This has been the most difficult entry yet.
Not because I don’t know enough about the subject matter, but because I know it all too well.
As you know, I don’t have trouble talking. I usually don’t have trouble talking about myself, but this occasion proved to be an exception.
I feel that it’s time for me to explain why exactly I decided to write a cookbook. I’ve been referring to it a great deal on these pages (my not entirely subtle attempt to shift some copies), so I should probably tell you what inspired mix. in the first place.
As you might already know if you’ve read my bio and spotted the cute picture of me taken when I was knee high to a kitchen table, I grew up in Portadown. Like much of Northern Ireland, it’s a town where the old and the new collide, where town life meets the rural way of doing things, and the present tries to shake off the past like a tattered coat – but doesn’t quite manage it.
Growing up on a farm, I was always taught to appreciate the importance of fresh produce. Nothing matches the pleasure of growing your own vegetables or caring for your own livestock. Dad was of the opinion that food always tastes better if you know where it comes from. If you can trace the journey of food, as he said, from farm to fork, you’ll know that no chemicals or mistreatment were involved. You maybe had a hand in nurturing the seeds, tilling the soil, digging up the crop – in that case, the taste is infinitely more rewarding than going to the shops and buying it in a packet or a cardboard box.
I can’t really count the ways in which growing up in Northern Ireland affected me. I don’t want to get too sentimental here (and if your computer has sound you might hear the distant call of tin whistles, fiddles and the tap tap tapping of jigging Leprechaun feet), but I can still recall the scent of freshly baked bread as I walk into Mum’s kitchen. I can still visualise Dad’s outline as he stands in the doorway looking out the back of our house at some fixed point in the distance.
It’s funny how these things stick with you.
Young men never like to listen to their fathers. I was no exception. Mine was always advising me to write a book. As I moved through university and then out into the big, bad world of professional home economics (surely the first time those words have been placed together in the same sentence), Dad continued to needle at me to out together a cookbook. Why not, he would ask. What have you got to lose?
I didn’t listen. Young men are like that. I liked to believe that father did not know best, that he was from an antiquated generation and could never possibly understand what life is like for aspiring young professionals in today’s cutthroat society.
But he wouldn’t let it go. And, to be fair, the idea wouldn’t let go either. I always dismissed the idea of my own cookbook as a pipe dream. It would be fantastic if it did happen, but it was unlikely to.
As time went on, I threw myself deeper into my work. I promoted home economics all over the world, I built my company Whisk from the ground up, I schmoozed in all the right places, befriended all the right people, glad-handed like my life depended upon it…
And then I got the news that Dad was ill.
The next months passed in a blur of phone calls, flights home, hospital visits… I was one foot in Portadown and one foot in London. I guess I always have been.
When it eventually happened, and I’ll spare you the intimate details of that, I flew home for what seemed like the hundredth time, went to the funeral, drew close to my family. Hid away for a few weeks.
It was, as these times are, strange. I couldn’t possibly put it into words. Partly because some things should remain private. And partly because I just couldn’t put it into words.
But we’re getting too sad here. And that’s not the way I want to remember Dad. I don’t think he would have appreciated that. He would have given off about making a fuss and told me to wise up (a Northern Irish term, according to Owen Kelly’s ‘Essential Norn Irish’, it means ‘instruction to a third party to get real’).
What he would appreciate is the fact that I gave in and wrote a cookbook.
He would like that. But the same man could not make toast!
I finally listened. And you know what? He was right.