Wednesday, 15 May 2013

May 15th - The cost of cutting and Introverts taste more deeply. Apparently

Dear Nigel,

I've been trying to count the pennies here a bit lately. No. 1 measure involved two little girls standing in the bath complaining bitterly whilst I went for the home-haircut treatment and chopped them both off at waist level.(Something easier done with girls, I realise, remembering how with four little boys at home I didn't get much beyond cutting off a few baby curls - not being such a dab hand with the snippers). It's not quite 'Tony and Guy' but it'll do. At the minute it's still plaits and gappy teeth anyway, but I don't rate my chances once they're into bobs and hair straighteners - long may their childish childhoods remain.

Things in the garden are inevitably earlier in the city than here. You are picking the first of this year's tarragon and also parsley. The French tarragon (which has by far the better flavour) is not really hardy up here and I no longer have a glass house to overwinter it in, so will probably start from scratch again with a little pot from the nursery. I have tried growing the more hardy Russian tarragon but the flavour was quite poor.Tarragon is such a flavoursome herb that it's not worth growing anything less than the best.

You use your tarragon in a salad of cold salmon with tarragon and lemon mayonnaise (page 200), with the salmon rolled in herbs and oil and lime juice and cooked gently in a shallow, non-stick pan. This is because 'most of the early herbs are exceptionally tender, their leaves having had little sun, their flavours mild rather than full of the the pungency that can come from weeks in the scorching summer heat...If I cook with them at all, it is more a question of warming them briefly...or their delicate new growth risks being lost.'

At long last there is English asparagus in the shops. I have been waiting its arrival with anticipation. Each year I promise myself to invest in a proper asparagus steamer, and each year I fail to justify it to my pocket. I try numerous ways to steam it the right way up so that the finer tips are not obliterated by the time the thicker stalk end is cooked. I read somewhere that if you snap it with your fingers rather than cut it you'll find just the right place. But I wouldn't want to teach my grandmother to suck eggs - or even lemons in your case.  Asparagus with lemon and herb sauce (page 202).

Like you, I have a particular penchant for lemon, that occasionally leads to complaints from my family who don't share my taste for sour. (Often, I am completely oblivious to its sourness altogether). You say, 'I use lemon too much. Its presence, a spritz of zest, a curl of peel or a squirt of juice, turns up in my cooking second only to salt. Some will see its over-appearance as a flaw, I simply see it as a signature. What garlic, cream or chilli does for others, the bright flash of citrus does for me.'

This reminds me of something I read the other day in a fascinating new book called 'Quiet' by Susan Cain. The book is all about us Introverts and how we actually rule the world, despite the loud clamour of our Extrovert politicians and business chiefs. (Well worth a read by any introvert who feels squashed by the outside world).

Demonstrating how introverts and extroverts often need very different levels of stimulation to function at their best, Cain refers to a well-known experiment, dating back to 1967 and still a favourite demonstration in Psychology courses today, where 'Eysenck placed lemon juice on the tongues of adult introverts and extroverts to find out who salivated more. Sure enough, the introverts, being more easily aroused by sensory stimuli, were the ones with the watery mouths.' This would explain why you feel more at peace in 'introvert' nations, such as Finland, Norway and Japan, where you go to restore yourself; and why I am happier camping at the end of a peninsula than living it up in Ibiza.


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