Wednesday, 23 October 2013

October 23rd - Falling leaves and Chocolate crumble

Dear Nigel,

We had another fruit crumble the other day - there seems no end to their appeal at the moment in this dank weather. I turn to page 412 where you have been busy likewise making a 'pear and chocolate oat crumble.' My daughter thinks it's just a version of flapjack anyway, as I nearly always choose to add oats to the traditional topping, as indeed you have here. But you have also added a scattering of dark chocolate pieces to the mixture, which gives it a whole new dimension and appeal as far as my kids are concerned. This seems to me a good way to make some poached and caramelised pears go a little further - and maybe that's the appeal of a good crumble - as they are quite fiddly to prepare in any sizeable number.

This recipe has only one fruit per person. I quite often need/or prefer to double up the quantities because I live with a trough of pigs it seems. Portion control is not a phrase they want to hear. And thus speaks someone who was one of three siblings and always given the Mars Bar and the knife with which to divide it. When, as a child, you are left with such a task, knowing that you will have the last choice, you hone your skill with such accuracy. The ability to calculate the precise amount extra to allow the middle section on account of the fact that the two ends are both slightly rounded but also covered in chocolate, is perhaps a skill that would sit well in any law court, I fancy.

The leaves are on the turn now. Gentle winds are bringing them tumbling down in all their coppery hues. The girls try catching them as they glide down in gentle zigzaggy lines. They prove quite difficult to catch as they turn and veer away from outstretched palms. Along the verges their favourite game is kicking the leaves, like any child faced with sizeable piles and an empty road.

There is an elderly white-haired man in our village called Peter whose sole greeting is a nod or a wave of the hand. His almost constant job is to go back and forth trimming hedges, clearing tractor mud off the lanes, and sweeping leaves. I look at all these tidy heaps which my daughters are blithely kicking all over the place and try and hurry them on before we are found out. I resist the urge to join them but there is something very satisfying in sending a huge pile flying high into the air with a footballer's right leg.

Perhaps we should come over to your garden where you are 'raking the leaves up from the garden paths, picking the Autumn Bliss raspberries that are still going strong, and tidying up the pots that contain the remains of the courgette plants. A nip in the air and it's a definite carb moment.' It feels like we are all bedding down and following an ancient deep urge to hibernate - perhaps until the spring. I think I could do that quite comfortably, given the right biological makeup.

I have got out of the habit of making homemade pizzas of late. It's easily done. One minute you are right in there, feeling virtuous, enjoying the process, loving the result; and the next you have got out of the routine and are unthinkingly slamming a bought pizza into the oven. How does that happen? How does a habit, even quite a strong habit suddenly become forgotten and unmake itself? I am looking at your 'mushroom with creme fraiche and mozzarella pizza' (page 407) wondering how and when I fell off the waggon. It brings you up short, particularly the forgetting.

You say that you knead pizza dough for less time than you used to. 'The original fifteen minutes has now become more like ten- by which I probably mean about six or seven.' So what's my excuse? I renew my intention, particularly as there has been too much conflict here lately about choice and combination of toppings. At least if you make your own you can cater for the child that only likes one certain cheese and the one who won't eat mushrooms....looks like this recipe might just be made for me, then....oh goody!

Perhaps my all-time favourite recipe of yours right now is your 'Orzo with courgettes and Grand Padano' (page 404) which I have made several times over in the last couple of weeks as I can't seem to get enough of the combination of flavours. Sometimes I used Parmesan when the Grand Padano ran out. (Actually I was seen eating large chunks of it off the chopping board, which is simply NOT ALLOWED.) I love the balance of the warmth of the white wine against the salty pancetta, tempered by the sticky cheesy orzo. I could quite happily eat this every day for a week for lunch without getting bored. I feel I ought to put something with this but am reluctant to do so. Like adding a side salad or a vegetable because you think you ought to put something healthy in there. But I don't want it. I come down on the side that as you haven't specifically suggested an accompaniment, and none appears in the photograph, then it is somehow alright and 'allowed' to be eaten just as it is. Who are these health gurus who would stick a non-ending round of broccoli on every plate and make you feel guilty for not complying? 


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