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.

Things lost to exes, begrudgingly.

The Toast, April 2014. Original article here.

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Things lost to exes, begrudgingly.

– Endless loaves of bread.
After too many mornings of waking up at his house and finding there was absolutely nothing to eat, I started bringing my own food over. The coffee and peanut butter stayed in the cupboard where I’d left them, but the bread would disappear immediately. At one point I was buying a loaf a week for my own house, and up to three loaves for his. Then he started complaining all that bread was making him put on weight.
* Lesson: Bring a man a loaf of bread and he eats for a day.

– Fancy water bottle.
My ex and I had the same water bottle: a red aluminium canister of the kind that will last a decade if you look after it. I’d been looking after mine. Then at some point during the relationship the bottles got swapped, but I didn’t become aware of this until we’d gone through the only breakup I’ve ever had where things got so ugly we no longer speak. And my ex had not been looking after his bottle. I don’t want to think the swap was deliberate, as that would have been petty. But then again, he’d been known to use the Twitter account belonging to the cat he’d shared with his ex to try and make her jealous, so.
* Lesson: Trust no one.

– James Bond back catalogue.
My ex was really into TV, and as a result we watched what amounted to, in my opinion, endless amounts of crap. Amateur cooking shows and kitchen sink dramas, urgh. So the Bond films were an attempt at coming up with stuff we both actually wanted to watch, as we’d exhausted Star Wars and Harry Potter. So I bought the DVDs and kept them at his house, and we chuckled our way through them. I mean, those films are comedies, right?
* Lesson: Opposites attract, then opposites bicker endlessly over what to watch while eating dinner. Romance is dead.

– Favourite knickers.
Do women actually leave used underpants at the houses of men they are dating, or is that a 1980s film cliche? In any case, these knickers were left behind in a clean state, in a moment of optimism that I’d be returning to wear them. I did not return to wear them. At the time I was too torn up about the guy to be upset about the pink and orange lace number, but it goes without saying: I’ve never left a favourite piece of clothing at anyone’s house ever again.
* Twist in the story: About a year later I found myself back at the scene, briefly, and retrieved the lost knickers! I’ve never been able to wear them again though, so the loss stands.

– Favourite yoga teacher.
I once got asked out by a man who, like me, liked to do 90 minutes of Ashtanga yoga on Tuesday nights, overseen by a wonderful teacher named Kate. This man was attractive, as boys at yoga often are, but I’m fairly sure I’ve never met a person I have less in common with. Cue Mia Wallace in ‘Pulp Fiction’ making a square with her fingers, if you catch my drift. Fast forward a couple of weeks, to when his prettiness no longer compensated, and I saw no other choice: I begrudgingly gave him custody of Kate, and bought a bike instead.
* Lesson: Good men are hard to find, but not as hard to find as good yoga teachers.