Baking's not going away any time soon, gin really is coming back this time - and I've found quite the best toasted sandwich in Britain
Another year almost wrapped up, and what have we learned? Here, live from my kitchen and entirely free of additives, sweeteners and all the rest, are my thoughts.
1 The no-bookings trend is not going away, which is bad news if you don't fancy playing Russian roulette with supper, and dislike being jostled as you stand in a corner feeling all hot and self-conscious with a drink in your hand (a drink you didn't even want in the first place). There are few phrases more brain-wearying than: "We'll have a table for you in 15 minutes." Twenty minutes, and the jig is up. Don't even take off your coat. Head immediately to the less good - not to mention overlit and surprisingly empty - place across the road. But 15? So tantalising! Will it really happen? Or will 15 turn into 20? And if it does, should you walk out, or should you hang on, hoping for some return on your investment? Up the road is a new no-bookings place that sells chicken and potatoes. It's like a Nando's that has swallowed a John Pawson coffee table book. But since I tend not to fancy rotisserie birds and bleached wood at 5.30pm - actually, that's a lie; I very much do, only these days I try to pass myself off as someone who simply can't bear to eat before 8pm - I fear I am unlikely to experience its minimalist delights in this life, or the next.
2 Gin. It's back. For ages, people kept saying it was back, and it wasn't. Now, though, it really is. I'm happy about this: so long as I'm in possession of a bottle of gin and a bottle of Mitsouko at any given moment, I am mostly content. But I wish people would stop droning on about "botanicals". No one swigs their favourite gin, and thinks: "Cop a load of the cassia bark in that."
3 The cheeriest food story of the year was not the fact that jiang bing is the new hot street food trend, or that yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit much beloved of Californian chefs, is soon to arrive on menus everywhere. Apart from anything else, we don't all live in Hoxton. I was far more keen on the tale of Ian and Rebekah Pugh, a couple from rural Oxfordshire, who vowed to forsake supermarkets for a year, only to discover that they saved almost £900 on their annual food bill. I can't see any other way of beating the supermarkets in the end than by reminding people over and over again that they might save money if, whenever possible, they were to shop little and local.
4 Waste. This connects to 3. We threw away £12.4m worth of food and drink last year (the average family chucks out £60 worth a month) and in 2013, I finally reached a healthy level of sickness about this, with the result, alarming or not, that I am now more or less blind to "best before" dates. My scientist-lawyer sister, who has been known to scrape mould from yoghurt in search of the "good stuff" beneath, tells me that she is very proud.
5 We're still mad on baking, aren't we? Or at least, we're still mad about watching people baking. I've nothing much to say about this phenomenon that won't sound killjoy-ish, but I will just note that sometimes I long for a good, plain cake with butter icing and not a lot else, and that such a thing is increasingly hard to find in this world of friands and cronuts and cupcakes the size of mushroom clouds. As for the marshmallow trend - rose petal, fraises des bois ... celery - I'm not convinced. So insipid. I still prefer the pink and white ones that come in a plastic bag and make you think of Moomins.
6 Finally, my discovery of 2013. I wish I could tell you something really helpful, like how to get annoyingly fussy people to eat anchovies. But perhaps this is even better, for I have found the source of the best toasted sandwich in Britain. At 9 Bar Coffee, a lovely Italian cafe at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, they serve a toastie that goes like this: leeks and onions gently softened in butter; aged Montgomery cheddar; sourdough from the Great Northumberland Bread Co that has been toasted in a wood-fired oven; and a view of one of Britain's most handsome streets on the side. Go there on a fine, cold day, in your hippest sunglasses and a roll-neck. Take your sandwich outside. Eat it. Very slowly. Swig an espresso. Smile at passersby who will - you're in Newcastle, remember - smile back. You will feel exceedingly happy. Next year is going to be OK.
Picture: The 9 Bar Coffee toastie: 'you will feel exceedingly happy'. Photograph: Aldo De Giorgi