Food is the centre of my everything. My Mum always joked that when I was younger (and still to this day) I politely ask what’s for dinner, as soon as I finish my breakfast. I don’t know when I became like this, but I guess food gives me something to look forward to. Something that keeps me happy all day, knowing that I have a warm bowl of chilli, or a roast chicken to savour later on. My Dad isn’t the same at all - he sums it up well: he eats to live, while I live to eat.
I now also live to cook. But, I’m not sure I’m the kind of cook who loves the art of it all. I’m incredibly messy, disorganised and as Tim would attest, a complete hurricane in the kitchen. Instead the focus is on the taste, on this part of my day that is intensely enjoyed. I cook to eat my creations, rather than for the process itself.
My dish is ‘Anything Fried Rice’, because for me it defines a moment in my life where everything was difficult, but this brought me brief moments of joy. During the summer before my second year of university, I got a pretty severe bout of food poisoning while in Rome. My disgusting fun fact, as many of my friends know, is that I have thrown up in the Sistine Chapel - classy, I know. But, I had no idea that that was just the beginning. From then on my stomach was not the same.
I had extreme hot flushes, bizarre bowel issues and huge amounts of pain. I was tested for everything, and promptly booked in for a colonoscopy. This was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, back at uni in York with my friends providing incredible support. For someone who savours taste - lives for it even, this powerful sense equally translates terrible tasting things. I will never forget the synthetic berry flavour of the two litres of laxative you are required to drink the night before a colonoscopy. Two litres is a lot of liquid, but even more so when it tastes of a synthetically sweetened disguise for a putrid tasting drug. I got through it, I’m not sure how, but I cried almost the entire time - knowing that while constantly gagging, that I couldn’t afford to throw up, or not enough of it would be in my system.
I was told I’d be sedated for the procedure, but when I was discussing things with the nurse beforehand, I was given a couple of options. If I instead had a strong injected painkiller I’d be allowed to eat once I got home, otherwise it would have been 48 hours without food. As you can imagine, for me this was a no-brainer. My wonderful pals pre-ordered a chinese takeaway (my greatest weakness) with one extra large portion of special fried rice. I donned my gown, and forced my way through, even looking at my own appendix on the screen between passings out in pain, aided by my injection and copious amount of gas and air. Just as promised, I was sent home, ordered to be monitored by someone for 24 hours (sorry Ellie, for drawing the short straw) and in just a couple of hours I was tucking into my long awaited rice.
I can’t tell you how much joy this brought me. It meant that this part was over. I was no longer in a hospital, alone, showing parts of myself to strangers, mortified by bodily functions and feeling tiny and invisible at 19. Here I was, in my living room, with people who had my back, with my beloved food.
Rice didn’t just save me then. It had continuously saved me throughout my illness (later diagnosed as the continuously misunderstood Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and continues to now. When I couldn’t eat anything, as my stomach turned itself upside down and inside out, my trusty faithful was Uncle Ben’s Golden Rice. It became a running joke among my friends, that I had shares in the stuff. I had already lost a stone in 4 months, I knew how important it was for me to try and eat. When I could stomach a little more, I’d make my own, with whatever I could find in the cupboard and freezer.
Incredibly simple and always delicious, fried rice has now been my go to for the last five years- for those last minute dinners when I was working long hours, when I was lost and mourning, when I was missing home, when I was feeling small and alone. When I need a hug most of all, this dish does it. It’s the ultimate ‘I got you’, because in my experience when life isn’t going the way you planned your fridge is tellingly empty. As you’ll see, you really can throw anything into this. Be creative with it, make it your own. And make it your safety meal - everyone needs one.
Anything Fried Rice:
Serves 1 very hungry person, or 2 hungry-ish people
1 boil in a bag long grain rice, or 1 microwaveable packet
1 or 2 eggs
A large handful of frozen peas
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
Anything you can find to throw in - here I’ve fried chunks of veggie burger patties. Bacon, chicken, sausages and veg work well too. A great twist is to add garlic and kimchi instead of oyster sauce - have a go!
Boil or microwave the rice, following the instructions on the pack.
Heat sesame oil in a wok, and add any meat/meat substitute/veg that you wish to include. Fry until golden and cooked through.
Add the cooked rice. Fry for a couple of minutes on a high heat. Add the soy and oyster sauce, stirring continuously.
Sweep the rice to one side of the wok and crack the egg(s) onto the cleared side. Using one chopstick, stir the eggs rapidly to make cooked chunks, large or small - however you like them! Grab a wooden spoon and fold into the rest of the rice.
Add the frozen peas and stir well.
Rest for one minute and dish up!