A tribute to my NHS colleagues, and the sharing of food that goes a long way to support us.

So, I’m now 18 months into this blog, and I’ve yet to mention anything about my day job. That’s because, for most days of the week, and some nights too, I’m actually a spy.

Okay, I’m not really a spy. But having a double life as a food-writer and an NHS doctor can feel like I’m inhabiting two very different identities. And you know, I enjoy that. I enjoy engaging two very different sides of me, tapping into two different parts of the brain, experiencing two types of good n’ bad days in the office. (Although, admittedly, a bad day in my NHS office is invariably worse than writer’s block.)

I became a doctor in the year 2000, making me a millennial of sorts. When I look back, it’s certainly been packed with experiences. Mostly highly rewarding. Some terribly challenging. A heady mix of immeasurable joy and painful sorrow. And though of course it’s an incredibly serious job, there’s always room for moments of humour.

And food. In fact, some of my most memorable career moments are related to food ( – ‘quelle surprise’, you might say!)

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Campania and Jones, where I am reflecting on the meaning of home and homeship.

Home. Mine was once a launderette, back in the ‘70s. I wasn’t living there then. I was hardly even born then. But there’s still evidence of it all over the place – from the peculiar frontage to the panoply of pipes protruding defiantly out of the flooring. But times have changed. At least for this building.

For me though, my home is more than a house – more than four walls, windows, roofs and doors. It’s more than the place where my family and I eat, sleep, or take refuge from the cold and rain. It’s the scene of our everyday victories – big and small – celebrating a good day at work or school, a festival or birthday, or just an elaborately-constructed sofa den. And of course, it’s sometimes where opinions are argued, tears are shed, and shoulders are hugged.

Our home isn’t just bricks and mortar. It’s the stage on which our lives unfurl. And I know how lucky that makes me, especially when so many people don’t even have basic shelter.

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Passover food as depicted on the Passover seder plate

Food memories. They’re possibly the most powerful memories we have. There’s some science behind it – our perception of food is primarily streamed through our nasal olfactory system, a region of the brain closely associated with long-term memory. But beyond the biology, food memories form such a large part of our own life story, they cannot help but evoke a potent sense of longing and reminiscence. The weekend roast. Our first sip of wine. School pudding. (I didn’t say all memories had to be good, mind you!)

When we recollect a food memory, we are remembering a time in our lives that food made meaningful. Alternatively, food memories may emerge because of their association with a particular person, place or time. However they became, whatever their provenance, they’re then woven into our tapestry of experience and assimilated into our own life story. And there they remain, little nuggets that we stumble upon again and again.

For me, my fondest and most indelible food memories relate to the week-long Jewish festival of Passover. There’s a myriad of reasons for me why Passover food elicits such an emotive reaction, all of which inter-connect like an intricate dance. View Post

Tongan feast for one; now I that's something I wasn't expecting!

May I present to you the Polynesian legend of ‘The Octopus and The Rat’.. Some legends tell of intrepid heroes and dastardly villains, and their epic duels across space and time. Some tell of deceitful deities, and their tricks and schemes to bewitch humankind. Some tingle the spines of wide-eyed children, and some devour the hearts of brave but stupid men. Some make you laugh. Some make you weep. Some inspire nostalgia. And some make you glad to be alive.

But this one doesn’t.

A rat and hermit crab are stranded at sea after a devastating shipwreck. They go their separate ways. The rat then comes across an octopus. ‘Hullo,’ greets the octopus. They strike a bargain, which sees the octopus carry the rat to a far-away island. But as the rat disembarks, he disingenuously craps on the octopus’s head. And that is why octopuses have tubercles on their heads, and that is why rats are their sworn enemies.

The End.

Do not say you were not forewarned. It contains no otherworldly beings or mythical beasts. There is no overarching theme or cautionary tale. It begins with a character utterly superfluous to the plot and climaxes in a quite random and meaningless act. And the hostility between the two protagonists is biologically inaccurate; they inhabit completely different ecosystems. As
legends go, it is, frankly, not a particularly good one. It doesn’t even make sense.

But at least it’s a good introduction to my time in Tonga, a land that similarly confounded a young naive medical student at the turn of the Millennium. A faraway land replete with legend, a culture so different to my own. View Post

Tonga, where I visited back in 1999 as a keen-eyed medical student, has roasted pig as a delicacy.

The year was 1773; Captain Cook, the esteemed explorer of yore, stepped ashore the fabled island of Lifuka in Tonga. So enamoured was he with the locals and their exuberant entertainments, copious feasting and general revelry – the like of which he’d ne’er seen before back in Blighty – that he graciously bestowed on them the title ‘Friendly Islanders’.

Somewhat ironic – for his hosts were actually planning to chop him into bite-sized portions and serve him up as pre-dinner canapés. Luckily for Cook, the scheme foundered when they couldn’t agree on the finer details, such as whether Englishmen go well with ketchup, or whether they’re best served as a small-plates sharing concept.

Nevertheless, the term ‘Friendly Islanders’ has stuck forevermore. And indeed, it’s been gratuitously appropriated by the most unlikely local services (like Friendly Islander Vasectomies – ‘we snip with a smile..’) But despite their panache for canny marketing slogans, underneath lies an irrefutable generosity, something I increasingly discovered during my med-student placement on these fair isles. View Post