Every new beginning brings butterflies to your stomach. Your heart pounds, your stomach churns and you feel you can't eat. But eat we must, and soon those butterflies with their gossamer wings will float away downstream with only the trick of the light catching their rainbow plume, like oil on water. And all will be calm once more. This is how it is when the new becomes the accepted.
But in the beginning it is an Adventure, rivalling any untrod path taken by Ranulph Fiennes: a journey into the unknown. For our journey we will take a map : 'Eat' - the little book of fast food. This will provide a point of reference, an anchoring to the daily routine of what to make for dinner tonight. You will be my map reader and I will go tie the guy ropes and get out the billycans. We have a guest for supper.
Tonight we are going to have 'Goat's Cheese Frittata' (page 99).There is a French connection with my guest so I buy a thick Swiss roll slice of French Chevre at the Bakewell Deli. It has a velvet skin marked out like the tyre of a bicycle and, cut into coins, will rest like pennies on a corpse on the top of our Frittata tonight. This cheese is a firmer Goats cheese than the snow white creamy-textured stuff I once used to make from my own goats' milk , strained through a piece of cheesecloth in a large sieve, in the hope that my children would eat that which they would not drink (because it was 'too creamy' apparently). It is better for cooking than most cheeses made from cows milk when the object is to keep the cheese intact. The photo shows how simple and enticing this can be.
There are free range eggs with dark coloured yolks and spinach and thyme and basil from the Greengrocer. I am cooking for one meal only, eschewing my usual sprint to the supermarket and savouring the provenance of locally produced eggs and the 'shop local' posters everywhere I go. Bakewell is still a thriving market town, here in the Peak District, but only using it will keep it that way. I resolve to change some of my shopping habits and bring a bit more balance to that area of my life. Shopping for food should be a pleasure, not a chore, and making it into a kind of social occasion gives it value. It requires time. But then the recipe I am making requires less; so equanimity is restored.
In making this recipe, I have to say I started wilting the spinach in the little pan, but then decided to give up and pour it all into another larger pan and slam on a lid. I think I'm just a very messy cook, and probably too impatient to watch the mountain of spinach diminish in batches. The other thing which I almost did was to get out a bigger frying pan. I love my little french Iron pan, like you love your little pan, and it's been with me a good twenty years or more getting more non-stick with every use; yet I did look at the quantities and think it wouldn't quite make it. But I held faith, and you were right. As I realised when my guest and I cut into the frittata, the whole point is the depth of the layers of succulent spinach, herbs and the little patties of goats cheese floating like islands on the top.
On my drive out most days I take the little cut-through along 'Dog Lane' which takes me to the main road, passing the farm where old Eric still lives alone with his little dog. This is the same old Eric I wrote to you about last year who found packets of powdered rat poison in his fridge, which his daughter-in-law had put there for safe-keeping (don't ask me why), and carefully made a cottage pie for himself and his dog with a 'savory topping' of rat poison on top. Eric ended up in Hospital, his dog at the Vet's. Both made a full recovery.
He was supposed to be kept an eye on but he's a stubborn old mule. Last week Kevin caught him trying to saw down a tree. (I guess he must be in his late eighties). This week old Eric's decided he wants to go into a home so they've made arrangements for a day's visit to one nearby. But anxiety about it is keeping the old man awake at nights. Sometimes when I drive past and he's flat out asleep in his conservatory with his boots in the air I wonder for him, but I can't see the life within him giving up that easily somehow. We'll see whether he manages a whole day at the home. Chances are he'll be back home by Friday.
I hadn't expected to locate the Rosemary needed in this recipe so easily in the garden, but this year has been a mild winter here so far. Last year lots of things died beneath the eighteen inches or more of snow at times which hung around for so long. Even hardy things which you would expect to last like Buddleias and, yes, Rosemary bushes, perished under their iron blanket. This year will mean more restocking of my herb garden when I get my seeds for the vegetable patch. John has offered to lay a path for me across the patch with bits of left-over reclaimed stone from his various building jobs. It is good to have neighbours like this. Payment will be made in cake and heartfelt thanks.
The meal is prepared, the table is laid and I know my guest will be drinking coke and I will have Dandelion and burdock. The recipe says for one person but we will make it do two of us with some french bread on the side. She is, after all sixteen and therefore permanently on a diet. But now I am giving too much away and you will have to wait and see. I am nervous, uneasy; what will she see in me? I do what people do when they are uneasy and time hangs heavy - I fiddle with a tablecloth, I wash the dishes, I pour a medicinal glass of wine, I hunt for suitable music to play. I wait.