Alongside the Regent’s Canal, life is emerging from the cocoon of winter. Pussy willow is there, along with delicate white blossom and sappy little shoots. A barely visible pale green veneer seems to coat everything.
You’d scarcely think this was the same stretch of water where police divers were at work yesterday, searching for a knife after a nearby street stabbing the night before brought the air ambulance into the park right behind our flat.
Daffs and narcissi are waving in the March winds in the park and even the clematis in our tiny garden are almost hold-your-breath near to emerging in all their delicate pink glory.
This morning was so sunny that we sat outside with coffee, the cats having nagged us madly to get up and, more to the point, open the door. They might have all had their bits out, but the sap seems to be rising in them too.
Even in the worst weather, Broadway Market is always one of my pleasures of the week. But today, with the sun having pushed back its duvet, stretched its arms and actually decided to provide some warmth, it was a bigger joy than usual.
There was a four-piece musical combo playing a range of tunes, including an arrangement of the theme from Fawlty Towers that morphed into the theme from Last of the Summer Wine and then a sort of march that I cannot name, but remember because of nonsense lyrics that can be sung to it:
‘Oh beware of your web-footed friend,
For a duck may be somebody’s mother,
Who lives on the edge of the swamp,
Where the weather’s cold and damp.
And if you think that this is the end,
Well it is, but to prove that I’m a liar,
I’ll sing it all over again,
Only this time a little bit higher.’
I remember singing it on coach trips out from the Methodist Guild Guesthouse in Whitby the year my father acted as ‘host’-clergyman on duty for a fortnight. Oddly, given that I was even more surrounded than normal by church folk (but not from his own congregations), it was a liberating holiday where I found enough space to let off steam in my own peculiar sort of way.
I bought a dog collar – the canine type, not like the one my father wore – that was attached to a rigid lead, and caused great amusement by taking my invisible dog for a walk along the prom, getting tugged along behind it, being embarrassed when it cocked its leg against a passing stranger …
But enough of this quite random remembering: back to the here and now.
The Other Half is in Yorkshire for this evening’s match between Castleford Tigers and the Catalans Dragons: the same Dragons to whom we owe our introduction to France and, particularly, to Roussillon and the delights of French Catalonia. Who should I support?
We’re already planning this year’s trip – and given that my latest French OU course mark was 90%, I might actually be able to speak and understand more this time around, although I’ve improved out of all recognition in the last few years, which wasn’t too difficult, given my appalling record on languages at school.
But more of that another time. What of today, in very un-French Hackney?
Yesterday’s revival of health (and appetite) has remained. Boy, a good night’s sleep makes such a difference to life.
I made sandwiches for TOH and sent him on his way. Since then, I’ve made my first effort at celeriac remoulade. First, a simple mayonnaise, whisking together the yolk of an egg with a very little lemon juice, half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and then drizzled olive oil. I finished with a tiny amount of just-boiled water (barely a teaspoon), which seems to help secure the emulsion.
Then finely chop some cornichons and capers and pop them in with the mayo.
And so to the celeriac itself. Having bought myself a mandolin earlier this year, I had an initial burst of using it and then it hasn’t been out of the box for some weeks.
Yesterday, it came out to slice wafer-thin pieces of fennel and red onion for a salad (with endive, goat’s cheese, toasted walnuts and a dressing of orange juice, honey, olive oil and seasoning – I said I was feeling better), and then for the potatoes and turnip in a gratin, à la Raymond Blanc, that I did last night to go with some sausages.
As a slight aside, I’ve always done a dauphinoise with potatoes that have been soaked in water after slicing, and then dried. But reading Nigel Slater the other week, he says it’s not necessary. Blanc concurs – but explains why. Apparently, you want to keep the starch, because that’s what helps ‘glue’ the potatoes together to make a ‘cake’. Less work, then – and it works beautifully.
Today, I’d already used the mandolin for more red onion for The Other Half’s sandwiches, so there it was, black and shining metal, all ready and waiting for a really macho cutting job.
Yesterday, I’d decided to try using it without the guard. Actually, it’s a lot easier, although losing chunks from two fingernails was a salutary warning of the bite it has.
But then it was a question of just which two blades you need to put in place to get the julienned result. Out of a box of seven, I tried four before I got something slightly bigger than finely grated. I did discover how to make crinkly crisps, though.
Since my celeriac was so fine, I didn’t blanch it, but popped it straight into the mayo mix before it could discolour. Job’s a good un.
And what will the remoulade accompany? A Dover sole, that was sat, all on its own on Vicki’s stall, calling out to me. It’ll be brushed with melted butter and grilled – absolutely nothing else. Fast food can be good food too.