Sunday, May 23, 2010

Taste Buds

Lesley has given Anne a birthday card with a cartoon of a donkey eating a rose. The caption says ‘remember to stop and eat the roses.’ Lesley used to run a small farmlet with her bed and breakfast business. When she deheaded the roses she tossed the hips and old petals into the donkey paddock. They relished them. There was a small cottage on the place. Sheep broke through the fence and ate all the roses around it, standing on their hind legs to get as high as they could.

When I mowed the lawn at the old farmhouse the cow hovered near the gate. I’d tip the catcher over it. At the end of the process there would be that little heap of daisy heads, carefully separated by the cow’s tongue. It intrigued me that something so large could be so sensitive.

But how did they know roses were good and daisies were bad?

Taste is a wonderful sense. I suffer from the natural waning that goes with old age. But my illness also has had an effect. My nutritional supplement leaves little desire for other food. I’m just not hungry. And I’m not losing weight.

Poor Anne. She’s cooking for an ex-gourmet. So I was delighted that we had friends in on Friday to help eat the two wild ducks that brother Bruce brought up. Anne found a recipe on the internet involving whole oranges as stuffing. They gave the meat a lovely flavour. She made a potato gratin in the oven and cooked carrots with honey and walnuts. Yum! Even I say so myself.

Today’s paper has another recipe for cooking wild duck. This time the stuffing was onion and celery. The duck was cooked one day, cooled in the freezer overnight, and then reheated the following day.

Good cooks improvise. That’s a lesson I learnt when I did my share of the cooking. After a while one starts to branch out, adapt a recipe, add less salt, more chilli. At the beginning I always put caraway seeds in with my boiling carrots. It’s what my forbears did. But over the years I learnt there were other ingredients equally flavoursome.

One of my big present regrets is I can no longer cook. I can still read and drool over recipe books. I can think of adaptations as I read and can ask Anne to contemplate trying such and such a dish. But I cannot suddenly ask would you like to have this tonight. While Anne, not only has she to do all the meal preparation (and the clearing up), has to cook for someone who has little appetite. So I was grateful her duck dish was so appreciated.

It’s like gardening. Another regret. The two are intertwined. Along with lavender, rosemary is one of the most evocative fragrances in the garden. I often picked and crushed a few leaves when I worked nearby, savouring the pungent odour. One of the joys of gardening is the buzz of bees. Somehow it signifies nature at its most relaxed and productive. They love the rosemary.

A roast of lamb is better with several sprigs of rosemary and my favourite dish of chicken, stuffed with garlic cloves and sealed to pot-roast on a bed of herbs is all the better for a bit of rosemary. I also used a few rosemary leaves in my garlic and herb sauce. You stir finely chopped garlic and a mixture of herbs from the garden – thyme, parsley, lemon balm, tarragon – into unflavoured yogurt, plus pepper and salt to eat with a pan-grilled pork chop or rump steak. Or in season you can put a piece of rosemary in with five asparagus spears, wrap them in bacon, drizzle lemon juice and olive oil on the packages and bake briefly.

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