Hello there. I am going to tell you why I love carbs. But first, a little context.
It’s 2018, homes are full of cheese plants, the world is run by monsters, Diet Coke comes in Exotic Mango flavour and you can get bounteous boxes of organic vegetables delivered to your door. One company sells its boxes with or without potatoes. This is where we are. There is no carrot-free or low-onion option. But the people have spoken, and the people do not necessarily want weekly potatoes, because the people simply cannot get through that many potatoes. Not when they’re only eating them on Cheat Days.
From the ground!
Saved for cheat days!
This is where we are.
We know that things can taste and feel better when we think we shouldn’t have them. But I don’t actually think that’s the case with carbs. I think carbs just taste and feel good, and it’s a happy coincidence that they provide us with the energy we need to do things. If we’ve been convinced we shouldn’t eat them, that’s just another of the countless ways we’ve been mugged off.
Personally, the older I get, the more I feel that if I can’t have equal pay, a functioning government and a delivery driver who actually knocks before posting a "sorry we missed you" slip, the more I’m going to be eating mashed potato. In a world that’s short on happy coincidences, I’m going to be mashing lovely soft potatoes with butter, salt and pepper. I mean, I’m just definitely going to be doing that. I’ll tell you what’s not going to stop me doing that: the fact that once, 16 years ago, a raggedy white man with a history of heart attack and congestive heart failure said we’d be better off drinking double cream than eating basmati rice. Mr Atkins of Atkins Diet fame died in the end. We all die in the end.
A baked potato – crispy-skinned, fluffy-middled, fully loaded – can be as dramatic a dinner as a whole buttered lobster.
I love how, when a carb is the star of a meal, it takes the stage without a whiff of self-consciousness; the carb is not out there, squinting into the spotlight, muttering "But I’m just a noodle!" It’s sparkling – and frankly it deserves more raucous applause. A baked potato – crispy-skinned, fluffy-middled, fully loaded – can be as dramatic a dinner as a whole buttered lobster. And you don’t need me to tell you how exceptionally ballerish it can feel simply to sit in front of a plate of pasta and a glass of wine, poised with your fork, taking it in – all this glory ahead of you. Or as famed food lover Kevin McCallister put it: "A lovely cheese pizza, just for me."
When carbs are just one component of a meal, they are no less mighty. You might level up your lunch by switching the roast potatoes for scalloped potatoes, or by adding baguette, or by serving roast potatoes alongside mash. It’s the carbs that are going to turn things up a notch. Your friends have only just sat down and started telling you how busy they’ve been lately when they see you approaching the dining table with a steaming Pyrex and – surprise! – you have smothered thinly sliced potatoes with cream and baked them until they’ve bubbled and browned. That was extremely nice of you! You must really like these busy people!
And in any case, whatever’s on the plate in the first place, carbs allow us to sop. I simply love to sop. It’s the sign of a lunchtime well lived. Have you ever sopped with a fig? Or a sardine? Friends, you sop with bread. Other cultures have always sopped with bread, but here, for me, this is the most important feature of the small plate phenomenon – that you get a basket of sourdough with which to clean up that tarragon aioli, and then that garlic yoghurt, and then that romesco sauce.
Next year isn’t set to be any rosier, world events-wise. So please, if you won’t buy my book, can I ask you an alternative favour? Go forth and sop like you’ve never sopped before. Sop away. Sop with abandon. Sop for lost time. We all die in the end.