Creature of habit: A story of food, marriage, and ginger beer

The Toast, November 2014. Original article

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Creature of habit: A story of food, marriage, and ginger beer

Having no one to help carry grocery bags home, that was the worst part of breaking up with my boyfriend of nearly five years. Or should I say, that was the worst part as far as I can remember it now, an eternity later. All the other stuff about breaking up with the first person I ever loved was pretty much as you’d expect, in all the shades of hellishness. But it’s not really the sleeping alone that gets you, because you are ready for that one. It’s that second it takes to remember that you can no longer just text them when something funny happens. It’s the first time at the grocery shop, when everything’s bagged up and you realise there’s no one there to help you carry.

I got the hang of solo grocery shopping eventually: buy what you need, but never more than two bags’ worth. Or if you don’t need that much, throw in a couple of non-perishables to fill up the bags, to save having to haul that weight later. Pasta and tomato sauce featured heavily for many years. There was that period of lots of hummus with bread, preferably white crust. There was one week where I lived mostly on prawn crackers, which ended sharply after they made me sick, literally. Lots of Chinese food, later Vietnamese, then Thai. All kinds of fruit, as it requires no preparation. I rarely cooked – nothing decent anyway, as I associated food preparation with couplehood: roasted meats, creamy curries, grilled fish with spicy rice. Still, I ate something at almost every meal, and my weight stayed within an average range without much fluctuation. Occasionally I’d wrap a salmon fillet in foil with some leek, pretending for a moment I was a grown up who ate proper meals. But I couldn’t fool myself for long, as I secretly wished for that three-course-meal chewing gum that Willy Wonka gave to Violet Beauregarde. I mean, it would be so much easier.

If this sounds sad, that’s not the way it felt. I was preoccupied with other things, and just didn’t think about food very much. Ok, that week of prawn crackers was a low point, I’ll admit. But most of the time my mind was simply elsewhere as I added pesto to my pasta and ate it hurriedly, while getting ready to go out. Food was fuel, or a layer to go under the alcohol, which I only drank in moderate amounts anyway. Except for that one year when I accidentally gave up booze altogether, something I never planned for but all of a sudden I looked back and realised it had been a teetotal year.

Instead, I developed a slight addiction to Maltesers that year. That’s the chocolate with the malt honeycomb centre, which popped so pleasingly in the mouth as the chocolate melted. I’d get a small packet every day, not trusting myself with the cheaper-by-the-pound bigger pack in the house. I only managed to break the addiction by going on a three-week trip to Portugal, which turned out to be a Maltesers-free space. Something similar happened a couple of years later with Maynards winegums, the release from which I owe to a month in Australia. I am, would seem, a creature of habit.

But there’s always some substance, some particular flavour or texture, that manages to slip through and take hold. My latest thing is this particular ginger beer, made by Bundaberg. The non-alcoholic drink is sold in a stubby brown bottle with a old-school pull-off cap, and while it’s not uncommon around my parts it can be tricky to find. It comes in packs of four at the big grocery shop near my house, but lately they haven’t had it in stock. I scour the aisle nervously every time I go there, hoping it will be there this time, but the ginger drought continues. Each time I check the label signalling its place on the shelf hasn’t been removed, but it seems that someone is playing a trick.

It was my birthday recently, and my husband me asked what I wanted to do. After thinking about it I realised that what I really wanted was to get in the car and go for a drive, to see if we could find some of that Bundaberg. It was sunny, as it always is on my birthday, and we drove with the windows open through back roads into leafy neighborhoods, the kinds that may appreciate a fancy bottle of ginger beer. Not that it was really about the ginger beer anymore. Still, we were rewarded with four packs; I’m drinking each bottle slowly, and once they’re gone I probably won’t buy any more. Not because they are too heavy to carry, or too hard to find, as marriage fixed those problems. Not marriage in itself, I should add, as it wouldn’t work with just anyone, but marriage to the right person, that fixed a lot.

Having a car to bring groceries home in, that’s one of the best things about getting married. Or should I say, that’s the best part out of the things I anticipated, especially as it’s so rare to meet someone who owns a car in this city. All the other stuff about getting married to someone you love more than anyone was pretty much as you’d expect, in all the shades of amazingness. Because it’s not sleeping in the same bed as someone else that gets you, as you are ready for that one. It’s the first time at the grocery shop, where you can get a trolley and not a basket, and you can get anything you want because you know that when everything’s bagged up, it’s not just you anymore. There’s someone there to cook with: tomato soups, peanut butter fudge, a whole grilled chicken. You no longer have to carry all the bags yourself.

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