I have a friend coming over for coffee. She hasn't time to stay for dinner, apparently, as life is busy, busy, busy....so coffee will have to do. I am marking the occasion with 'Oat and Lemon Cookies' (page 407). I hope she has time to eat, time to savour...time to live....Everyone is so busy these days, it seems, stuck on their own little hamster wheels going round and round ever faster, getting nowhere fast. It gets harder and harder to justify taking time out, it seems. My friend thinks so anyway. I think, what if you were not here tomorrow? What about all those things we left unsaid, those half-finished conversations, the half chewed-through chats we never got to finish because one or other of us was always 'too busy', on to the next thing, moving on...
I am taking time out, for a few days; paddling my feet in the cold north sea, watching the young man with the beard making his designer beers in the microbrewery of the pub on the beach - its door slid open to let the scent of the sea and the seagulls' calls filter through into the amber soup. It is a quiet day; the school children are back at school, mostly, the rain drizzles gently against our faces and the wind is from the land - warm and moist and succulent - like the baked herring I am tucking into for my lunch. My mum says 'Your Granny used to make those for the shop'. (My Grandpa had fish shops down the coast). '...She used to bake them in huge trays in the bottom of the old gas oven. They went like hot cakes when the holiday makers all came.' This would have been in the fifties, I guess. I tuck in and try to imagine the palate of another era, in an age before Focaccia. It is plain and wholesome and tastes just right with a plain slice of bread and butter. It does leave tasteful reminders of itself all afternoon long, however, but I guess that is power for the course and not a good-enough reason to abstain.
There is a ribbon of orange seaweed along the tide line, harvested from the bottom of the sea by a rough tide. It spirals with the ribbons of dark green bubble wrap, like a complicated double helix in a biology textbook, going right across the expanse of the bay. We cross the rock pools to the spit at the turn in the sand and look over towards the ruined castle shadowed against the mist. My camera isn't up to this, in this light; I will have to capture it in my mind's eye and develop it in the darkroom of my subconscious.
The children bring small treasures for me to see. Several jointed crabs' claws that stink out the Landrover in their plastic buckets. There is a whole line of pink buoys in the bay guiding the fisherman to his crab pots, and lunch on to the plates in the pub. I have seen crabs here caught in the morning and brought in and eaten hours later with a squeeze of lemon between two slices of brown bread. We find a square pebble with a calcified shape of a heart, left by a little sea creature. It will make a fine paperweight for a fussy Designer type like David. We stroke the pearlised inners of hinged mussel shells and move a line of slowly-moving tiny black sea snails a little further along their rock. It feels nice to be so absorbed.
There is a word in the Swedish language with no direct English equivalent - 'Lagom' - meaning 'just the right amount'. It also translates as ' in moderation', 'in balance' and 'there is virtue in moderation'. It is a concept I find myself creeping ever closer towards as the years go by. Heady past excesses seem merely that. The real things are to be found at the bottom of a rock pool, and in the conversation with my friend, whose unsaid comments are written loudly across her face even as she tries to hide them. This is real conversation; not the sort you can hide behind a smoke screen of telephone 'verbalism' or a brief non-committal email shot. She will be captive to my scrutiny and she knows it.
This moderation - in all things - (good food included), brings a sense of normality to my life, an evenness that fosters a quiet contentment. It is also the way you cook, I believe; focusing on the simple balance of ingredients, letting things sing for themselves with just a hint of everyday magic to let them shine. It is an honest way to cook. I like that.
I beat the softened butter and muscovado sugar together in the mixer. There is a gentle rhythm to it all - baking - I am fond of cake but even more so of a good biscuit. I eat my mum's Gingersnaps because they remind me of my Granny. A good biscuit is a comfort. These seem an indulgence to me - two for the price of one, actually; larger than they should be, and slathered in a mixture of two of my favourite ingredients (lemon curd and mascarpone). These are occasion biscuits. I hope my friend appreciates that. The only way I manage to keep biscuits in the house at all, and keep my weight under control, is (rather meanly I suppose), to buy the plainest biscuits that I can for my kids. They do seem to rather prefer that anyway for some obscure reason. When I was a child it was dead fly biscuits (or Garibaldi if you will).
The biscuits spread and toast lightly in the oven. I am careful not to over-brown them as I want them still soft. You say 'I prefer them the next day, when they become soft and chewy'. I think I will too, if they last that long. An unmarked tin is a dangerous thing in our house. When in doubt I have to leave a note sellotaped to the lid. It wouldn't be the first time I came down in the morning to a scattering of crumbs and nearly cried.