Thursday, 26 August 2010

A soggy day in London town

You could be forgiven for thinking that summer ended on these God-forsaken islands about a fortnight ago. Because the weather since then has been piss poor – as in pissing it down with rain. Okay, interspersed with occasional and all-too-brief sunshine and, in the last few days, sudden strong gusts of wind.

The Met Office has even issued a warning of flash flooding over the next few days. You could be forgiven for thinking that it must be the August bank holiday weekend!

In a superb example of the triumph of optimism over reason, The Other Half and I had looked at the weather forecast last weekend and decided that we could just manage one final braai of the summer.

So I returned from shopping on Saturday morning with substantial amounts of meat to put on the fire, only to spend the day watching as it became ever more evident that the cloud was not going to shift or think enough to make such a proposition pleasant.

Since then, we’ve been working our way through the meat in dishes that I would never usually contemplate until autumn.

Last night, when it was the turn of the steak, I even bought a parsnip and two little turnips in the shop; in August! The compensation was the pleasure of cooking something without needing to go to any book or recipe, though – something I would not have felt able to do 10 years ago.

So, cut the meat into pieces and brown in a mix of olive oil and butter. Remove to a plate.

Chuck in a diced onion and soften. Add some chopped garlic and then some flour. Let the flour cook for a couple of minutes, and then start adding wine slowly, deglazing as you go.

Pop in some stock, a couple of bay leaves and any other herbs you have around and fancy adding. Add a squeeze of tomato purée for a little added flavour. Put the meat back in the pan.

Add your peeled and diced veg – in this case, the parsnip, turnips and a couple of potatoes. Stick the lid on and leave to simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything’s as cooked as you want it.

I love the fact that I can cook like that now – it seems so easy these days, but in the past, it might as well have been rocket science.

At around 2.13pm yesterday, I hit demob happy state. My work almost done – or everything that could be done, while I await a couple of phone calls and emails done – I found myself on the cusp of screaming: 'Let me out of here! Have mercy and let me into civilisation!'

"Civilisation" is around an hour away by train and will be reached, after 20 minutes of darkness in the tunnel, at approximately 9.30am, British Summer Time, tomorrow morning.

Dr Johnson apparently observed that: "He who is tired of London is tired of life." There are times when I feel very tired of London: the dirtiness, the constant noise, the fastness and impatience of everything. I suspect that, if the good doctor was to see London now, he'd agree.

Right now, I want to hear myself think. There was brief few minutes last year, when we were in the gardens of Sanssouci, Frederick the Great's palace just outside Berlin, when I could hear nothing but the birds, the breeze and the insects. It probably says something that, 15 months on, I remember that time with such clarity.

Collioure will not be quite as quiet, although when the French season ends this weekend, it does get a lot quieter. And the street that we’re staying on, just one street back from the seafront, always seems quiet: you’re not woken in the morning by constant noise and you go to sleep at night with the sound of the sea lap lap lapping at the shore. Instant chicken soup for the soul.

Packing awaits this evening, of course, although I’ve already got quite a few things well on the way to being sorted.

I’ll make sandwiches for tomorrow’s journey – we have breakfast on the first leg aboard the Eurostar, but will picnic on the train on the second leg. It might be France, but train food is not better than in the UK.

So, soft rolls with German meat for The Other Half, soft rolls with very good French paté for me; hard-boiled eggs; a little crème brûlée and a pot of berries for each of us; an apple for him and a banana for me. All accompanied by a bottle rosé from the Languedoc. There’s more than a little of the ‘coals to Newcastle’ about this part of the trip!

The books have already been stacked up, ready for the case this evening. I’ll pick up a pad and some pastels this afternoon, as I want to give that a go. And I have a dongle so that I can – if I get around to it – blog from our holiday home.

But if you don’t hear from me again until I return to soggy London town, adieu and have a good time.

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