Nici Wickes: Food to fit the occasion

By Nici Wickes

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Comforting casserole of beef, onions and wine. Photo / Clayton Carpinter
Comforting casserole of beef, onions and wine. Photo / Clayton Carpinter

Events this week have encouraged me to think about what food is appropriate for a celebration compared with what we leap to when in need of comfort or commiseration!

In the 90s it seemed there was a wedding a week among my group of friends and at one stage I feared if I ate any more salmon I may start looking to swim upstream in the nearest creek.

Likewise, the amount of tart, whizzened, sun-dried tomatoes that passed my lips in that decade ensured I had a near-permanent pucker on. Nonetheless, there's food that makes sense if you're in celebration mode - freshly shucked oysters, scallops caramelised to full sweetness and decadent chocolate all spring to mind - all of it looking as stunning as it tastes and designed to ride alongside the already elevated spirits.

But when I'm sad or trying to comfort a friend, this same food holds little allure, for then I need nourishment and warmth (literally), I turn to food that shows empathy and let's be honest, fat - because fat means flavour and it is somehow this that we hanker for when we need reassurance that all will be well when it isn't.

When I visited a friend who was nearing the end of her life, succumbing to the brain cancer that had appeared so alarmingly quickly, I took her small saucepans of lamb shank stew and coq au vin, delicate pots of vanilla creme brulee and rice pudding. The food was soft and flavourful, easy to eat and a reminder of the dinner parties we'd shared, which had been full of raucous laughter and quiet, easy friendship. The comfort was as much for me as her, I suspect.

Today I've got a casserole of beef, onions and wine in the oven. In the last fifteen minutes of cooking, I'll throw some parsley and horseradish dumplings on top. When I sit down to eat, I'll be toasting our valiant sailors. And what the heck, the bubbles are already chilled, I may as well wine-match the casserole with that.

- VIVA

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