Food is a massive part of my life. I’ve always loved cooking and really, truly relish having my own wee kitchen all to myself. I can quite happily spend an hour or two flipping through recipe books and watching cooking shows – I regularly ring my parents to convene over the latest episode of Masterchef. When I was a kid, I used to pretend that I had my own cooking show and (bear with me on this) it was presented by Woody Allen. It was called, surprise surprise, Woody Allen in the Kitchen. I recently asked my mother about it as I thought it was some strange one off but no, she assured me that it was a regular show which she had to watch. I don’t even know if I knew who Woody Allen really was, I just had him pegged as this weedy gentleman obsessed with kitchen safety, in particular the wearing of oven gloves, and would wander round the kitchen lecturing my mother on how to make custard pie (safely!) in a New York accent. I was a strange kid.
I was also a fat kid. Not moral panic inducing fat but fat enough that I have a long, long history of body issues and low self-esteem. It’s only in the last year or so, especially in the last couple of months, that I’ve reached a state where I’m genuinely content with my body. It all came down to eating better and doing more… and not drinking… or smoking. Funnily enough, losing weight was one of those things that made me realise that the problems I had were deeper in my head than I expected. I think I’d always blamed my depression on the way I looked and, while losing weight helped A LOT, I realised that I can still be very unhappy. It also proved that things are changeable and there’s not one simple solution that will fix my life forever. But looking fly is definitely a bonus.
Food is also an important indicator of how I’m feeling and whether I’m looking after myself. When I’m hypomanic food can taste incredible, even if my appetite decreases. Food is always a pleasure and a passion but when I’m up the sensory experience intensifies significantly. Then, when I’m down, all my passion for food goes out of the window. My kitchen, beloved apple of my eye, belies my state of mind as it becomes a dirty, unhappy wasteland. Depression takes away my energy and interest in cooking but I will binge eat on convenient comfort foods until my stomach hurts. I crave sugar and to get me through the deathly lows, even though the spikes in energy can contribute to an even deeper decline. Sometimes though, it just tastes really good.
At other times, it’s steeped in memory. Sardines with fennel, or maybe pancakes, remind me of my mum; spaghetti bolognese makes me think of my dad. Chickpeas remind me of BC, the shit-vegetarian (he ate Haribo, don’t tell me he’s not a fraud) accountant I went out with when I was 18 and he was 26. I have a particular bowl which holds my garlic and reminds me of D, another bloke in the category of bizarre relationships. Space Raiders remind me of K, particularly when served with sweet and sour sauce and an entire birthday cake, but they also remind me of my grandmother as she used to buy me them as a treat – then she’d tell me I was fat, she’s a whole barrel of crazy and I’m sure you’ll meet her again – and first year of uni when I got depressed and ordered 48 boxes off Ebay, which I then hid guiltily under my bed with a note over the top saying something like ‘stop it, fatty’. There’s drinks as well: cider and black reminds me of Glasgow, sambuca makes me think of L but also of a particularly awful nightclub I used to frequent, Jack Daniels of a Very Bad Thing. Non-alcoholic drinks probably remind me of something too but I spent so much of recent history pissed I can’t remember what.
Since I left less savoury consumables behind, food has become an addiction I can nurture relatively safely and it’s something I can reflect on to see what’s the crack in my head. So let’s read the tea leaves and animal entrails (that’ll be sausages then) and put my day on a plate:
Breakfast (Normally around 9.15am but today 12pm – it’s my day off!)
- Porridge with frozen fruits of the forest, raisins, almonds and a squeeze of maple syrup
- Orange juice
- This is my usual breakfast and I try to have it everyday. I usually have coconut rather than almonds.
- When I am depressed, I struggle to get out of bed on a morning and often replace this with Pop Tarts.
Lunch (Between 12-1.30 but today… about 15.30)
- Instant chicken noodles (oh the shame) with peanut butter and fish sauce
- White chocolate Chewee Bar
- I usually buy lunch at uni or take leftovers from dinner if I’ve been organised. I’ve been craving carbs a lot recently as I think my body’s getting ready to hibernate. There’s often a seasonal component to bipolar, similar to SAD.
- It will also often be replaced with Pop Tarts.
Dinner (Anywhere between 18.00 – 20.30 but tonight 21.15ish – I missed my train back from Spanish)
- Monkfish wrapped in bacon
- Buerre blanc sauce
- Ice pop (for dessert)
- This should not be possible on a student budget but thanks to my slavish devotion to the bargain bin parts of Tesco I’ve eaten like a king tonight. The wine had been open in my fridge for at least a month so the buerre blanc was quite… tangy but all in all it was quite good. I rarely eat meat as it’s so expensive – my advice is to buy bacon by the slice, save money and prevent wastage.
- My dinners generally consist of some combination of sardines, sweet potato, spinach, broccoli, onion, anchovies, mushrooms, salad, noodles, peppers, courgette, peas and peanut butter (mixed with fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, chilli, ginger and chicken stock to make a stir-fry sauce TO DIE FOR). I have a good repetoire of relatively healthy dishes built up but my first love was desserts – I make a mean cheesecake and I’m known for my baked bananas with homemade caramel.
- Again, this will often be replaced with Pop Tarts.
*Side note: I’m caught in a conundrum between good and on the way to too good. I’ve been dancing about, generally boisterous and have been running in the flat (this is important as it’s not very big). It’s 1am and I’m not particularly tired, I’ve been going to sleep later and struggling to drop off, but I did have a significant lie in this morning which may explain things. Also written a lot but hey, food’s great, and I’ve been confident on the phone and in person. Not sure if it’s an upswing or just a good mood (I’m definitely not depressed!) but, as W said, either way there’s not much I can do about it. Just something to keep an eye on.