Friday, 3 June 2016

Ode to the Freezer

Growing up, my parents had the anxiety of recession hammered into them, a traumatic hangover from wartime Europe. They themselves lived in a city that was young and new, low on resources but high on hope. Essentials were scarce and nobody had more than barely enough, yet everyone shared and shared alike, sang and danced in the streets, there was no crime and everyone was beautiful. Ah the good ol' days eh?

One of the aspects, though, of growing up with scarcity is the deeply ingrained panic of the poor, to which people have different emotional responses. My mum was always the one to throw caution to the wind and say 'live!' whereas my dad's predisposition has been the counterbalance of frugality. More than that, he needed to know there was enough to spare. In particular, bread. And in extra particular, frozen bread.

Daily he would peek into the freezer and with a stern expression and pursed lips declare "need bread". That would be the linguistic approximation of what he said, as it had more emphasis on "need" and not much of a pronoun. Or maybe the nearest would be "must have bread". It had the quality of a guttural grunt.

It's a low-on-bread situation
It's not that we didn't have bread. No no no. We had a minimum of one fresh and two frozen loaves at all times, and therefore whenever our supplies dropped to one frozen and one fresh, my dad would take the family's level of peril up a notch from 'substantial' to 'severe', and not rest until he's retrieved an additional loaf or two from the nearest supermarket.

Likely scenario
Our freezer therefor functioned as a security blanket of food. Contained within it were always endless plastic containers of broths, stews, herbs, cooked and uncooked meats, pastry, bits of suet, frozen vegetables, and a couple of ancient containers of the worst and cheapest ice cream money can buy, now all crystallised and revolting, only taken out on special occasions or when my sister would feel psychologically sturdy enough to resist the glare of criticism from my parents.

Some people's ideal vehicle
Later on, my parents purchased a second freezer. At first, it was a honeymoon of sorts - no longer shall we suffer the threat of starvation (none of us has ever been anywhere in that vicinity). Now, years later, our second freeze box stands sad and under-appreciated, still full of meals and meats long forgotten, at the ready to reveal its glut if ever called upon.
My own perception of food's role as a reassurer has, unsurprisingly, been a powerful composite in my relationship with it. I won't go into the psychological and emotional implications, enough material there for a thick volume... but this became particularly noticeable at my previous beloved yet tiny flat, where all I had was a mini-fridge with an ice-box. The kitchen itself, too miniscule for adequate facilities, came complete with a shower cubicle in the corner to save on space. Here, despite my best efforts, I could never meal-plan ahead to my satisfaction - at best I could fit one small container and some herbs into that compartment. I couldn't see it then, but I was constantly on the verge of anxiety.
When this year I upgraded to a proper kitchen, the first thing I purchased was a full-sized fridge-freezer. Hideous wallpaper? Bit of a paint job. A cooker which is a serious electrical health and safety hazard? I'll wear rubber gloves when I use it. A rickety wardrobe? Stick some cardboard under it, it'll be alright. My budget prioritisation process became utterly blinkered, and like an out of control untamed horse galloped ahead wildly and unstoppably into the nearest white goods retail website. With fingers that are shaking with glee and anticipation I typed the words "fridge-freezer". Ohhhh the options! The items on sale! The user reviews! The features to choose from! And when I finally chose, and had to speak to a customer service adviser regarding the delivery, she exclaimed 'ooh I've got the same one - I. Love it.' That was enough for me, a spontaneous and earnest endorsement from someone like me. I knew we'd be very happy together, me and my new appliance.
My beloved

The immense sense of calm I gain by filling my freezer with nourishing consumables - soups, stews and dough I've concocted, herbs, and yes - bread, is invaluable. Not only does it put my mind at ease about The Future, as vague and intangible a term as that may be, but it gives me the delusion I'm fulfilling my role as a responsible adult to a satisfactory degree - without actually having to be one - as I sensibly look after, at least, one aspect of my expenditure, by not frivolously frittering money away on extravagant lunches.

Lunches for the next year - sorted
And lastly, it beautifully closes a full circle by providing me with a real sense of home - here is the frozen chicken broth (what's an Ashkenazi household without it); here is the leftover goulash my mum made when she visited months ago; here is my own kitchen triumph of a stir-fry captured and immortalised in ice as proof of competency at something, at least; And even though I don't even particularly eat bread these days - the evils of modern refined carbs etc - I still habitually hoard a loaf as a tribute to my dad; all providing a deep root of confidence in longevity and continuity - survival, if you will; and more than anything - belonging. A home.

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