Have I aged over the last 21 years? What do you think? In response to an implicit challenge from my ageless buddy Alyssa, who posted on Facebook a similarly timeless photo of herself and her ageless husband… WHERE did I get that haircut? That eye makeup? Avery is shuddering on my behalf. But I do think that the last couple of months have taken their toll on my appearance. Could anyone EVER have been as young as I was in 1990?
Here I am, sitting at the long banquet table in my kitchen, a remnant of yesterday’s luncheon for my 25 Lost Property volunteers, trying to summon up the energy to fold up the table, carry the extra chairs back up to the top of the house, to carry the boxes of champagne glasses back down to the basement.
Am I exhausted from, and recovering from, the glorious holidays? Yes.
Then, I go back to read my own accounts of those two weeks, snowbound in America, and I am overcome with nostalgia for a life that happened just over a week ago.
I confess to being somewhat overwhelmed by the separation from those wonderful times, to be replaced by jetlag, sweeping up needles endlessly, being back at Lost Property, sewing on buttons on forgotten pre-holiday clothes, ordering an autumn’s and holiday’s worth of photographs to fill albums I was given for Christmas, dithering over Avery’s homework anxiety… in short, real life.
These are, officially, the kind of problems one has when one has no problems. All is well. I’m just slightly overwhelmed by the sweep of emotions that come around when one spends two weeks in that alternate life — too short a period of time really to settle in, as we do in summer, but long enough to get entrenched — and then by the rush of love I feel for our life here in London. For our quirky and bizarre cats, for Avery’s gorgeous school, the joy of 30 different cheeses in just the supermarket shop. Even the endless gradations of the GREY of a London sky.
In this mood, I feel a desire to cook dark, savoury, slow foods. Do you cook seasonally? By that I don’t mean what foods are IN season, but what foods are appealing in certain seasons. In the summer, I want to cook things quickly, on the grill, or even not at all — cold soups, enormous salads. But in the winter, when it’s dark by 5 o’clock, and you’ve got to have something cooking itself while you’re at a Parents’ Guild meeting, it’s time for…
Savoury-Rubbed Slow-Braised Shoulder of Lamb
(serves at least 6)
1 whole lemon
6 cloves garlic
handful frsh rosemary
handful fresh thyme
2 tbsps capers
plenty of black pepper
handful flat-leaf parsley
Put ALL these ingredients in your food processor — really, the whole lemon, quartered — and blitz until a nice smooth paste. Rub the mixture all over the shoulder of lamb, on both sides. Roast in a nice sealed tent of aluminum foil for at least six hours, at 120C/220F. In the last half hour, drain all the cooking liquids from the dish, pour in a cup of cooked Beluga lentils, and separate the fat from the cooking liquids. Discard the fat, then hear the cooking liquids with a tablespoon of flour whisked in. Perfect gravy. PERFECT.
When the lamb is finished cooking, let it rest for 15 minutes and then simply tear apart with two forks. The meat will simply FALL off the bone. Serve with the gravy, and stand aside for the avalanche of compliments and gratitude.
Serve the lamb with this, the most savoury of all side dishes.
Sausage and Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms
(serves 4, one mushroom per person)
5 large flat mushrooms (one to chop up for stuffing)
1 tsp olive oil
1 large sausage, casing removed
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
handful fresh spinach leaves
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 tbsps goat cheese
sea salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to drizzle
Remove the stems from the flat mushrooms and chop them with the extra mushroom. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy frying pan and add all the ingredients up to the spinach leaves. Saute till soft. Mix in a bowl with the spinach, breadcrumbs, goats cheese and season to taste. Pile the stuffing mixture onto the flat mushrooms and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 200C/425F for about half an hour, till hot and cooked through.
And then there is the incomparable aroma of a roasting duck, in the dark evening while your daughter’s at a birthday party. The recipe for this dish is shocking. In that there is no recipe. Put it in the oven. Let it cook. Eat it.
1 Gressingham free-range duck (about 2 kilos)
salt and pepper
Lay the duck with its giblets in a large roasting tin, breast side up. Prick all over with a sharp fork, just deep enough to pierce the skin. Sprinkle plenty of salt and pepper over the duck. Roast for 2 1/2–3 hours, till skin is nicely browned and the legs separate easily from the body.
You could easily serve this duck, sliced beautifully, just on its own with a couple of side dishes. But if you steam a pile of Chinese pancakes and pile bites of duck on them, drizzle them with Hoisin sauce and sprinkle with a couple of matchsticks of cucumber… HEAVEN. Sadly, though, the cooking juices are mostly fat, so gravy is not an option here.
These are the foods I dream of preparing when I wake up in the night, with jetlag, worrying about Avery worrying: discussions her worries versus adult worries. “I know adults say, ‘your worries don’t really matter; wait till you have to pay taxes,’” she said one afternoon after school. “But our worries are the ones we have, and it’s really hard to keep remembering everything, where to be, what to bring, and having to put up with adults not treating us with any respect!”
I actually read of the results of a study that determined adults could tolerate the life of a second-grader for only a week! No authority, no power, little respect: just people all around telling the poor child what to do, rather arbitrarily most of the time, invoking empty authority as an inducement.
I’ve tried to be different as a parent, to give authority to Avery as much as possible unless it REALLY mattered that she do what I said: will that help with the pressures of being an almost-adult? I don’t know. Most of the time she seems quite happy, if stressed with all the pressures that her life– again, a life with no problems — has to offer.
Sometimes it seems that the sum total of what I can give her is security. The sense that she can collapse at home, complain with abandon, and get up the next day to face it all again. In the meantime, of course, I can give her dinner. And blueberry lemon cake for breakfast. Not a bad job for a mother, after all.
And now that the holidays are past, I can get down the business, once again, of just living, and helping my family to live, through January.
Lemon Blueberry Cake
(makes one loaf cake)
225 grams (one cup) unsalted butter, softened
225 grams (one cup) caster (ordinary American) sugar
zest of 3 lemons, finely grated
1 cup blueberries, dusted with a bit of flour
zest of 1 lime, finely grated225 grams (one cup) self-raising flour, or plain flour with 1 tsp baking powder added
juice of 3 lemons
85 grams (1/3 cup) caster sugar
Beat the butter and sugar till soft and fluffy, then beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in zests and flour gently until fully mixed (including the baking powder if you are using plain flour). Fold in the blueberries. Tip into a loaf pan and smooth the top flat with a spoon. Lick the spoon.
Bake for about 45 minutes in an oven set to 185C, 350F. Watch carefully, because all ovens are different. Take care not to burn bottom or brown top too much. The cake is done when the middle of the top doesn’t jiggle when pressed gently. Err on the side of baking less rather than longer.
Cool cake enough so that you can handle the tin. In the meantime, mix the lemon juice and sugar till dissolved. Prick the top of the cake all over with a fork and then SLOWLY drizzle the mixture over it. If you drizzle too fast, the mixture will end up all sliding down the sides of the cake. Serve warm.Print This Post