Wednesday, 20 February 2013

February 19th - Leaving Nigel and a little Scotch mist

Dear Nigel,

I'm flying off to Aberdeen today and there's been a bit of a problem. The problem is you, my dear. You've put on a bit of weight of late - 2 kilos to be exact - and so I think I'm going to have to leave you behind, sitting on my blanket chest, staring out like a forlorn Heathcliff. It's a choice between you and a pile of knickers, and I'm afraid the knickers won.

So we are to be parted for four whole days. Will my culinary universe cope without your gentle prompting? I expect so. The best part about going away is relinquishing control of the chopping board and eating something lovingly made just for you for a change. No menu, no choice - and as long as it's not carrots everything will be fine.

We had this conversation, did we not, earlier this week - you with your aversion to eggs and me to carrots. Amazing that one simple ingredient could cause such a physical reaction, even after all these years, because of childhood compulsion. No child should be forced to eat something they really don't like, however tiresome this may seem to a parent dealing with such a fussy eater.

Sitting in a cafe in Departures, in alien territory, I am people watching. As Richard Curtis noted in 'Love Actually', there really is the full spectrum of emotion played out at airport gates. Maybe not the huge outward display pictured in the montage to the film, but traced on the faces of countless passers-by,  the trickle of emotion withheld. There is greater variety, a firmer purpose, and the trail of lives lived on different paths all crossing in one place.

I could comment on the quality of the food - bland - but what's the point, I'm only here for the coffee. And it is good. The caffeine hits the right spot and I revive. I note that the lemsip tablets I've been taking contain 50mg of caffeine in each two capsule dose - great, unless you're trying to relieve a blocked nose and headache so that you can get a good night's sleep.

Joy oh joy, I arrive exhausted to find you've beaten me to it. I turn to the bookshelf and there, staring me in the face, is a pristine copy of 'Tender - volume 2' by Nigel Slater. Minus its brooding Heathcliff it is, nevertheless, you in all your unbridled glory.

I am reading up about Rhubarb in 'Tender'. My first revelation is that there are different varieties for early, mid and late season. Why this has never occurred to me in regard to Rhubarb I have no idea since it is so obvious in other fruits like Raspberries. The variety I planted was the fairly bog-standard nursery variety of Timperly Early - 'a thin-stemmed heavy-cropping variety..(which) you can pick until early Summer'. Perhaps this may warrant another trench of Valentine (with its heart-shaped leaf, exceptionally sweet and prolific), or Victoria (a lovely old variety with thick maroon stems and red and green flesh); varieties which crop from June onwards. My mum loves to marry stewed Rhubarb with Raspberries, so a later variety would be good.

One of the best ideas I've heard in a while is your idea for the huge amount of superfluous juice that comes from the stalks as they cook. Now I'm one of those slutty cooks who take 'cooks privilege' and stands at the cooker with bowl and spoon removing and devouring all that wonderful sharp and sweetened juice that would "simply ruin that lovely pie" you're making. Your great idea is to pour it into glasses with jagged ice cubes - you, using up your latent aggression basic-instinct style to smash up the ice cubes with an ice pick (always knew you had it in you somewhere, Nigel!) and top it up with sparkling mineral water. My own Rhubarb needs a few weeks yet to start really cropping, but this is one drink I'm sure to be making. I hate to see any kind of waste.

I have never tried using Rhubarb with fish, although I have seen countless recipes suggesting it. But the photo of Mackerel with Rhubarb and sherry vinegar (page 1131) looks very striking indeed. You say that the rhubarb 'brings out the inherent sweetness of (the) mackerel'. Leaving the Rhubarb whole, rather than as  a puree, in all its fuchsine vibrancy 'alongside the shimmering silver of the mackerel, makes for a beautiful and extraordinary supper.' Strange how we so often shy away from things we have never tried, preferring to stay with the tried-and-tested when there is so much out there waiting to be discovered if we did but venture out occasionally. So, with the lure of a painterly food portrait I will get some mackerel in. The use of capers is optional, but I think they may be the very thing to sting the taste buds, and, after the blandness of a cold, this is what I'm searching for.


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