Wednesday, 26 March 2014

I is for Inexplicably good

Dear Nigel,

Most of life seems to be inexplicable, it seems to me. Things either work or they don't. Food is either inexplicably good or bad but rarely indifferent. Sometimes the culprit is easily spotted and dealt with swiftly - too much seasoning in a casserole, add a potato and let the saltiness disappear. Sometimes, of course, it's too late and it's 'eat it or starve'.

On the other end of the scale are those memorable meals where the inexplicable something is usually the catalyst between one ingredient and another. These are the meals we mark out as sublime, and they can be anything from salt and vinegar on chips to truffle oil on wild mushrooms. This is the outcome I am hoping for with a simple comfort food dish of potatoes on a wild and windy March afternoon when it is better to be in than out, with the hailstones clawing my face as I screw my eyes up and make a dash to the car. The dish is 'Potatoes with Spices and Spinach' ( pg 263).

I am inviting my new friend over here for the first time. He is a Designer, and the one thing about Designers is that they notice everything. Including the dirt. So I am cleaning like there's no tomorrow. Of course I know it doesn't matter in the slightest. And yet it does; this time at least. Dirt is the one thing we do well over here. It is a different kind of dirt to the clogged up London air. This dirt arrives on foot, usually. The dog rarely wipes her feet on the specially-constructed dirt-trapper mat, preferring to jump over it so that she can make perfect paw prints on the tiles. The children are better organised to remove their wellies as they fly in off the moors leaving a trail behind them all the way to the television of boots, coats, and trousers often-enough. The village lanes are cleaned almost weekly now but the off-load of constant tractors fresh from the fields is a constant trial. I want to send the children to school in shoes like everyone else but the obstacle course of mud makes it impractical until it all starts to dry up a bit.

This simple meal is basically another take on the humble roast potato. I ask myself why I've never made this before as I sit down to eat. It's lovely. But when I think of making roast potatoes they are always accompanied in my mind by a roast meat. It's the way I was brought up. Most of us in this country, I expect. So how to get from there to a dish like this. I have often eaten a dish like this when out, but never cooked it myself. Yet it's so ridiculously easy. How can we change the habits of a lifetime and create new ones. Do I need to cook this week in week out until it is embedded in my subconscious, or do I have to deliberately turn to the recipe every time. I want to be able to look at a potato and say, 'this will make a fine dinner today.' I want to move my socialisation process and coat those potatoes in spices and yoghurt, instead of gravy and redcurrant jelly. As you say, the dish is 'hot, cool, crisp, soft' and inexplicably sublime. It is a dish without meat where none is intended, and comfort on a blustery day. It is also very inexpensive to cook, which makes it hugely attractive to me right now. The sublime bit for me comes with the interplay between hot and salty. I think maybe I have overdone the sea salt, but no, it is simply the heat of the cayenne and chilli bringing out the tang of the sea. As a marmite girl this is completely up my street.

There is a newly-rotavated vegetable patch waiting for me to sow now. I am holding fire a little while longer as the morning frosts still linger. I think a couple more weeks will give even the hardiest little seedling more of a fighting chance. I'm thinking we might have missed the snow this year, though it is still very cold out of the sunshine. I only want to plant things this year that will work hard for their money - cut and come again salads and perpetual spinach; that sort of thing. The rhubarb creates a pretty hedge with its leggy pink stems and will soon need pulling. Every year it gets stronger and better. Last year's newbies are feeble in comparison to the rude health of the previous year's stock. I am trying different varieties - early and late- to try and extend the season. The spinach has designer lacework courtesy of a myriad of insects, no doubt. We eat that which would never grace any restaurant table and it is none-the-worse for its doily-like effect.

Each day we wave to old Nigel as he goes back and forth down the lane in his huge red tractor, taking bales of hay to the cows. He is my five o'clock wake up call drifting in to my subconscious and priming me for the series of more insistent alarm calls from my phone. The other day he passed us with his one year old grandson sitting up front, grinning from ear to ear. Young and old together. The next generation of farmers in training.



  1. Hi Martha...I always read your blog, although I don't think I've ever commented before...I can't think why, because I just wanted to tell you that I think you are an amazing writer. I am absolutely drawn into your posts..they have a dream-like quality somehow! I feel the same ad you about Mr Slater, but the way you weave your life into your posts is totally inspired...hope you have a great day!

    1. Thank you, Rachel, I was feeling a bit low and you completely made my day x