I wandered in to our local supermarket - Morrisons - today and came across a reincarnation of Auschwitz. Going through the door you first encounter 'the market'. To be fair they have brought in lots of undiscovered vegetables, some very obscure and different. I was pleased to see some samphire so bought some to have with the Jersey royals. No, what really threw me was the pipe arrangement around the vegetables with holes in emitting some kind of cloudy vapour at intervals. On closer inspection a notice said that this was only water vapour to keep things in peak top condition, but the bunches of herbs, to my eye, still seemed to be wilting none-the-less. The overall effect was a little disconcerting and seemed as far removed from a bustling french market as is possible to get.
Another sign said ' feast your eyes', and i think that was probably the great idea. Like the armchair cooks who devour cookery programmes on the tele but then grab a takeaway, the great market was placed alongside a whole line of ready meals. Fancy a baked plantain today? Why bother when you can get one already prepared and cooked for you earlier in a mild chilli sauce - only three minutes in the microwave...or some such twaddle. I think there is a whole change in the way we are being manipulated to shop at the moment. Times are hard, profits are harder to come by, so let's get them unaware and draw them in.
My over-suspicious mind, perhaps, but i was accutely aware that after the traditional fruit and veg welcome, the isles went from ready meals to wine to snacks and crisps and magazines, and you are half way round the store before you come across anything that you actually went in for.
Back home we tuck into locally grown Asparagus with far too much butter than is advisable and soft duck eggs to dip into. I love this brief and heady season and prefer to forgo the Spanish stuff just for the joy of anticipation. I toy with the idea of making frittata with the Asparagus but inevitably find that this is one thing that just tastes so good so simply that anything else is just a bit of a disappointment.
You are cooking salmon and dill fishcakes with wedges of lemon and a sauce made from yoghurt and dill and whole grain mustard. A wonderful delicate herb, you find bunches in the Lebanese shops on the Edgware Road ' the size of horses' tails and tubs of thick, tart yoghurt.' These are the sort of shops that we miss the most living far from the city centres. I'm making a rare pilgrimage to London next week to meet my second son, Chris, who flies in briefly from Cyprus. We plan a weekend of shows and little more than wandering round food shops and cafes.
Sophie has been making soup. She looks a little defensive as i eye the bowl she's carrying. The liquid is creamy and thick as if a large helping of creme fraiche has been added. She is stirring it carefully with.....with my make up brush. I come closer my eyebrows all ready to frown. There is an aroma, a certain 'je ne sais quoi'. I stop, i sniff again; it is...it is...suddenly i know exactly 'quoi' - Shalimar. I race upstairs. Half a bottle of my most expensive perfume. Great. Mixed with bath cream and shaving gel, apparently. We are not friends at the moment, she and i.