truly painful. Price apart, what you could get there made it just about tolerable.

It was cooked with care and with half a brain. I knew what salt was and I knew that cooked vegetables differ from soup, they maintain their structure and taste of more than sulfurous water and peat bogs.

Time ground onwards and my band collapsed, I moved home from London. Getting older, changes manifest themselves slyly and more often than not, malignantly. One day there is grey in your eyebrow. The day after you discover this impostor, this stowaway on a jet-black fur-boat, you finally look at your haggard, jowly, burst blood vessel mapped mug. There is more than one grey hair hidden here! You are Alistair Darling in reverse, or flipped, or in negative, however you want to imagine it! Urgh! Why is your face so red? When the remainder of your hair unhooks and jumps, you are going to look like a hammer-struck thumb in a cartoon? Gross!

I was shopping and I looked down in the trolley and I noticed the change. There were no slabs of meat I was planning on braising in Guinness or red wine. There was no rosemary or thyme, even though that which grows in my garden tastes of cat urine and pesticide. There were carrots, but smaller ones. Onions but red ones, and shallots in there too. Parsley was absent, but its more glamourous, slutty sister coriander was there, winking and showing some leg, like a soapy tasting, green prostitute. How did frozen lemongrass get in here? Why do I get up in the night, every night, to urinate? How many types of noodles do I really need? Or chillies? Comfort is now the only factor in what clothes I pour myself into every awful morning. Miso? Back pain. Palm sugar? Taken up golf. Thai condiment Nam Prik Pao? My wife loathes me, and I want a shed to hide/masturbate in.

I made like Sly Stallone in Cliffhanger when he drops that woman, and dropped the Asian ingredients. I then made like Sly Stallone at the end of Cliffhanger when he doesn’t drop that dude, and held on to the past. I grabbed some form of slow-cookable meat, potatoes, carrots like orange heavy artillery rounds, green cabbage, and some butter – fat, yellow goat butter. The goat aspect was a lucky discovery. I’d never had it before but I was certain it would add more ‘farm’ and more ‘England’ to dinner. It was to be a culinary renaissance! Through butter and barely bubbling simmers, I would regain my youth! My hair would grow long and be greasy! As the windows steamed up with boiling vegetable steam, my back would not hurt and I would surely recall the lyrics to my top thirty hit single ‘Nehemiah’! My golf clubs would vanish and be replaced with a guitar and a JD and Coke! These thick gravy doused roast potatoes are the path back to sexual congress with strangers, without a two-year-old singing the theme tune to Thomas The Tank Engine in my ear through a baby monitor! Burn the sexy shed/hideout down! Daddy’s whipping more butter into root vegetables!

Surveying the quarter-eaten spread before me, I became aware that I was dying. My blood had become thick and fatty. I could feel my veins attempting to shift it along like people stuffing sausages. I couldn’t move from my seat, I had become as heavy as the central point of an imploding star. Some sort of gravitational, physics and chaos maths impossibility weight was surely pushing me through the Earth’s crust. I swiveled my exhausted butter-dripping eyes to My Wife. She looks as she did after childbirth, spent, sweating, and drained. There is the same weird look of shock and rage that I had put her through such an ordeal. She doesn’t seem to be talking. My ears are filled with a sinewave tone like an eardrum-rupturing explosion just went off in the room, a butter concussion. I am unable to explain what has led us both here. Me, surely a gravy and spud murderer; her an unknowing victim of a cabbage-powered stroll down memory lane. 

I am the dead fat dude at the start of Seven. I am formed entirely of potato, soft shreds of meat and so much terrible butter, viscous farmyard puddles of butter.

It takes a week or so to recover. My wife barely forgives me. Noodles and rice, chillies and ginger, fish sauce and showers of coriander return. This is surely why these people live longer than we do: no butter.

The food is different because it has to be. It should be. Eating the same stuff from childhood until death is just too strange and sad to even imagine. It will change again I’m sure. In few years’ time I’ll hopefully hate all this Pan-Asian crap and be cooking South America or Scandinavia. Right now, rye bread and cured fish with names containing many letter ‘k’s doesn’t massively appeal, but I hope it does one day. If I return one day to the heavy but truly ‘good’ food of my formative cooking years, and it kills me, then there are surely worse ways to go. 

The disappointments of 2010. They’re not Bradford Cox’s fault, though he really should learn how to record an acoustic guitar. That pissy fuzzy hiss noise is NOT what an acoustic guitar sounds like. It’s not Kevin Drew’s fault, but come on dude, ‘Art House Director’? Don’t let that guitarist sing again.

It’s me who is different. I’ve changed. I am woken by baby toes and know how light levels alter through dawn. I have a shorter, more sensible haircut. I haven’t picked up a guitar in months but my golf swing is getting there. I have no shed as of yet, but I’d like one.

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