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  • Writer's pictureRachel

The Bare (un)Necessities

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Content warning: Explicit mention of calories and eating-disordered behaviours are discussed in this post.

Herbs and spice are very nice, 

And sesame has become a 'yes' for me! 

But oil and spread? I’ll have it dry instead. 

Condiments are complicated, but are gradually being reinstated. 

And milk? Well, milk is just very complicated and probably not worth me trying to explain. 

Well, I won’t be winning any poetry awards anytime soon. I’d probably never actually enter a poetry competition. 

For most people, things like putting oil in a pan before frying an onion and buttering a slice of toast before crunching on it, are probably be done without much thought. As I observe my family's culinary habits, for them this is most certainly true. 

Alas, I hereby confess that I have fried many an onion in the absence of oil, and crunched many a slice of dry toast. Yes, pans have been destroyed, and mouths (well, one mouth) has been parched. 

As someone who is keenly interested in cultures, cuisines and travel, I am also ashamed to admit that I have made many a tagine without dried fruit, many a Thai curry without coconut, many a pasta dish without covering in Parmesan, many a bowl of ramen without sesame, and many a Mexican feast without guacamole. I know…that last one hurts me, too. 

As the woman upstairs is always carefully running numerous cost-benefit analyses in parallel, it was decided that the cost (calories) of buttering my toast considerably outweighs the benefit (tastier and more palatable). It was also decided that the cost of adding 10 grams of sultanas to my tagine (30.2 calories) outweighs the benefit (juicy, plump bursts of sweet flavour amongst the piquant tomato-based soup). 

What is determined as cost-worthy, though, is herbs and spices. Lots of them. 

Because, what do chilli, cinnamon, garlic, coriander, ginger and paprika pack in without those scary units of energy we call 'kcal'? Flavour

You see, when you feel compelled to omit scary sugars and fats just in case you are the one person in the entire universe whose body instantly converts those calories into pounds of flesh… one ends up needing to get creative with the spice rack if anything you plate up is going to move beyond beige. 

Rachel has actually always been a creative cook, one to enjoy experimenting with spices and flavours, blend and make up recipes. She has always been pretty good at it, too, if I don't say so myself. Alas, though as is often the way – the woman upstairs took her liberties, hijacking what was once purely a joy, into an anxiety-bound chore. 

But, as per my ode above, we have indeed recently become open (to) sesame (ha ha). Instead of the 'unnecessary sesame' track that’s been playing on the radio upstairs for a while, we've slowly moved into a more catchy number that acknowledges that a good bowl of ramen doesn’t really exist without them. 

We've also recently re-entered the painfully millennial avocado-toast-o-sphere. I must be the only person I know who buys a single avocado, freezes it in portions, and consumes it in intervals over several weeks. But it's good to have a flex, I guess. What new hobby did you take up in lockdown?

It's a strange situation, though. Because, as much as we like to think otherwise, these calculations, negotiations and additions are painfully inconsistent. A latte is absolutely not allowed. However, the same amount of (if not, more) milk, spread out across innumerable cups of English Breakfast Tea in a day – that’s fine. 

Maltesers, at 11 calories a piece, count as food. Sugar-free mints at 13 calories a piece, do not. Anorexia convinces me somehow that these rules do make perfect sense. I just need to listen to her, not question it. Save your 'whys'. Just do as she says, just trust her. 

Is it just me, or is this feeling awfully autocratic? 

May I be so bold, woman upstairs? May I be so bold as to suggest that not only is sesame necessary...but spread, cheese, coconut milk, peanut butter, and even flipping raisins are also some of the bare necessities? 

There's a reason that cooking oil is in the 'Food Cupboard Essentials' section of the supermarket. And that’s not just in Waitrose, whose definition of essential, which also happens to include profiteroles, tartare sauce, red wine vinegar and glacé cherries. 

May there be many more bougie avocados in my life that don’t spend their last days in the freezer. And heaven forbid I try to pass a risotto without parmesan again. 


"Look for the bare necessities

The simple bare necessities

Forget about your worries and your strife

I mean the bare necessities

Are Mother Nature's recipes

That bring the bare necessities of life."

- Terry Gilkyson, for The Jungle Book (1967)

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