Onions and I have what you might term a love-hate relationship. Gently cooking in a pan, bathed in olive oil and crushed garlic, I’ll grant that they produce one of the most mouth-watering smells. Yet the necessary chopping that precedes this stage is, without doubt, my nemesis. I realise that I’m not the only person to tear up whilst slicing onions, but I know of few others who cry such genuine, large, snot-inducing drops, the kind that roll down your face and plop from your cheek onto the chopping board below. I was once sent out of Cookery class at school to pull myself together having cried to the point of sobbing whilst preparing onions to add to my pizza-pitta. I’ve tried most of the tricks and old housewives’ tips to stop the effect the little lachrymatory beggars have on me. I’ve held water in my mouth, chopped with my tongue sticking out and even nearly sliced fingers off attempting to cut through half-frozen onions. Nothing doing. Pride dictates that I’ve never quite reached the level of wearing swimming goggles to chop, but I do occasionally put my glasses on in the hope that they will form some sort of barrier between the onion gasses and my eyes. This, however, is as about as effective as wearing deeply unsexy old sweatpants as a contraceptive. It might slow the process down a tad, but when it comes to the crunch point they provide very little protection.
Sometimes, I kid myself that I don’t really need onions in my cooking. I lie to myself that they’re not that important. When was the last time you heard someone taste a dish and say, ‘Mmm, those onions are delicious’? Never. People comment on the meat, or the sauce or the herbs and spices. Onions go unnoticed. Unnoticed that is, until they’re missing and something tastes slightly bland. All the important bits are present, but there’s a base layer, a foundation that’s lacking. I could leave out the onions in my soups, bolognaises and tartiflettes in an attempt to grant my tear ducts some respite but it just wouldn’t quite be the same.
I was talking to a friend recently and she mentioned how brave she thought I was, moving up to Edinburgh just as all the friends I used to know here moved away. She said she was in awe of the way I’m having to put myself out there and attend things on my own, pushing through those awkward but necessary first conversations. I was amazed to hear this from her. She’s just given up a secure job to set up her own business making wedding cakes, which has been a passion of hers for a long time. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to take such a risk, no matter how much I liked baking. Yet as we talked, and as I’ve walked around the city the last few days, I’ve become more and more aware that actually what we’re both doing is living out the desires of our hearts.
Before I moved up, I was both encouraged and surprised at the number of people who commented on how great it was that I was doing what I’d always dreamt of. In all the kerfuffle of applying to the university, finding a flat and securing a proper job, not to mention the nervous energy that coursed through me this summer as I prepared, I’d forgotten how much I’d wanted this. Not just to live in Edinburgh, but so many icing-on-the-cake added extras; studying at the university which was originally my first UCAS choice, taking lessons at the fantastic dance school with incredible views of the castle, eating in restaurants I’ve always wanted to try, becoming part of the church whose values I’ve found so inspiring as I’ve listened to their podcasts over the years. I can even go and stare into the eyes of my favourite Rembrandt self portrait on my lunch break if I choose. These desires were all placed in my heart a long time ago and they’re now coming to fruition.
So in answer to my friend, yes, it does take a lot of courage to do what I’m doing. I have to give myself little pep talks as I go to attend another new thing with the fear rattling around in my brain that I might not know anyone and find myself alone in the corner. Yet every time I push through that fear and force myself to do it anyway, I find the fear grows a little less demanding. In fact, it often transpires that it was completely unfounded. Like cooking with onions, I need to lay a foundation for my life here, no matter how uncomfortable that might feel at times, nor how much it might also make me want to cry. If I don’t, then my dreams will never be all I dreamt of, they’ll never have the same fullness of flavour. I take great comfort from this when I feel as if I’m drowning in a sea of small talk in this new place, or worry that it will never feel completely like home. Yet it will, and it will taste all the better if I follow the recipe properly and don't skip out the hard parts…