I am a dual national of the 70s. Being both British and French means that I have an incongruous mix of the traditions, habits and cultural norms of both nations. I am a French woman from one of the most rural and conservative parts of France, where proper meals en famille were taken 3 times a day, at a respectful if not always leisurely pace, and local food traditions are so deeply ingrained that to deviate from them was deemed practically a form of barbarism. And you always, always, had a tablecloth. I am also a urban Anglo-Saxon who started her career in the fast-moving telecoms industry where seventy hour weeks were de rigeur, colleagues would brag of how they were so committed to work that both their health and home-life were trashed (“Oh I’ve been sleeping on the sofa for a month, and I’ve got an ulcer!”), and eating a proper meal at a table (no, desks don’t count) was something you did only if entertaining clients.
To this day I carry this odd jumble with me, although now it has become a factor of who is present. Alone I will eat random things at random times in random places, sometimes forgetting to eat altogether if very busy. Intermittent fasting has become very fashionable, but I’ve always done it simply because I am thoroughly disorganised, and occasionally manic. I’m surprised I’m not slimmer really. My husband has the 3 meals a day thing down, so when he is around mealtimes take on some structure, and between us the food is usually pretty good, but a proper table will only form part of the proceedings if we are treating ourselves to a particularly good (or particularly complex or particularly messy) meal.
When there is anyone else present however, kids or guests, we are emphatically at the table, except when we are emphatically not.
1 time out of ten, and more if I can manage it, we are somewhere else. We are on a picnic rug in the garden, or in a tipi, or around the fire pit, or huddled around the clay oven we built two springs ago in the veg patch, or in front of the open fire in our house, or in the tree house, or in a den made of blankets and beanbags and eating glorious food with our fingers and as little crockery and bits as we can get away with.
Eating in unexpected places is thoroughly joyful, and the food becomes more interesting. In the same way as chips are never quite as perfect as when eaten from their paper wrapping, perched outside, any number of other foods become exciting and new when the meal is eaten camping out around the place, even if it’s just in the living room.
We have a basket of old blankets by the back door, for sitting on / snuggling in, a couple of old slate roof tiles propped against the greenhouse for protecting the garden table from fiercely hot dishes, and various metal, melamine and enamelled plates bowls and cups in a vaguely rainproof box ready to be grabbed whenever the mood takes us.
Best camping out dishes (even better if cooked on or in a fire, but that’s for another post):
- Chicken drumsticks
- Wraps / pittas / flat breads stuffed with falafel, hummous, merguez, Turkish salad, bacon, or feta, but perhaps not all at the same time.
- Kebabs – veg, meat, fish, fruit
- Soup / beans / veg / meat stews in mugs
- Marshmallows and S’mores
- Applesauce in mugs
- Orange muffins
- Hot dogs or burgers, be they meat, veggie or even fish.
- Jacket potatoes with anything and everything
- Baked bananas
- Sandwiches obviously
- Sliced up stuff and dips
Please let me know any others that you love, I’m always on the look out for more food!