In the past few days, the world has been turned upside down. I’ve always been a little uncomfortable about introducing politics into my writing, for I know that you’re not here for my views on world events; but it feels wrong somehow not to comment on the past six months. In a world where Donald Trump is elected as President of the United States of America, and Britain votes to leave the EU, it is easy to become despondent, depressed even. For me, it is difficult to remember waking up the day after votes are counted to an outcome that I can feel positive about. Initial disbelief and disappointment turns to anger, which eventually fades into a feeling of general powerlessness. At the moment we’re looking into an uncertain future, wondering how on earth we can weather what we all fear lies ahead, and feeling pretty unsettled.
We should, of course, be proactive. Many of us have been since the EU referendum in the UK earlier this summer; attending protests, signing petitions and doing what we can to face those who are most affected by the results; largely minorities who have faced abuse from those who hijack the political climate to spread hate. The other good advice that has been given in the past few days is that we should be looking after ourselves. When anything saddens us, personally or politically, it is easy to let our guard down, making us more susceptible to physical and mental malaise, particularly in winter. I’m a firm believer that comfort eating and drowning one’s sorrows, in moderation, has its place, but these problems we face are not short-term, so now might not be the time to just reach for the gin and doughnuts and hope for the best. Simply taking better care of ourselves – sleeping more, getting some fresh air and exercise and eating good food – makes us much better equipped to deal with anything. It is so easy to forget.
It’s up to you how you do this. I always find black and white Cary Grant films to be an excellent tonic. I also take comfort in my kitchen and try to eat well. This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’, as I maintain that a bit of cheese and butter is good for the soul; but instead well-cooked food with good ingredients. Food that reminds you of a happy time, if that’s what floats your boat. I try not to fall into my very worst eating habit of standing in front of the fridge, armed with a fork, mindlessly tucking into everything instead of preparing and cooking a meal. It’s important to find out what nourishes you – whether this be kale or chocolate mousse – and allow yourself a bit of leeway on portions for a while.
If you’re stuck for inspiration, this risotto is a dish I cook when I am in need of comfort. There is something about a bowl of risotto, with all its ingredients carelessly jumbled together in a homogenous mass, that always makes me feel better. Even more so when I eat it on the couch in front of the television. My grandmother would cook us smoked haddock regularly and the flavour always takes me back to eating supper in front of her television. The addition of the egg came later, when I realised that putting a soft-boiled, poached or fried egg on top of anything improved it enormously. Of course, my idea of comfort food and yours might be entirely different, but if you’re on the fence I can vouch for this dish.
Smoked Haddock and Leek Risotto
Two smoked haddock fillets
250ml full-fat milk
1 large leek, thinly sliced
250g risotto rice
125ml glass of dry white wine
1l vegetable stock
100g rocket leaves
Knob of butter
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tbsp finely grated parmesan
4 six-minute eggs
Note: six-minute eggs are made by boiling the eggs in their shells for six minutes, then carefully peeling the shell away. For large eggs, this is the right amount of time for firm whites and soft yolks. For smaller eggs, try cooking for five minutes. There will always be a bit of trial and error.
Place the smoked haddock fillets into a large deep frying pan and pour over the milk. Place the pan over a medium heat and gently bring to the boil. Carefully remove the fish from the pan and discard the milk.
Heat a little olive oil in a separate pan and gently fry the leek until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the risotto rice and stir until the grains are coated in the oil. Pour in the white wine and allow it to bubble up. Cook until it evaporates.
Start adding the stock, a ladle at a time, waiting until it has been absorbed before adding the next ladle. Keep adding the stock until the rice is al denté, or cooked to your liking. This will take about 20 minute. You might not need all of the stock.
Remove the skin from the fish and flake the flesh into the pan. Add the rocket leaves, a knob of butter and seasoning to taste and gently stir together. Put a lid on the pan and leave to stand for a couple of minutes before serving. Top each serving with a six-minute egg if you wish.