Wednesday, 29 February 2012

February 29th - Lenten austerity and the Lollipop lady

Dear Nigel,

One of my greatest pleasures is making food presents for people. Not the sort of food gifts for friends and relations that lots of us indulge in at Christmas - homemade hampers, biscuits, peppermint creams etc. I like to give (and to receive sometimes) the kind of unexpected presents  to unexpectant recipients. I don't even need to be there to see the person's face or hear words of gratitude, or whatever. For me it's to do with brightening someone's day. Often, I've left cakes or bowls of eggs or gluts of tomatoes on doorsteps with no clue to their inception.Today it was the turn of the Lollipop lady.

I don't know whether I've mentioned our Lollipop lady to you before? Every day she stands at the school crossing at the top of the road, and every day we drive past on our way to another part of town. And every day my children insist on waving and making her wave back at them. At Christmas time we had to stop the traffic, get out and give the Lollipop lady Christmas cards which they had made. We've sat warm and snug inside the Landrover, the children wrapped in blankets (as i don't like to use the fan heater in case it blows another fuse - and at 50p a time I'm going through dozens of them), and watched the poor Lollipop lady beating off drowning rain and snow blizzards with her giant Lollipop. And still managing to smile and wave.

I discover that the Lollipop lady is, in fact, the local vicar's wife from the church just over the road from where we live. We're a bit lapsed in these matters, but i do know that it is lent now that pancake Tuesday  has passed. So maybe the gift of cake might be unwelcome in these days of Christian austerity. I imagine her pious husband saying "what a lovely cake dear, so sad that we aren't able to eat it ourselves, but it will make a lovely present for Mrs so-and-so." And the cake passes before her very eyes.

I'm making soup for my regular soup date with Jules so making double is no more effort. Empty plastic milk cartons make ideal containers for the giving (or the freezing, for that matter) of soup. And even the church wouldn't deny a poor cold Lollipop lady something to warm her up, would they? The soup is Celery and cashew nut. It has a lovely clean taste and the nuts, which are whizzed in a food processor, serve to add a creamy texture without any need for additional cream, milk or yoghurt.

 The recipe says to sieve the soup to get rid of the fibrous bits of the celery and the grainy texture of the nuts, but i ignore this. I tend to think of soups as liquid medicine for good health, and sieving out the goodness to me seems sacrilege.Most of my soups are blended with a stick blender, as this goes straight in the pan and there's not all that faff and washing up you have with a blender.

 And have you ever wasted precious hours trying to mash a soup through a fine sieve? - I'm sure you have; to end up with a sublime taste, but very little of it. I'm not at all sure my conscience would let me make so much waste. Perhaps my soups are a little more rustic, a little less 'silver service', but this is the way we eat now. At the kitchen table, with scrubbed pine and bread for tearing, and mismatched china and silver cutlery from flea markets. The Yoga mafia have demanded a return match, so i shall be delving into my bookshelves for another suitable veggie number. All life revolves around a bowl of soup, battles are won and friendships forged. And all for a fiver.


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