Monday, 25 March 2013
March 24th - The sound of snowflakes and a little touch of treacle
I am sitting here writing this in my little cottage with glaring white light streaming in through the windows. It is not the harsh brilliant sunshine though but the reflected dazzle of a world of white trying to get in and warm its toes by my stove. Winter is back with a vengeance and the tiny buds of my flowering currant are like bleeding fingertips against the sheets. It's quite as deep as at any time these past few months. This morning I went out for a walk in the meadows and walked straight into a drift up to my waist - the kids thought it was hilarious.
A different timetable and train of thought descends. This time round I am not so organised, the freezer not so full. There is no hope of digging Archie out at present - at least it is possible, but I can't really be bothered. There's something of a pyjama mentality that sets in: make do, eat and sleep when you feel like it, dress as you so desire, and rediscover things you'd almost forgotten about.
For me, this included Bread making, since I haven't really made much for a little while. But, the freezer was empty, the nearest shop about 4 miles away, and here was the perfect opportunity to experiment a bit and tweak my recipe. I found some malted wheat flakes in the cupboard and a tin of treacle. Lately I have been wondering if my taste in bread has been artificially sweetened without me knowing it by supermarkets sweetening their bread to make it more palatable. There is something in the beeriness of my homemade bread that I want to temper; and treacle did the trick without adding sweetness. It is something I remember my granny adding to the liquid, instead of sugar. We feed the rest of the bought loaf to the birds on the bird table, since the dog makes short work of it otherwise and the poor birds don't get a look in.
The raw fresh air and snowball fights take their toll and, as I listen to some Celtic singing whilst pottering about in the kitchen, the little ones have been lulled to sleep under throws on the sofas and have to be carried up to bed. I expect school will be cancelled again tomorrow.
You are making 'Duck with ginger and citrus' (page 134) and marinate the duck pieces, both legs and breast, in salt and ginger syrup to keep them juicy and succulent, then cook them with slices of orange and lemon. 'The oranges around at the moment are wonderful - heavy for their size, small and firm, and impossible to peel without leaking juice all over the place.' The preserved ginger adds a little necessary seasonal warmth to the dish, and right now that's exactly what is needed here. The dish is accompanied by nutty brown basmati and some steamed greens like bok choy, choi sum or more seasonally local sprouting broccoli. I love the little purple florets you get at this time of year, even though the colour all but disappears into the water when they are steamed.
Flavours for a Winter day need to be strong. This dish sings and the pudding which follows cools. It is an ice cream for a winter's day: 'Espresso and dark chocolate ice cream' (page 136). The flavour is deep and intense, 'pungent with slightly bitter beans'. It is made with a custard base of double cream and egg and is the kind of ice cream that you can almost chew. You say there are flavours of ice cream that are particularly suited to cooler days, such as vanilla,'dark chocolate, Liquorice, lemon, orange and cinnamon...(with) a note of warm spice or a bite of citrus that seems right when the sun isn't shining ( the scent of lemon blossom on a winter's day in Amalfi is exhilarating)'.
You seem in your element at this time of year - and maybe element is exactly the right word. You like the cold, preferring a winter sunset to a sun-drenched beach. I send you a note and find you've disappeared on holiday to Kyoto when others would be looking for an all-over tan and the scent of fried flesh. I like a landscape where green things still grow, where grass is jewel-like and not tired-looking. These are the holidays I come back from feeling refreshed and not dehydrated and leatherned.