Sunday, 5 April 2009

It might as well be spring

It wasn’t even 10am, but while there was still a spring morning nip in the air, it was glorious; a clear, blue canopy above and the symphony of birdsong all around.

Sitting outside with a good coffee (single estate from somewhere or other, via the local French deli), I tried to see everything, smell everything, hear everything. Tried to process it all in the mind, putting words to everything so that I might hope to hold on to it.

A church bell tolled from the Anglican convent just across the small park that sits behind; not a peel of bells, but a steady, monotonous call to worship – the sort of sound, in fact, that makes the advertised act seem so much less of a joyful one than sitting outside and drinking in the beauty of the morning.

Life is an ephemeral thing, and yet people go and sit inside gloomy churches rather then relish the glory of the world that they claim their god created. How perverse, when everything around you – particularly at this time of year – screams of creation and life. The sap is rising, blossom, flowers and leaves are bursting their bonds and flooding the world with colour and scent.

I might not, any longer, be able to fathom the churchgoing (although perhaps I never could, but merely went along with it unthinkingly), but I did manage to discipline myself into a brief spot of spring cleaning, washing down windows and sills in the kitchen, and clearing out a cupboard where there was an infestation of tiny bugs that seem to thrive on flour.

They’re flour weevils apparently, and seem to have been breeding in a bag of their favourite snack that was hidden from my vertically challenged view at the back of the top shelf. I only found it with the aid of the ladder.

As part of my efforts to keep them at bay – or better yet, get rid of them altogether – I’ve got an order of storage cans and tubs arriving on Tuesday. The flours can all go in stainless steel canisters, while the plastic tubs will be useful for storing – and organising – a whole range of things, including bags of nuts and dried mushrooms. Old 200g instant coffee jars do very nicely for storing assorted sugars.

It’s one of the things about enjoying cooking – no matter your initial antipathy to cleaning up, you start to get more and more committed to it. I do more washing up these days than I’ve ever done in my life, but it doesn’t feel more onerous. Now I simply understand it as a necessary part of the process, and I want my utensils as clean as possible.

And then armed with the satisfaction of such cleanliness and organisation, I went to sit outside, sporting a sleeveless t-shirt and squinting at the pages of a book as the warmth started to seep through to my bones.

By the time the clouds drifted into view, I didn’t even feel too great a resentment and, with thoughts of lunch drifting from my stomach to my brain, donned a baggy old cotton sweater against the cool and headed for the kitchen.

In River Café Two Easy, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers present a series of soups, explaining that Italian soup is usually very rustic and chunky – not pureed within an inch of its life. Knowing I still had an odd courgette around the place, I thought I’d try and courgette and pea soup.

Talk about easy. Chop garlic and soften in olive oil, before adding chopped courgette. After a few minutes, tip in some peas (frozen ones are fine) and then a little stock. Let it simmer until the peas are cooked, then pop into a blender and pulse briefly – it needs to retain plenty of texture, not become smooth. Reheat with some basil leaves in it. Serve with grated parmesan.

I made some minor adjustments, adding a few fine because I had some left over and because it ensured that lunch would supply me with three portions of my fruit and veg.

The cupboard was bare when it came to basil, but I used the cheese as directed – and added a garnish of toasted pine kernels.

And the result? Lovely.

The big question in my mind now, though, is Easter. What am I going to cook? I’d scarcely given it a minute’s thought until yesterday, when it suddenly dawned on me that it was almost upon us.

I do want to try to make my own hot cross buns for the first time, but I’m struggling at present to think what else to cook.

Chocolate has to be involved somewhere.

It’s too early for the first lamb of the year (that’s actually best in August anyway). But possibly I’ll consider a leg of lamb anyway. If I can get decent quality, then I might do it with garlic and rosemary – or even dried lavender.

I gave up thinking about it after a while. I’ve done a basic order of core ingredients online, but I’ll give other things a few days to ferment, as it were.

So I’m left with this evening’s meal. Okay. We return to the River Café book. I got a dressed crab from Broadway Market yesterday. I’ll cook it gently with chili flakes and lime juice (and possibly some fennel), and serve with pasta.

Simple – and great flavours.

It’s been a good day thus far. The Other Half’s team won (it’s a cup weekend, so this is knock-out Rugby League) and Les Catalans won too (we both have a very large soft spot for the French side). And whilst my football team lost yesterday, my RL team won today, against the other strongest team in the country. So I'm reasonably happy. And Granddad would be proud.

Just occasionally, I wish that the whole idea of heaven and eternal life were true – not because I dream of eternal purgatory for nasty people, but because I wish that, somewhere, my grandfather was still around – even if only in the ether. But then again, what always brings me back down to Earth is the realisation that if that were the case, and if it were as the churches proclaim it to be, there would be no place for my grandfather. Or me. We'd be destined to meet in the nether regions of eternity.

And I look out at the dusk, and I see such life as spring takes control. And on this Palm Sunday, would I really like to be with Christ in Paradise?

I’ll leave you to consider the answer to that.

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