Something is brewing here in Hobbitsville, something mature and vintage. I suspect it is a piece of old cheese leaching its way off a fridge shelf and coming to find me. I am in Refusenik mode: the thought of a journey to the shops is simply too much, and anyway, we have mountains of food here. The only trouble is that the mountains contain a few old bread sticks, several varieties of half-massacred cheese and yet more pheasant (frozen). No, I haven't touched them yet.
You, on the other hand, seem rather chipper today. Whether it is 'the garden refreshed after the rain...the air..sweet and clean', you are in a mood to face the year squarely in the face 'ready for anything the New Year might throw at me.'
Where we meet is in the larder. You say 'my energy and curiosity may be renewed but the larder isn't. There is probably less food in the house than there has ever been.' So you trudge off in search of chicken and greens to make a spicy noodle soup. And we eat sausages - rare breed pork and chive - but with those unholy staples of a bad cook's kitchen, known as the oven chip. (You may have read about these deviant products hidden in the back of a cookery porn magazine.)
The broth you make is 'bright and life-enhancing'. I think this is what is missing in my repertoire at the moment. We need economical, sustaining, yet renewing foods with the energy to propel us on and out of our dormant states. I flick aimlessly through my stack of soup books and realise quickly that you were right all along: As I leaf through recipes for carrot and cumin, Leek and potato, Celeriac and wild mushroom etc. I realise that what I want more than anything else is something light. There has been rather too much stodge and heaviness of late and even the nicest things seem to involve maximum calories and hours of recovery in front of the tele. So I come back to your recipe (pg 13) for Chicken noodle broth, slightly embarrassed that I passed over it so carelessly first time round, but find that actually it is exactly what i am looking for.
An hour or more has passed and I am now surrounded by a sea of both cooking and gardening books. I like the recipe. I plan to make the recipe. But I don't have any Thai basil. Ordinarily, I would just ignore this fact and carry on regardless, perhaps substituting something similar along the way. But, I don't know what Thai Basil is, what it looks like, what it tastes like, what it might be similar to.
I check out my hefty tomes on Herbs: Arabella Boxer (circa 1980) in 'The Herb Book' clearly hasn't heard of it; Lesley Bremness in 'The complete book of Herbs' (1990) may have lectured and researched herbs in China but not got there either, and Monty Don's just making lots of pesto. So I turn to my cookery advisers; but where are they? I eventually unearth a recipe for Thai red pumpkin and coconut curry in the Leith's Vegetarian Bible, where there is a mention for 'fresh basil leaves, Thai holy basil if possible'. Here is a woman who clearly realises the chances of locating said holy basil are pretty remote. Still, if bog standard would do then that's fine.
What perplexes me most is the quest. If this book (Leith's vegetarian Bible) was published in 2002, at what point did Thai Basil hit the shelves of metropolitan England? - London being, in this instance, very much a foreign country. Somewhere in the 1990s I'd guess. A certain Mr Slater, talking in the mid 90s, said 'Fragrance comes second only to flavour in my book. This is what brings me to the table. It is true to say that some cuisines are more fragrant than others; Thai cooking, with its fresh, clean waft of ginger, limes and chillies, is as inviting as the warm, sweet notes of the caramelising onions and garlic of French country cooking.' (Real good food)
To the dawning of a New Year and all new things. (By the way, loved the photo of that fiery Witch Hazel - so explicitly new and unexpected against the harsh and barren background of Winter.)