I can’t remember the exact time I first met Chris, but he is married to my best friend Becks, who I've known since we were 8 years old, so he’s basically part of my family and it feels like we've known each other forever. I don’t get to see him and Becks as often as I’d like since they live in the UK, but we’re fortunate to be able to see them once or twice a year when they visit family in the States. Next time they visit I’m going to try to convince them to sneak me some fantastic English butter in their luggage somehow (see below).
Chris and Becks got married in 2007 and now live near Reading, England (about 30 miles west of London). Chris’ professional work includes working as a teaching assistant at the University of Reading, as well as being an amateur nature enthusiast. Be sure to catch his blog over at http://consideringbirds.wordpress.com!
He is also kept busy by his part-time PhD studies looking into new ways of monitoring the distribution of insects across landscapes, which will hopefully lead on to a research career, however his dream job would be become a best-selling nature writer.
When it comes to food, Chris has gotten very interested into wild food and foraging as a way of combining his interests in wildlife and cookery. As well as cooking pretty much all of his and Becks’ meals, he enjoys baking at home, especially baking bread, cake and cookies.
Q&A With Chris
Why do you cook at home? It's so much cheaper, and honestly, eating in a restaurant or getting take-out (or as we say in the UK, takeaway) is so hit-and-miss that it's often easier to get reliably tasty food by eating at home.
I first started out cooking the family meal a few times as a 16-year-old when my mum was in the hospital for a time. Since then, I'm not sure when I really started to get into cooking…it's kind of crept up on me over the last 7 or 8 years, but now I enjoy it enough to consider it a hobby. Though, of course, there are still plenty of days when cooking is still a chore I just do because we've got to eat something!
Another good reason to cook at home is cutting down on our meat and fish intake. Becks and I aren’t strict vegetarians by any means, but due to cost and, quite frankly, boredom with basing every meal around a lump of meat, we rarely eat meat in an average week. Ordering vegetarian in restaurants locally often leaves you with an uninspiring choice between one or two mushroom-based dishes, while home cooking allows us to explore all the possibilities of vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
What are your favorite ingredients to cook with and why? Butter and salt. So, I suppose if I had to pick just one ingredient it would be salted butter! These two noble ingredients get a lot of bad press, but when cooking at home we get to control the quantities and can probably “get away” with using more than we imagine, having still added way less salt than you'd find in an averaged process meal.
As luck would have it, science is beginning to rehabilitate butter, realizing that saturated fat intake isn't as closely linked to incidence of obesity and heart disease as they originally thought. Sugar, especially in highly processed forms, seems to do a lot more damage. Unfortunately I have a sweet tooth as well as a salty one, so I do have to be careful!
There's another reason for my choice: given the agricultural history of these islands, it would be daft not to cook with real butter. With a high percentage of British dairy cattle still fed on grass (kept nice and green by all that famous rain) in low intensity farms (relative to the average dairy operation in the US) we are lucky to have affordable access to a lot of high quality dairy produce. Dare I say the best in the world? It's been really good to see high quality, grass-fed dairy produce become more and more common in the USA in recent years, but good food does seem to be a lot more expensive on your side of the pond in our experience.
If you could travel anywhere in the world just to try the cuisine, where would you go? I would have said Italy, but as it happens we were lucky enough to travel there this April! Overall I must confess to being mildly disappointed in the Italian cuisine…not to say that all the food we had wasn't delicious and beautifully cooked, but somehow I was expecting to be bowled over more than I was, given how influential Italian cooking has become on our daily diet. Perhaps we built up to it too much!
Having said that, we did find the very best examples of pasta, pizza and gelato I've ever eaten. Especially the gelato: walnut, pistachio, ricotta and bilberry, blackberry and lavender, chocolate and Grand Marnier, Chianti wine sorbet....out of this world flavor!
So having been to Italy (though every region's cuisine is different and we've only 'done' one) I need a new destination: Scandinavian food and culture is very “now, so perhaps I'd pick Copenhagen or Stockholm for my next food-based travel adventure.
Most of my favourite recipes are basic guidelines that can be tweaked depending on what end result you're aiming for or what ingredients you have, e.g. a simple, adaptable risotto or curry. Along those same lines is this versatile 'rough puff pastry' recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall, a British TV chef and food writer whose work is hugely influential on the way we cook and eat every day. I've also given the recipe for my basic vegetarian pasty filling and a couple of other suggestions for how to use the dough.