Monday, June 7, 2010

Food for Thought

Yesterday morning Anne and I celebrated the Queen’s Birthday by sleeping in. The weather was cold and wet. There was no reason to get up early. Indeed, I pulled back the curtain beside my bed and promptly dozed off again. One glimpse of that waterlogged sky was enough. The night before we’d watched two episodes of Lark Rise to Candelford. 19th century English village life, bucolic peacefulness. We were at ease with the world which is the point of a 'holy'day.

When I did get up I surprised myself. I asked instead of my usual porridge, could I have a pancake. Anne obliged. We had a pancake each for breakfast. With sugar and lemon juice as filling. We had no treacle or maple syrup, but as it is I prefer the bitter taste of lemon undercut with the sweetness of sugar. I used to make pancakes a lot. Now, when my disability prevents me cooking I hesitate to ask Anne too often to cook meals I get a sudden craving for. She says it doesn’t matter but as an ex-cook I know it does. One makes plans and prepares meals in the mind long before the action of assembly and, usually, cooking.

She cooked a superb evening meal last Friday – venison in cherry sauce. She’d looked at the internet and made adjustments to the casserole. Most recipes had juniper berries in them but in this instance she left them out. The recipe she basically followed was based around cranberries. She substituted cherries. It went well with mashed potatoes and broccoli. My loose incisor – it’s coming out this Friday –means I can only manage soft food. The pancake slipped down easily, venison less so – but the taste was gorgeous – and I had an excuse not to eat all my broccoli.

I’ve also had a bowel upset – par for the course with my problems – so for dessert we had stewed apple and ice cream. The pectin in the apple is beneficial. An old wife’s tale that is true. Modern life bombards us with scientific evidence about food. Some is accurate. Some is self-seeking. Chocolate’s good for you. Steak’s good for you. Steak’s bad. Butter’s bad. Shark’s mercury laden. I’m sceptical about the over-riding nature of such claims. Though I do look forward to the days when we no longer have fast-food franchises in hospitals. I also have my prejudices.

Meal preparation should be like gardening. Pleasurable. Unfortunately it can turn into a chore. Our home library has many cookbooks. When I did my share in the kitchen French and Italian were my favourite styles though I was increasingly interested in Middle Eastern food, especially the mixing of meat and fruit. I invented a tamarillo and pork dish, which was yummy. It is an act of love to prepare food for friends. The sharing of bread is an ancient and sensible ritual.

Now in the preparation line I am only an on-looker. A holiday weekend activity has been a tidy-up of my papers. Going through an old folder I found a pile of recipes I’d downloaded from the internet several years ago. There were three for slow-cooking lamb shanks, reflecting an interest of the time. I handed them on to Anne. In her good time she may try some. It’s a good metaphor for human existence. We squirrel things away in the hope of our own use. They come to fruition in unexpected ways.

One can dream. All I can do now is write about past experience. Part of the fun was the reading and selection of what to cook. I was a fan of casseroles because you can put one in the oven and garden, read your book or work at the computer, knowing that dinner wouldn’t burn. It should be noted the slow-cooker appeared on the scene as I began to withdraw. But there were times when I did work all afternoon in the kitchen, stirring, blending and tasting. An ample supply of thyme, oregano, lemon balm, parsley, rosemary, chives, tarragon and sage was at hand and the bay tree provided its essential leaves. Thanks to her own efforts Anne has most of these available in the new place. My thanks!

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