I was up in Ballycastle during the summer and they had an open-air artisan market at the seafront. It was the usual mix of handmade crafts as well as local food products. Having a bit of a sweet tooth at the best of times my eye was drawn to a homemade banana bread with chocolate pieces. ‘How much is it?’ I asked the lady. ‘£3.50,’ she replied. I was thinking it was a bit pricey. But I had that awkward moment when I had made eye contact with her and it felt rude to say no, so I handed over my money.
When I got home I made a cup of coffee and decided to try some of the banana bread. I sliced a bit off and put it in the toaster before smothering it with butter. Taking a bite of the buttery sugary treat was the nearest I have come to ecstasy all year – all my worries just melted away as I horsed it all in me. For the rest of the week I looked forward to having my daily slice of banana bread and cup of coffee. It became one of the highlights of my day. A bit sad I know, but I find during this pandemic it is the little things that really keep you sane.
Driving up to Ballycastle every week to buy banana bread might be a bit extreme (although picking up sourdough bread in the wonderful Ursa Minor Bakery would justify the trip). So I started to make my own. I experimented with different mixes before settling on a dark chocolate and walnut banana bread. I make it with wholemeal flour to delude myself that it is healthy.
If I am not in the mood for banana bread my other drug of choice is the fresh croissants from Lidl. Again they get toasted and covered with butter. The wife, who is not from these parts, often asks me why I am putting butter on top of a product that is largely butter to begin with? She does not really get our love of butter. But we locals know there are very few products that can not be improved with the addition of a huge whack of butter. Thankfully science has seen sense and butter is now practically a health food and you can safely bin those tasteless chemical cocktails that are ‘spreads’.
I think it is important to have some ground rules for a wee treat. The key rule is it must be at most once a day, and it must be a single portion. Some people may have horsed the entire banana in them in one sitting. But that would just lead to nausea, regret and an arse only suitable for playing handball against, as Flann O’Brien once observed.
The second rule is it has to differ substantially from your normal diet. If you survive on a diet of junk at the best of times the addition of more sugar will just hasten your journey into type 2 diabetes. My diet is generally very healthy so I can easily cope with the odd treat. The denial aspect is very important. If you get it all the time then it is no longer a treat – you have to actively look forward to it.
In the UK and Ireland we are the biggest snackers in Europe, which no doubt correlates to us also being the fattest people in Europe. I have friends who are very extreme and don’t allow their kids any sugar, but we prefer a more realistic approach. Our strategy is to eat healthily 90% of the time, but we are no stranger to Häagen-Dazs and dark chocolate.
Many of us have discovered the way to cope with this pandemic is to take each day as it comes. Having something to look forward is a good way of staying sane. For some, it might be a glass a whiskey, a new episode in your favourite show, a new chapter in a good book. What’s your wee treat?
I help keep the good ship Slugger afloat by managing the business and techy stuff.