Friday, 25 January 2013

January 25th - A word from Richard Johnson

Dear Nigel,

Sometimes, when you are tapping away on the old laptop you begin to wonder if you are completely alone in this. In a  lovely way it's nice to be talking to just one person and putting all your focus on that; but at other times you wonder whether other people feel the same way about things as you, or whether you are completely cracked and want committing to a mental institution somewhere. So it's great to get feedback, and lately its been coming in droves.

Having just worked out what Twitter is and what it does, I suddenly have lots of friends or followers or whatever. And people let you know that they like your writing. And that's great when you are feeling all alone. (And to the person who made such a an incredibly generous offer, I'm afraid I'm going to have to decline your kind invitation.). But then the good thing, when you are not a journalist and you aren't pretending you can do any more than slam a few things together in the kitchen, is hearing  people like Richard Johnson, food critic of the Guardian, telling you that 'talent will out', and offering you some work.

The work in question is for British street food and all I know as yet is that it will involve reviewing some of the good food street food vendors in this area. So, as this is a subject about which I know precious little I will have to get out there on foot and mull my way around the farmers markets and street markets of the Peak District. I suspect this might be a harder quest than it would be in somewhere like London, as cultural movement is slower and it's more openly traditional in the sticks. But if it's there I'll find it. And people who like food like to talk about food. One foodie friend puts me on to a woman who does huge tureens of soup and another to someone with an Italian pizza oven.

 So this month I'm off to the farmers markets starting with the big one in Bakewell tomorrow, held in the Agricultural Business Centre (and claiming to be the second largest in the country with over 70 stalls), as long as the snow holds off.

I turn to your diary and see that you are making salad: I am a little dubious - there is still over a foot of snow in the garden. I come a little closer and see that you are making use of some white chicory and watercress for their bitter flavours and recommend that they make 'a perfect match for the sweetness of walnuts, mild cheeses and bacon.' I have all three to hand. The salad recipe is 'winter leaves with gherkins and mustard' (pg 41) and I think the dressing will  pack a punch with its gherkins, capers and Dijon. I love the fact that it is the sculptural shape and artistically painted beauty of the leaves that appeals to you as much as their flavour, so you like to keep their leaves whole: 'The flashes of magenta, rose and blood-red on white as if they have been painted by hand.'

You are growing several varieties of winter lettuce in the cold frame, including winter purslane, landcress and lambs lettuce. I grow the latter two as cut-and-come-again crops in the summer but never really think to grow them into the winter months. Perhaps they will bolt less as the light fades?

I am persuaded to venture out in a snowstorm on a two-hour round trip to pick up no.4 son, Tom. Madness.  But there is magic on the way. A young deer crosses the road. The light is almost faded. She stands feet away from me and I stop the car and we watch. Perhaps she thinks we cannot see her in her background of a copse of trees. She turns her head from side to side, watching, listening, but doesn't move. The white canvas marks her out like one of those beautiful Jan Pienkowski silhouettes from children's fairytale books, stark against the white - a papercut of wizened trunks, spindly leg and lean muscle with a bambi head atop.  We leave her undisturbed and crawl back home. I have already cancelled tomorrow's excursion to the farmers market. There will be another.


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