Wednesday, 23 March 2011

When you're weary

It was the sort of day that inspired a need to wear Birkies into the office and belt forth a heartfelt rendition of Rogers & Hammerstein's barnstorming opener to Oklahoma! – indeed, I'm sure that if there'd been any corn anywhere near, it would have been as high as an elephant's eye.

That doesn't mean I'm not knackered. This defending public services malarky is hard work. Not, I hasten to add, that I'm complaining. I like my work; I like the people I work with and I'm fortunate enough to work for an organisation whose general aims I am in accordance with.

But it's a couple of years since I was 21 and there are times when I seem to feel the pace just a little more than I used to.

That, as I noted a few of days ago, was what produced a night of getting home and feeling like nothing more on the food front than a cup of Bovril and a cucumber sandwich.

Indeed, I think tiredness actually blunts your appetite – not just renders you less willing to spend quality kitchen time cooking.

It was the same today – and not just for me: The Other Half is similarly tired.

The lengthening days and wonderful weather did mean that we could sit out in the evening for an hour with cups of tea, while the cats bounced around in the glow of early evening. I think that's another sign of getting older: in recent years, each winter has seemed to drag longer and longer. I miss the sun. The minute it really appears again, my spirits revive.

So what does this mean on the food front?

I'm possibly more aware than ever that good food can boost – not only a sense of well being but also general health. But I'm also aware that there are days when it feels like a real effort to get going.

This evening, having wrenched myself into action – and oh boy, it was an effort – I brushed skewered potatoes with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and popped them into the oven to bake. Nothing to do after that for some time, so take a break. Watch the telly, have a fag ... whatever you want.

Later, I mixed some lemon and orange juice with a little olive oil and seasoning, before thinly slicing a Cox apple and halving some raddishes and popping them in this dressing. Then it occurred to me that this would be the ideal way to use up the rest of the weekend's aïoli, which was thinner than usual and had split a bit. Indeed, It created a crackingly tasty dressing.

Have another break.

The potatoes take over an hour because they're cooked at a low temperature for jackets – 160˚C fan oven. But that makes for a wonderfully fluffy inside and a lovely crispy skin.

When they were nearly done, it was a simple matter to haul out the griddle pan (I really don't use it enough), oil it and place it across two hobs.

Have another break.

Then out come two slices of tuna, to be dried with kitchen paper and then popped onto the heated griddle pan. If you want – and if you feel in fancy dan mode – you can move them around 90˚ after a minute, so that you get a criss-cross effect on the flesh. But they don't need more than two minutes on one side, and then just turn over and repeat.

Then it's a question of getting the potatoes out, cutting them and popping some good butter inside to melt everywhere and moisten the fluffy flesh, dishing out some of the salad, on top of a few endive leaves, and placing a tuna steak on each plate.

By nobody's stretch of the imagination can that be called difficult. And as always when I discipline myself to cook, in spite of tiredness, I feel the benefit on sitting down and starting to eat.

Dessert took care of itself. Nipping into Waitrose after work, I'd spotted the first English strawberries of the year, from Hampshire, which produced a real burst of excitement.

Now of course, they'll have been grown under glass (or plastic). But I held a box up and inhaled deeply. They weren't grotty, bland Elsanta, but gariguette, a French variety. And as it turned out, worth eating, with plenty of taste.

Winter really is over.

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