Standing at the hob, I’m watching onions cook, waiting for caramelisation. Gently, carefully, don’t burn. Twelve minutes, minimum. This is how long they take.
My cycling jersey lies crumpled in the corner, tide marks of salt streak my base layer and bib shorts hang down my arse. I have the glassy stare of a man who’s just finished a six-hour bike ride and the crashing hunger of a mid-afternoon fad dieter.
But you can’t rush the onions.
This is where the magic happens.
The sweet, deep foundations of the dish.
We cyclists are familiar with the cavernous calorie deficit, the belly concave with hunger, that kicks in with a long bike ride. For some of us the refuelling is all part of the fun. I have been known to plan long rides around pub lunches. I may have once eaten a mid-ride pizza. There’s a cracking little cyclist friendly Spanish café in Kendal, Cumbria, that deserves your custom.
Conversely, I have watched people boil pasta, squirt tomato ketchup across it, and devour. This is their right – to each their own – but the mere thought of that has me welling up a little. Hence my slow, thorough cooking technique, half-dressed in sweaty cycling kit.
Anyway, the onions.
Five minutes down, seven to go.
I can’t afford to lose my nerve now. If my willpower fails me I’ll be in that fridge inhaling the contents. Ingredients, the constituent parts of a sandwich, will disappear, un-constituted, and where’s the dignity in that?
Hunger sated but at what cost?
Two hours ago with seventy miles in the legs I promised myself a delicious curry, made slowly, with care, onions given time to release their sweetness, grease separating from the sauce (just the best sign of a good curry). The thought of this, the guarantee of something delicious, had provided my mental fuel and kept the pedals turning
To back out of the deal now – furtively shovelling down the nearest, most convenient calories at hand – would be an act of treachery. If I don’t keep my promise the legs will remember and rebel next time.
It’s called muscle memory.
OK, hang in there, the onions are done. Golden, the merest crisping around the edges, they are ready for garlic and ginger, spices, vegetables and protein. Sure, I am swaying, light-headed, clinging to the worktop and seeing stars, but it will be worth it.
A satisfying and flavour-soaked dish shall be my reward.
If I can just…stay…upright…
My heart rate monitor, still strapped across my chest, takes a reading. Spiking with anticipation as the curry builds and the flavours mingle. The effort of post-ride cookery. My Garmin still runs, I won’t press ‘stop’ until dinner is served, the effort of exhausted creation just another phase of the workout.
Until finally, forty-five minutes after rolling home, let’s eat.
Silently, like an animal, I demolish my reward. Grease drips down my chin, the juices seep into my cells and the lights behind my eyes flicker back into service. I’m satisfied. Refuelled and on the path to post-ride recovery.
People will tell me that this is not a maximal fuelling strategy. That I could’ve done that quickly, near immediately, with a joyless recovery shake or a calibrated bowl of optimum ingredients.
But I’m happy with my decision.
Now I’m off for a nap.
(Bottom Image: Soniya Goyal via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/soniagoyal/28906445485)