Thursday, 8 May 2014

L is for Life and Living in the Now

Dear Nigel,

Coming downstairs the other day, I found the electricity cable joining my house to John's barn seemed to be down and appeared to have moved.... across the garden, down the drive and round to Craig's next door where a porch is being built. I have looked at this innocent little wire several times and half wondered about it. Now I could hear the sound of stone being cut close by and it was official: I do appear to be supplying the barn opposite with free electricity. As I went up the lane to fetch the bins, John and Terry both looked a bit sheepish. 'I need to see you about that...'one of them mumbled.

I have found that the best form of currency around here is an unofficial form of the LETS bartering system. Half an hour later I was back with the old whirly washing line which I had tossed in the shed when I first moved here. It didn't quite suit the picture in my mind's eye, stuck in the middle of my postage stamp piece of grass at the front of the house. Now that I have acquired another piece of garden and have a vegetable patch underway, I wondered if John could possibly dig up the concrete base and replant it in the new garden (where it would be less obtrusive)? No problem, he'd be round first thing the next morning. You just have to learn to use this system best to your advantage, I find, or the interest accruing has the habit of disappearing.

And, true to his word, the line was up and running the next morning and the dandelions stamped back into the old lawn to increase and multiply in their usual manner.

The best thing about growing vegetables from seed is that it gives you the opportunity to try something completely different that you wouldn't find growing in a pot elsewhere or on the supermarket shelves. I am trialing a new kind of mangetout that I haven't seen around before. It claims to have won 'Vegetable of the Year 2012' - a kind of beauty pageant of the vegetable kingdom. It is a purple mangetout...'British breeding of the first purple Mangetout', it says. It looks stunning on the packet; whether it tastes as good on the plate is another matter.

There is also a blood-veined sorrel, which looks more of a salad leaf than the sort I usually make fish sauces with; and a rhubarb chard following someone else's advertising campaign and promising to be ' probably the best tasting Red Chard' ( the world). I also come across a Borlotti bean that looks as if it's been splattered in red paint. Where in any supermarket would I find a bean like that? This is where gardeners keep their gold. I just hope the slugs don't get them first.

The recipe I am making tonight for my guest is a Tuna and Cucumber Salad (pg.361). It is just the kind of simple summer platter that my guest will like. He lives mainly in a hot climate, living and working, and popping back here regularly to be home with his partner and children. He is a nomad at heart.

I rarely consider the merits of a tin of tuna when I'm chucking it in the supermarket trolley, but as you specify 'best quality drained canned tuna in olive oil' I search this out. These days they all seem to be in sunflower oil or brine, mainly. I find one, and, on opening I think perhaps there is a real difference, in looks for starters. Maybe if it is to be the main ingredient in a recipe then it is worth getting the best. As a dish it's certainly cheap and nutritious, so perhaps worthy of a little more thought. I am keen to make cheaper dishes at the moment (being on something of an economy drive) but without being prepared to compromise on quality or taste. It's a fine balance sometimes. Jersey new potatoes are in season, and delicious, and will make a tasty addition to this dish.

I am mixing up herbs into my planters this summer - a bit of green amongst the flowers - so that I can 'snip and nip' back to the kitchen when I am in the middle of cooking without having to make a longer journey into the garden. I have an old French Zinc bath which I have filled with beautiful French Lavender and the flat-leaved French Parsley (like Italian), as there's something about the curly English stuff that I just don't really like. Something about the feel of it in my hands or the choke of it on my tongue. Perhaps we're all allowed to have these little quirks and preferences. It's all about free choice after all.

As I prepare the meal for tonight there is a major ballet rehearsal going on in the background. Sophie and Molly are leaping around the living room in frothy tutus that used to be Hannah's to the "rocking sound" of Sibelius's 'The swan of Tuonela'. Suddenly the cook has to abandon her work and go in to break up a fight - it seems that Madam Molly has been making Sophie sit out whilst she demonstrates how to do it properly and there is now a bust-up at Saddlers Wells. After a bit of negotiating I am able to continue with dinner.

I am always a bit suspicious of recipes that want a bit of fancy preparation, and I frown slightly as the instructions are to peel and deseed a cucumber - if I can get away with it I will. However, in this case I am keeping to the letter of the recipe, and, as I discover when we sit down to eat, this is exactly the right thing to do with the cucumber. The texture is right, it isn't watery, and best of all you choose to USE the pulp and seeds of the cucumber in the dressing - I really hate the amount of waste and half-used ingredients in many other recipes.What are you supposed to do with them all, I wonder? Full marks on that  one, Nigel.

This is a great recipe for summer, and, best of all it manages to be a tuna salad dish that doesn't remind you with every mouthful that 'you are now eating tuna'. Welcome to an English Summer.


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