I’ve been sick this week. The kind of sick that migrates with every passing day; it starts off as a sore throat, turns into a tickle, calcifies as an all-over lethargy before finally loosening up and blocking up every possible orifice with – sorry – mucus, as it works its way out of your body. I’m not particularly good at being sick, preferring instead to soldier on. “I’ll sweat it out!” I cry as I sniffle through a half-arsed workout at the gym, my limbs like lead. “Alcohol is an antibacterial!” I announce, as I have my sixth martini at midnight when I really should be sleeping it off.
This time, though, I have been a miserable grump, desperate to do nothing but lounge on my couch and fuel myself with varying takes on broth and chicken. It is, perhaps, an extension of the mindset that I came back from New Zealand with: the pace of life I had slipped into before Christmas – that is, being out at least four nights a week for either work or social occasions, coupled with at least one big event on the weekend – was unsustainable, and I was rapidly ricocheting towards burnout.
Part of the reason for living in this relentless city is the opportunity to find an adventure every day of the week. And yet, it was ultimately this attitude that was turning me against it. I was struggling to find enthusiasm for the inarguable best part of this job – eating out at incredible restaurants – because I was physically and mentally exhausted (and had, I suspect, consumed a month’s worth of butter in a matter of days). Returning home for a month and flipping the off switch felt like a revelation; getting sick and forcing myself to stay home confirmed it.
As I write this, we’re preparing to put to bed our annual home cooking issue, where we take a short break from encouraging you to eat around this marvellous city and instead encourage you to fire up that kitchen. It seems that from every direction life has been encouraging me to stay home. And so, for the most part, I have. By god it felt good.
A couple of weekends ago, I had some friends around for lunch. Despite being a manic cook, it was the first time I’d hosted a big meal at mine. I moved all the furniture around, and managed to squeeze 12 of us around a table for six, pulling in every stool and side table to double as a seat. It was a joy, as we all clashed elbows and passed bowls around and laughed a lot, I realised how much freedom there is to be found in entertaining at home. Going to a restaurant comes with so much happiness (and a notable lack of chores), but there’s something to be said for filling your living space with people you love. Taking the advice of some of my favourite home cooks, I slow-cooked a couple of lamb shoulders in the oven, letting the low heat do the work and leaving me to socialise. Paired with lemony, garlicky cannellini beans and a mustardy salad, it was the kind of meal that I dreamt about for days afterwards.
With the arrival of my cold came a desire for anything warm and healing. First up was a favourite Bon Appétit recipe for chicken and lentil soup with jammy onions. Packed full of turmeric and lemon juice, the soothing, enlivening broth warms the cockles, while the slow-cooked onions and garlic give the whole thing a joyous lift. It comes together in no time at all and provides loads of leftovers – a perfect outcome when you’re trying to conserve energy. A few nights later my illness had me dreaming of the healing powers of congee. In November I was at the airport in Manila before my flight back to London and, broken from a big night the day before and a maximum of three hour’s sleep, I tracked down a congee that, to this day, I swear was magical. It was an elixir that somehow roused me from the most zombie-like state and was exactly what I craved last week to see me through the sniffles. I loaded up a punchy broth with coriander, lemon juice, spring onion, ginger and soy and topped it off with a healthy dose of chilli oil for a bowl of food that I swear I could feel nourishing my bedraggled body with every mouthful.
I finally dragged myself out of the house over the weekend for a trip to Rye for the weekend, where a healthy dose of ocean air and slow days served as a necessary tonic for city life. It was a feeling I wanted to capture upon our return on Sunday evening, and so I sought the nourishment of my friend Bre Graham’s recipe for slow-cooked lamb and cinnamon stew – one we have been lucky enough to include in the upcoming issue of Foodism – from her recently published book Table for Two. As the meat slowly bubbled away, the aroma of cinnamon filled the air and lifted the edge from the lingering remainders of my illness, filling my bunged up and lethargic body with vague reminders of seaside meals in Greece, a pot of stifado on the stove filling the air with an intoxicating mixture of meat and spice.
This column tends to serve as a celebration of all things restaurants in London, taking full advantage of the side of my job that requires gallivanting around the city and eating out as much as possible. But that is not always my reality – and I can’t imagine it’s yours, either. Sometimes there is no greater joy than a great meal at a wonderful restaurant with people you love. Others, it’s within your own four walls – and ensconced in your couch – where you’ll find pure, unadulterated joy. Just like our home cooking issue celebrates all things staying home, this column is an acknowledgement that sometimes where Molly ate is just at home, on her couch, and there is nowhere she’d rather be.