There is a point in any argument when you know you're just not going to win so you might as well give up now.
'It's all your fault. If you'd forced me to eat more things when I was younger I would eat more different things.'
We were sitting in a noodle bar in Manchester, Chris, Hannah and I, having a last supper before the prodigal returned to Frankfurt.
We have had this conversation, you and I, about not forcing your children to eat things, however good they are for them or however long you spent preparing the damn stuff especially for them. But it turns out it was all my fault anyway. Fussy toddlers turn into fussy twenty-somethings and it's all your fault. Oddly enough, my stroppy red-head, sandwiched between four brothers, is the only one who is fussy. The boys have all grown up and expanded their taste bud experiences and now, more-or-less, eat anything. Not so Hannah, despite a year living in Spain with Spanish families. (Although, to give her her due, she does now eat courgettes and red peppers, but that's about it.)
I should have seen the arguments coming. After all she'd been on a ten hour train journey up from Cornwall and was in no mood to socialise. I packed her off to have a shower and hoped the fog would lift. But it was my silly suggestion, I'll admit, to take them to a noodle bar with the idle notion that if you don't like hot and spicy there's no point suggesting Mexican, Indian or Thai but there would be plenty not hot or spicy to choose from here.
Seating on the end of one of the long benches surveying the menu it became obvious that the fog had no intention of lifting.
'Hannah's in a bad mood because of the long train journey,' I told Chris, 'so don't wind her up.'
'I'm not in a bad mood. And you're making me worse, Mum, with comments like that.'
She went through the menu - which was lengthy - attacking every single dish.
'I don't like carrots...I hate coriander ever since you made that soup...I don't like mussels, only prawns...what's that? I'm not ordering a meal with something I've never heard of in it...'
By the time we'd reached about the twentieth dish on the menu I'd started to hide a smile. Chris chuckled. I swallowed a laugh.
'We should never have come here. It's all your fault. I don't like ginger in dinners, only puddings...'
And on it went, Hannah finding fault with every single dish, Chris and I waiting for the next outburst whilst trying to swallow our napkins and laugh into our menus. Of course this just made her worse. It wasn't fair. Never stand within firing range of a red-head turning scarlet. When they were little children my two redheads would occasionally turned bright pink with anger and stamp their feet like little Rumplestiltskins. And we would laugh at them then, too.
The soft fruit is ripening as fast as I can pick it. Fruit and weeds are in abundance and it feels good to squirrel things away into the freezer for the winter. There are currants, black, red and white, gooseberries, raspberries and tons more rhubarb. It is a good year for soft fruit, I think. I like to make smoothies whenever I can and now is the best time of all when fruit is minutes from vine to blender. I dip into your book 'Thirst' which has become a bit of a bible when I'm in the mood. So many ideas, so simple, so quick. Would like you to think about my idea of using chunks of frozen banana instead of ice cubes? I'm still chuffed at being able to find a use for all those left-over bananas that everyone refuses to eat because they are freckled and don't taste as nice ( - on this point I know you and I agree). Today I make a blueberry and banana smoothie ('Thirst' pg 95) but with the frozen banana. I'm wondering how different frozen berries will work. Much handier to be able to dip into a box in the freezer for a couple of handfuls of berries than keep a constant supply of fresh in the fridge if you're trying to cut down on journeys to the shops.
You are making 'Thyme and garlic chicken wings' (page 312) in a sticky marinade with honey and dried chilli and lemon juice to serve. See, if this was pasted on a menu somehow Hannah would no doubt complain about the dried chilli (although it's only a couple of good pinches), yet put it on a plate beside her and I think she'd be won over by the garlicky honey, and the combination of sour, sweet and mildly hot would get to her. So the lesson is never teach your toddler to read so they can read menus and they won't turn into fussy eaters. The chicken is as good cold as hot, you say, and I think for us cold would make a welcome change. I'm all but barbecued out for the present, I think.
You're out scrumping plums again, I see:
'I return home with another bowl of scrumped fruit.' I tell you, you'll get caught one of these days, Nigel. Dixon of Doc Green will be standing at the bottom of the tree with that look on his face:-
'Now what have we got here, young Slater..'
The plums go in a tart with a classic almond filling, like a Bakewell pudding, but feels French.
Like you, I have always been under the impression that marinades were things you had to think about in advance and be very well-prepared and organised over. It has an off-putting quality to it only in that I am not always that organised. You have recently pondered the subject:
'Marinating..is something I have only recently taken to, having assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that I have to be organised and know what I will be eating tomorrow.'
'The concentration of the marinade matters. A highly spiced, intensely flavoured paste will do the job in less than an hour.'
'I love the fact that ingredients sometimes get on with things themselves and we are only a small part of the equation. I don't see why we always have to be in control of everything in the kitchen. The science behind what happens when we cook is interesting, but please leave me some magic and surprise too.'
The result today is 'Grilled lamb with lemon harissa' (page 308) which you marinated for a couple of hours and yet it worked 'just as well as when marinated overnight.' It uses lamb steaks which I find practical for midweek meals. I may have to go in search of some preserved lemon for this one but it looks to me like just the sort of dish I want to cook in late summer with its yoghurt and mint sauce and some hummus on the side. Thank you for that, I am in need of novelty. I am writing this in the garden and a butterfly is sitting on the photo of this dish, eyeing it up intently on its wooden platter. She and me both.