When I travel into London on the train. Go from hills and valleys to stone and steel. I like to pop a book into my bag to read if I fail to strike up a conversation with a travelling stranger. Which I often do, whether they like it or not. 9 times out of 10 my boldness, (yes, it is a shame to see it as a courageous thing in this country, but…what can I say, generally it has been the way, quite unlike many other countries I’ve visited. In Borneo, to be conversing with someone practically gives then want to squeeze up right beside you or drape an arm over yours, in America they are not quite so free with minimizing personal space but launching into a friendly discourse is common place…in the places I’ve travelled anyhow), uncovers a remarkable character with a story to tell. Anyhow, the last two journeys have not been a peek times so no stranger has taken up the seat beside me. So I’ve been free to pull out my slim volume of Love in a Dish by M.F.K Fisher a much admired American food writer who manages to render me over come with romance as her words are as carefully chosen as her ingredients. Its not what she makes, her diet was overloaded with meats and pates and coloured with fine wines, but even though I am vegan I can appreciate her love of food, the conversation of food, the nature, history and anthropology of it. It is the story she so perfectly unfurls in mellifluous tone. Indeed, to me she is like the foodies Joanna Lumley. Why am I telling you all this? Wasting space on the page when I could be perfunctory listing the things you need to buy from the shop, the measures you will be required to provide and the numbered bullet points of the ‘method’. Well, I will again, next time do this, but please, indulge me this once as I spend a happy hour, tapping out sentences that make me feel the romance of the words as much as the love of the recipe. So, for today, here is my recipe, a la M.F.K Fisher.
I’ve been practically lathering in lentils lately. Dahls given va va voom with chunks of fibrous ginger or married, subtly with sliced meaty mushrooms. Though my love for these remain undiminished, today I wanted a burst of colour to puncture the mist and fog huddling outside my window. Along with a colour boost I sought warmth to embrace the union in the vibrant, thick broth. Beetroot and mustard sang to me from vacuum pack and portly jar. Yes, fresh taproots with a dusting of earth still evident and to be scrubbed away, would of course be your ingredient of choice. But when you’ve still got the pink glow and fatigued muscle, post 2 hour cycle ride, the last thing you may want to contemplate is a walk, up hill, to the shops. Sometimes you’ve just got to make do. Embrace convenience. And promise to be more organised next time. I sat for a minute sipping my green tea, and thought about what flavour it was I craved. Not too sweet, not too tart, I wanted a thick soup that didn’t lay so heavy on me that it rendered me ineffectual for the rest of the days tasks. I grabbed a ball of white cabbage, the bright corn yellow mustard from Dijon, two small, red onions, and put the kettle on to boil. I set quickly to work, post-exercise hunger was making itself heard in my midriff. I chopped the contents of two packs of beetroot in a hapless style and threw the chunks into my pot. The cabbage sliced in two. Then one half, roughly cut into slithers. The onions where peeled, quartered and then sent to meet the beet, and yes, when time allows the onions would favour a slow saute, but hunger dictated my design. A table spoon was scraped around the inside of the Dijon jar. Two garlic cloves, lay down under my knife and bashed flat with my fist then to joined the melee. Now for spice. Too easy to tip in a spoon of garam masala or all-spice, or introduce the Middle East with a woody stick of cinnamon, as I’d done so oft before. I wanted a fragrance to enliven my senses, but I wanted a fusion of flavours I’d not used before. A teaspoon of dusty red paprika to warm. Like delving blind into a lucky dip, I jostled amid the clutter of spice jars thrown together in my large plastic trug. My fingers touched each jar and I briefly considered each one. Imagining the resulting mix of flavours. I smiled, quite involuntarily, when I made my selection. I shook four wizened, green cardamon pods into my pestle and bashed hard. The tough outer shell spilt and released tiny grey seeds. I bashed and ground. Inhaling the aromatic beads. My yield of three pinches of powder then scattered over the waiting ingredients. I felt satisfied. I ignited the burner, poured the hot water from the kettle (to speed the process) to cover the mix and the lid went on with a resounding clang.
Whilst the vegetables came to a boil my mind considered a worthy and compatible garnish. I hunted down the mandolin and swiftly produced a dozen slithers of parsnip. I brushed olive oil on one side, and then the other. Pink salt, maybe a little too much, sprinkled over the top before putting the root to its fate under the scorching heat of the grill. In no tine the oil was dancing around the curling edges. Five minutes, two and a half each side, and I had parsnip crisps..or chips. These days, my wandering heart and love affair with America has made me bilingual. Does ‘American’ count as another language? The frizzled crisps didn’t last long. The sealible
After 20 minutes the steam had frosted all my windows and sweetened the kitchen air. I took arms with my trusty hand blender and stabbed into the boiled mass until the vegetables were one. I tasted. A scatter of pink salt settled upon the surface and then dissolved into the burgundy puree. I tasted again. A tiny sip from the end of the spoon. My hands clapped together three times in reverence to the harmonious blending, and then ladled two scoops into my bowl…. and then one for luck. The parsnips crisps I’d managed to not devour were then placed in the centre of the bowl, and admired for a second or two before I carried the soup to my chair. I threw the switch on my muddle of fairy lights and ate my lunch whilst following the hops and jumps of the blue tits, as they did their rounds of grub foraging on the remaining leaves of the apple tree. I slurped at the spoon and the sweet, faintly sharp, softly heated soup brightened the winter day.
Flowery prose spent. Tomorrow, normal service shall be resumed.