Embrace the back-to-school energy and make a fresh start with your food, says chef Alex Rushmer
Every year we get at least two significant chances to create fresh habits and commit to more positive endeavours. The first and most obvious of these is, of course, at the start of January. Here, bold intentions – made in the false warmth of central heating and the glow of alcohol – can burn bright and burn out just as quickly.
Moreover, those promises we make to ourselves are born out of a season of Saturnalian indulgence. It’s no surprise that once the grim, early weeks of January start to unravel, so too do our resolutions. We want to go out running, but it’s cold, dark, wet and windy outside. Naturally, we want to avoid carbohydrates – but comfort food is so named for a very particular reason. Far better to wait a few weeks. Or months.
The second chance at a fresh start is one that wanes in importance – and relevance – as we travel further away in time from our school days. The new term was always a tentative moment for me, with a lead-up that began once the halfway point of the never-long-enough school holidays had been reached. After that peak had been scaled, around the second week in August, it was a rapidly accelerating descent into September, and an abrupt shunt into a school year, with all its associated stresses and new beginnings.
As school and university memories fade into sepia, it’s easy to forget how significant this fresh beginning felt to our younger selves, especially in the chaos and flux of adolescence, where reinvention and renovation of our personality is an essential rite of passage. Summer was a chance to shed a skin you had grown tired of, practice and perfect the fresh elements of your character, and prepare for a grand unveiling come the burgeoning school year.
September is a time of inspirational bounty
Making September resolutions – when we are flush with vitamin D and emboldened by several months of fresh, warm air – seems eminently more sensible than attempting them in the miserable confines of January, hunkering down in survival mode. This applies to new food or eating habits as well. September is a time of inspirational, plentiful bounty; when the tomatoes, salads and courgettes brush along happily with the first orchard fruits, bold brassicas and heaving hedgerows. My goal this September is to revisit a project that my wife and I began back in January 2018: to create an untested and untried recipe from one of the hundreds of cookbooks that line the walls in our kitchen, at least once a week.
Three years ago, we made it about three weeks into the new year before inadvertently abandoning the idea and reverting to old favourites. It wasn’t without success: I have fond memories of eating slow-cooked aubergine baked with minced lamb and spices, a recipe taken from Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, and I still cook the sensational black dahl from Nisha Katona’s Mowgli Street Food. This time, though, we will do better and head into the academic year with fresh notebooks, sharpened pencils and buckets of enthusiasm – ready to find our new favourite recipe.