Clare Mack­in­tosh

So, if you could only eat one meal over and over for­ever...

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - Clare Mack­in­tosh con­tact @claremack­in­t0sh www.claremack­in­

Last night at sup­per we de­bated a vari­a­tion of the death row conundrum: what would you or­der for din­ner if your head was on the block to­mor­row? We called our (slightly less macabre ver­sion) the ‘for­ever food’ ques­tion: what meal would you choose, if you could only ever eat that meal three times a day for­ever and ever and ever?

“Steak,” said Josh, who from the age of four knew ex­actly what he wanted at every restau­rant we ever vis­ited, and has never once changed his choice. That boy has ex­pen­sive tastes (or a lack of imag­i­na­tion). “Salad,” de­clared Ge­orge, whose fond­ness for let­tuce knows no bounds. Evie strug­gled to de­cide. “Chilli con carne,” she plumped for even­tu­ally. “With tor­tilla and gua­camole and grated cheese. That way, if I get bored, I can just have a cheese wrap. Or an avo­cado one.”

The kid’s smart. Clearly she gets it from me, be­cause my own for­ever food strat­egy fol­lows a sim­i­lar line of thought. One meal, for­ever and ever? Easy. I’d have a pic­nic. Oh, how I love a pic­nic! It is a con­tin­ual source of dis­ap­point­ment to me that pic­nic sea­son is con­sid­ered to run only along­side the sum­mer months, be­cause I would hap­pily snack on pork pies and cock­tail sausages at any time of year. Nor do I re­quire a beach or sunny park for my buf­fet spread: I have eaten picnics in the pour­ing rain on a clifftop, sit­ting in a traf­fic jam on the M1, and – one fa­mous sum­mer – crammed into the boot of my peo­ple-car­rier, to avoid a par­tic­u­larly vi­cious wasp in­va­sion. Not to be re­served for bank hol­i­days, picnics are an any time, any place meal, and one of the few meals I en­joy mak­ing as much as I en­joy eat­ing. Per­haps it’s be­cause one doesn’t so much cook a pic­nic as com­pile it (I sus­pect some­one, some­where – al­most cer­tainly Lon­don – is even cu­rat­ing one…) which makes for the sort of hap­haz­ard re­sult that can never, ever, be wrong.

In fact, the only thing I don’t like about a pic­nic, is car­ry­ing the bloody thing. Whether it’s an Instagrammable wicker bas­ket that lets in the flies, or an in­su­lated cool box that bangs against your legs, trans­port­ing one’s ef­forts from kitchen to pic­nic spot is quite lit­er­ally a pain in the neck. Worth it, though, for the spread on ar­rival. Even the most non­de­script sand­wiches look bet­ter when ar­ranged pret­tily on a tar­tan rug, and it’s com­mon knowl­edge that all food tastes bet­ter out of doors.

Not for me the trendy recipe books with their sug­ges­tions of stuffed fo­cac­cia and beet­root hum­mus; I stick to the ba­sics. Hard-boiled eggs and sausage rolls with flaky pas­try; ham sand­wiches with fiery mus­tard. Sticks of car­rot and bowls of cherry toma­toes, so we don’t get scurvy. Packs of crisps and choco­late bis­cuits melt­ing to­gether in the car.

Every­thing I learned about picnics I learned from my mother (and Enid Bly­ton – lash­ings of gin­ger beer, any­one?) and now the very act of haul­ing out the pic­nic box from the garage is enough to trans­port me back 30 years. Only now it’s my chil­dren, ask­ing if it’s time for lunch yet; my chil­dren, tak­ing lids off plas­tic boxes like they’re dig­ging for trea­sure, then hand­ing me sand­wich wrap­pings and empty yo­ghurt pots like I’m a hu­man dust­bin. It’s my chil­dren, eat­ing too much and be­ing sick in the car on the way home.

“What would you have for your for­ever meal, Daddy?” Evie asked. Roast beef, we guessed. Sal­mon? Steak and kid­ney pie? Curry? He reached across the ta­ble for my hand, and his voice soft­ened. “I’d share Mummy’s pic­nic, of course.” The chil­dren made sick­ing noises at this pub­lic demon­stra­tion of af­fec­tion, but I didn’t care. I squeezed his hand. “Okay. But you have to carry it.”

ABOVE: One meal, for­ever and ever? Easy. I’d have a pic­nic

Clare’s third novel Let Me Lie, pub­lished by Sphere, is out now. Book Four is on its way!

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