I just read this highly-recommended article by the Guardian’s restaurant critic, who usually writes snort-provoking and occasionally scathing but fair reviews of aspirational new eateries, with price points that often made your eyes pop. Now that circumstances have, from one day to the next, turned upside-down the luxury food obsessions and consumption habits we took so casually, she has turned her hand to (even better, in my opinion) social commentary. In her article she observes how many people’s hidden food preferences (c.f. tinned sardines in tomato sauce) have been forced into the light, and how formerly farmer-market-organic-only shoppers who scoffed at the likes of Aldi are now packing its car parks with their Audis and their Audi boots with supernoodles (‘it’s as if River Cottage never happened’).
As someone whose shopping habits and lists are famous – amongst those who know me- for being aspirational and recherché, this article hits home (see earlier reference to sending my flatmate on a forage around a Waitrose in south London for barberries).
Before, stockpiling consisted of filling my spice drawers with every possible obscure ingredient from any recipe ever written by Ottolenghi, now leaving my poor -& amazing- flatmate with the dilemma of what to do with, inter alia, asafoetida, as she prepares to move us into a new London flat mid-quarantine. While I still take comfort in reading Guardian Feast, I feel rising scorn and anger, first towards the writers and the privilege they assume we have (Ha! Can you buy wild garlic in Aldi?? I don’t think so!), and then towards myself for previously taking all of this privilege for granted. That said, my quarantine shopping lists have not lost their aspiration entirely, tahini still being considered a basic food item.
But this online life has thrown up a new and unexpected shopping conundrum. As our weekly church service has now moved into cyberspace, communion, while still collectively celebrated, has become a D.I.Y., or better B.Y.O., affair. Last week, unprepared, I scrambled for a mediterranean cracker for the Body of Christ five minutes before the service. A somewhat unconvential substitute, but also unusually fitting, transporting me momentarily a little geographically closer to the Last Supper scene. A friend of mine reported using beetroot juice for the Blood, and my vicar’s daughter asked at the end whether the communion felt ‘magicked enough’. Some conversations on transubstantiation and consubstantiation have ensued, and I am still unsure where we are theologically with all of that.
This week, faced with the grimmer prospect of sliced pan (talking of food secrets, I hereby disclose that, to my continued dismay, my parents still consider this a type of bread), I received a timely revelation of some frozen naan bread dough in the freezer (which turned out to be true, as I had put it there last week). Hopefully I am not about to slip into blasphemy as I say this, but there is something perhaps even more ‘communing’ about being involved in the process of making the Body of Christ; investing your emotional and physical hunger and energy into kneading until the raising agents and gluten are activated, leaving it be for the ‘magic’ to occur, watching it come to life and turn golden in the fiery furnace, before feeding on it, body and soul, with thanksgiving.
That all seemed sorted then, until I found, to my horror, only white wine in our stockpile. Last week the B.Y.O. Blood of Christ had worked in my favour, being apportioned (by myself) a larger than usual sip. Racking my brains came up with only one result: water + prayer for miracle. That is until my ever-thoughtful father came running in with a jar of red liquid: some spiced and sugared red wine that had been used to poach pears for their ‘last supper’ with friends before lockdown descended. Another unconventional but fitting development. So there you have it: today’s communion is naan bread and sweet spicy red wine. May it be to us His Body and His Blood.
The naan bread recipe can be found here. Spiced red wine, a family secret for now.