Monday, 11 April 2011

Weather to warm up the pleasure muscle

A whisper of cloud in the blue and the sun warming the body, all the way to the bone. Bright pink blossom waving gently in the merest of breezes. It was a glorious weekend.

Not that the enjoyment in our neck of the woods was limited to me and The Other Half alone: the cats were thrilled to bits too. The kittens went scatty both mornings, as we sat outside with coffee, relishing the peacefulness.

Otto made several dashes up one fence into next door’s garden, which seems to be her Schleswig-Holstein. Loki too was full of wild-eyed mischief. Next time, I’m naming cats something like ‘Fluffy’. Boudicca, by and large, remained aloof.

I took the chance to sit out with them, finishing Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, which I’ve now read at least three times.

It’s a wonderful book – and one that reveals new things every time I pick it up.

This time, I was particularly aware of the idea of having to stop running from the past before you can move forward. Both Vianne and Reynaud are in this situation, as well as Josephine. The question – and it remains at the end – is whether any or all of them can do this.

As always, it makes me cry in a number of places – and yet this is a deeply life-affirming novel, and one that celebrates pleasure (including food) and life itself.

In ways that I had not seen before, it seemed much more personal than on previous readings, bringing to my own somewhat nomadic childhood and the impact that that (along with other things) influenced.

But lifting the theme of food from it, this was a chance to build on Thursday’s development of taste and looks.

Because I was running low on stock, Saturday was a day for roast chicken. The bird was stuffed and cooked as per the River Café East Two recipe I use (three hours on a low heat, then half an hour on high, with Vermouth added for the final stretch and butter massaged into the skin).

The weather was so utterly fabulous and summery that it was also the perfect time for a salad of courgette, sliced into thin ribbons and dressed with honey, lemon juice, olive oil, seasoning and tarragon leaves. It’s a lovely light and fragrant dish.

I also did Provençal tomatoes. These were big, beefy fruits, halved, de-seeded and dried out carefully, then sprinkled with a mixture of salt, pepper, nutmeg and sugar before being filled with a layer of finely chopped shallots and topped with masses of fresh, fragrant herbs and garlic, also finely chopped.

They go into a hot pan, skin side down, for two minutes, and then you throw in a slug of wine or stock or water. Turn the heat down, lid the pan and leave for 10 minutes.

Take a spoon and a palate knife and carefully turn them, keeping the shape and the filling in place as much as possible. Add a drop more liquid if required. Lid the pan again and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Now mine had rather collapsed on Saturday (hence the absence from the photo), but they’re still seriously tasty.

And as a garnish, I’d more aïoli and also some tapanade, which brought plenty more big flavours to the plate.

That was followed by a rhubarb syllabub, which freshened things up again.

There is pleasure in eating food and there is pleasure is cooking it. And this was a day when the very weather gave an enormous dose of pleasure too.

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