Sunday, 28 July 2013

July 28th - A trip to the zoo and Pickled ginger

Dear Nigel,

"Hey, man, have a drag of this."
An arm was flung backwards, strong and dark-haired. I looked up and saw them all hanging in around in hammocks, all completely stoned out of their heads. There were piles on dirty clothes all over the floor and what looked like the contents of a takeaway curry on a coffee table in front of a large plasma screen TV. The scene looked strangely familiar. The kids were unimpressed. We left the ape enclosure and moved on towards the penguins.

Now you would think that with such a large swimming pool and several keepers whose full-time job it seemed was to hose down guano from the embankments, picking up litter and generally keeping the verges well- kept and presentable, that this lot would be happy. Under the water they shot like darts, chasing each other and proving that age was not an obstacle. But, get them out the water, and, like old people everywhere all you could hear was moan, moan, moan. Shuffling about complaining all the time about their bunions and who was standing in who's place when they'd always stood there, hadn't they Beryl? Beryl shuffled off after her friend and the whole lot of them turned and went in search of a good podiatrist.

Things were no better in the Panda enclosure. We may have booked for our ten minutes gawk at Britain's only Pandas here in Edinburgh Zoo but she had work to do and didn't want to be interrupted. There she sat, Sweetie by name (if not by nature), looking for all the world like she was hammering away on her weaving loom as she stuffed her face with bamboo, oblivious to the cameras and pink blotchy faces behind the glass.

"She doesn't like camera flashes," the young man said. Sweetie was far too busy to pose for photographs and sign autographs. Her minder was impatiently moving people on. Over in the pen next door, Sunshine was lying prostrate and dejected on the ground. He had been doing handstands to impress it seems, she'd slapped him on the face for being so impertinent. And that was it, over for another year. No wonder he was looking so down on his luck.

A trip to the zoo is a childhood milestone every child should enjoy. We spend the next day recovering.

You have been recreating memories of your holidays to Japan in a 'Tuna, pickled ginger and cucumber salad' (page 295). The chief ingredient, pickled ginger is a particular favourite of yours: 'It is not a particularly easy ingredient to introduce into recipes, but it does lend itself quite easily to inclusion in a salad. Anyone who eats sushi regularly will know how good it is with cucumber...add a few other sushi-friendly ingredients - carrots, lime and tuna - and you have a neat little salad.'

My friend Yuri has been introducing me to Japanese salads. Johnathan comes in from the garden with a handful of large oval-shaped white radishes called Mooli. She is back from the Japanese Centre in Derby with library books for the children with cartoon characters and beautifully-formed script, and the right kind of soy sauce. Johnathan is English, Yuri from Kyoto and the children, Lucy -  all Japanese, and BB - an English rose, would never be taken for sisters. I am at home in their calming presence; and the mooli salad is very good. I take a second helping.

Your mind is full of the week's filming for your side of the goldfish bowl. Sweetie could do with some of your desire to explore and educate at the same time. Your mind is mulling over the pleasure to be had in eating something hot with something cold, such as 'that moment when a blistering hot sauce meets an icy dessert' or 'a ball of vanilla ice cream with a stinging-hot espresso.' You come back from the market with a basketful of plums ready to turn them into 'A plum water ice' (page 296) and 'Roast plums, gin and juniper' (page 298); 'probably my favourite pudding of late summer.' Oddly-enough 'a good third of them disappears in the half hour it takes me to unpack the shopping and tidy the fridge.' The same thing happened to me with the bag of greengages my mum left on the kitchen worktop...


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