Thursday, 29 March 2012

Feeling communal

I'm in the middle of writing some features about breakfast. That's the theme of this year's National Vegetarian Week so it stands to reason we need to talk about breakfast in the mag. I've learnt some interesting stuff about the history - the evolution of bread, the arrival of tea and coffee in Britain, and the rise and fall of the lavish country house breakfast. Also about the Kellogg brothers and the various vegetarians who brought us the joy that is breakfast cereal. (I must be missing something.)

And here I am, enjoying the morning sunshine with a cup of tea and some cold beans on toast. Shut up. It's a bit like pâté, can't you see? Only lumpier. Crushed haricots in a piquant spiced tomato jus. On Thomas bread. Which is not a distant cousin of Graham flour but the kind of horrific square white sliced goo that no respectable food writer should entertain, ever. But Thomas is in da house and Thomas bread is one of the five things he will eat. The others are plain pasta with nothing on it, oven chips, plain pancakes and, weirdly, whole boiled eggs, which you'd think would freak out most fussy eaters. Oh, and meat of any description, supplied by his mother, who presumably truly believes that it's doing him some good, although she's an intelligent woman and it's hard to understand how the grim facts about meat have slipped under her radar. Surely she's training him to eat meat because she thinks it's good for his health. Surely bloody-mindedness doesn't have anything to do with it.

Anyway, let's not let the unpleasant thought of her spoil this sunny morning. (Take deep breath. Consider going indoors and looking in cupboards for dusty yoga mat. It's the thought that counts.)

The Guild of Food Writers AGM went off well. As Secretary I have to deliver a report, which is a bit scary. We held it in a room in the Houses of Parliament, which added to the tension as it felt like a very big deal. It was fun telling people I was planning to make a speech in the House! In fact the room was in Portcullis House which is a very spiffy modern building with the biggest atrium I've ever seen. You can't get in without being x-rayed. I thought that was bad for you? What with the exposure to the rays I've had at the Vatican, the dentist and City Hall in San Francisco, where I had to be frisked and take a number before I could get married, I should think my exposure levels are getting dangerously high. Portcullis House also took a photo of me and insisted I wore it on a bit of cord around my neck. In case I forget who I am? That can happen.

Anyway, the speech went off very well, Richard Ehrlich said he was impressed and Clarissa Hyman told me she was proud of me. Result! Then it was time for drinks and nibbles, which it turns out Parliament does rather well. I expect they do it a lot. Plenty for veggies and vegans including platters piled high with onion bhajis, spicy potato wedges and some dinky fruit kebabs with a dipping sauce which I failed to investigate because I wasn't sure I could maintain grace and decorum whilst prising pineapple chunks off a skewer with my prehensile lips.

Once the speechifying is over, it's actually fascinating to find yourself in a room full of strangers who all write about food. We have something in common, but practically everybody has a specialism. I chatted to an academic who specialises in food history (checked out her views on breakfast, apparently people have been eating bacon and eggs for ages), another who writes about food-preparation devices and another who is a vivacious expert on Jewish cookery. Together, the Guild members are an amazing resource!

Frankly, I was starting to feel a bit of a fraud last year when my regular magazine column (The Vegetarian Foodie) and my column in the local newspaper both fizzled out. I'm still the Editor of The Vegetarian magazine, which sounds as if it's about food but tends to branch into animal welfare and green living - which is good, but it's not doing much for my credentials as a food writer. The good news is that suddenly at the end of last year I somehow managed to get commissioned to write two cookery books, by two different publishers. Contracts are in place and now I'm over the initial euphoria, it's down to work. One of the books is a straightforward cookbook,with 365 vegetarian recipes divided by season. We started talking about it last autumn and decided that I should deliver the book in seasonal chunks, starting with autumn since at the time I was surrounded by inspiring autumnal produce. Now it's March and it feels all wrong to be cooking up things with pumpkins and pears when I should be into rhubarb and rocket by now. Still, the pace required is breath-taking. I'll be writing 90 or so winter recipes in April, and devoting May and June to Spring and Summer respectively, so eventually I'll catch up with myself.

The other book is much more complicated and involves making contact with vegetarians and vegans all over the world and writing complete meal plans so that readers can create the kind of food typically enjoyed by vegetarians in various countries, with some confidence. I'm still tracking down useful contacts but PETA and the International Vegetarian Union have been a great help. Seems to me I ought to be using Twitter to find friends in foreign places but I'm still not all that savvy - although I'll soon be going along to a Guild of Food Writers workshop on using 'new media' so with a bit of luck that will give me a useful nudge. Anyway, it has been quite exciting watching my email in-box fill up with contacts from enthusiastic vegetarians and vegans who want to contribute to the project. Denmark, Brazil, Singapore, Canada, India, Thailand... It's a joy to 'meet' all these positive, healthy vegetarian cooks - and a lot of them have already published books of their own. I feel as if I'm joining a global community of vegetarian food writers!

The sun has finally come around the side of the house next door, and I'm enjoying the short moment when it shines on me and my rickety decking before it disappears behind next-door's enormous trees. Suck up those rays. Pretty sure these are the good kind, I'm synthesising vitamin D like a thing possessed. Soooner or later I'm going to have to go back into the kitchen and work out exactly how I make the oven-baked 'risotto' that finds its way onto our table when there's not much in the house except rice and white wine. Overall I'd rather be inventing a salad on a day like this, but I'm not complaining. I hope I'm not tempting fate, but things feel pretty good today.

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