Thursday, 8 October 2015

Forever Autumn (...'as the year grows old')

Dear Nigel,

There is a day, a point in every year, when it seems as though a switch is suddenly flicked on and the leaves start to fall from the trees. That day happened today. The cold dry air and reduced light causes the trees to seal off the points where their leaves are attached. They do this in order to survive as they don't get enough water in Winter to replace what would normally evaporate through their leaves. So the leaves change colour. And one day they simply start to fall; softly at first, whipped by a gentle cross-breeze, then gathering momentum as they are swirled and gathered into piles on the lee side of entrances and under hedges.

On a fine day it is tempting to join the children crunching and kicking piles of leaves, and I am often tempted to let my 'inner child' loose and be that old woman wearing purple that we all secretly wish to be at times - uncaring of the looks of others, or maintaining a certain image: The freedom of being completely happy in our own skin that only old people seem to have truly mastered. We can learn a lot from the elderly.

Maybe it is the insecurities of youth which drives young people to achieve, and so to wish such wisdom on them would be counter-productive. But, as the Autumn of ones life approaches, so the Harvest, and so the mellowing and ageing. Just like a mature cheese, some things are better with time. As with a velvet-covered round of goats' cheese, there is a time and a place for both the immature cheese to shine, and the mature version to glow. One is fine tossed into a salad with a handful of olives; but at this time of year, with a plump and sticky Turkish fig, there is only one type of goats cheese that I want sitting on my plate. And if it's slightly runny, and almost the colour of a light butterscotch sauce inside, then so much the better.

Today I am busy searching for something called Mograbia, which you use to make the recipe for 'Mograbia, shallots, lemon' (page 405). I confess to never even having heard of this stuff before, although have probably eaten it without realising it. Anyway, it was harder to search down than I thought it would be, as it is essentially just a larger version of couscous, and marketed as 'giant couscous' where you can find it. Having said this, I'm still not sure that I've bought the right stuff as it looks a bit small in its dried-up form. I'm looking at your photograph of the finished dish on page 404, where the grains are now the size of chickpeas and wondering the likelihood of such a transformation taking place; or whether there is indeed a third form of couscous known as the REAL giant couscous...and not to be confused with 'giant couscous' which is not in fact giant couscous at all but an impostor. We'll see...

You say that you 'can't really love couscous...the way one can potatoes, pasta, bread or rice.' It is 'a fine, soft grit with which to pad out a stew'. In much the same way that a Summer Pudding is best made with a cheap white sliced loaf, couscous's virtue is as a vehicle for sauce or stock.

However, this new, improved Mograbia 'of which I have recently become extraordinarily fond...' are simply 'soft, bobbly and texturally intreguing' balls of starch 'with a satisfyingly chewy interior' with 'something of the texture of commercial gnocchi.' It looks 'fun' to eat - if that isn't a completely stupid word to use - and I notice that your balls aren't sticking together in the photograph (if you see what I mean). Anyway, lets move on to the saucepan and see what happens. Cornichons are another ingredient that I wouldn't automatically put in my shopping basket, but that is the great thing about a new recipe, making you search out the new, the untried and untested.

I was sitting in the Dentist's chair the other day having some work done on a tooth. The Dentist was one side, his assistant the other, concentrating on the job in hand. I was lying there, sunglasses on, anaesthetised mouth drooping open and several bits of metal cutlery fishing around in there, when it occurred to me the sheer powerless of my situation. My darling little angels who were sharing a seat in the corner of the room, decided  to take the opportunity to start belting each other over the head.

The Dentist and his Assistant started sniggering and carried on, while I was wildly waving my arms around with dagger gesticulations and making 'Ahh, ahh....ahh, ahh...' sounds which threatened certain death on all parties unless war ceased immediately; but to no avail. I am always slightly in awe of the parents of particularly placid and 'good' children and wonder 'how can this be?' I console myself with the thought that it must be my children's William Brown creativeness at work when they are naughty. And perhaps the fighting is just a child's version of the kind of exchange that most members of Parliament love to indulge in. I often notice those kind of looks that suggest a desire for a good old scrap on the House of Commons floor once the tea bell sounds. Don't you?

The Mograbia was easy to cook and the texture is really lovely. I made too much and saved some for a cold salad lunch the next day. I think my cornichons were too big - more just gherkins, really - and I hadn't realised that there was a difference. I was swayed by price, I have to say, as the supermarket was 'adding value' on its bottled cornichons. In the event, they taste pretty much the same, I guess.

The dish works well as a salad. We had it warm with a small piece of steak on the side. Today I will have it cold for my lunch. I particularly like the texture and think that if you are making several salads to serve for a party then having this as one particular texture to offset against others would be nice. Flavour-wise it is quite sharp, with the pickled gherkins, but the lemon and olives also come through to help balance this.

I have a deep-sounding metal wind chime which I often like to put up at this time of year. I'm not sure whether it is annoying other members of my family or not, but I love the deep tones it makes. Just as the colour of red leaves has the ability to quicken your heart rate when you look at them, so the intermittent chimes heard in a breeze invoke a feeling of energy and movement, enhancing positive chi and bringing a feeling of peacefulness.

I know how much you love this time of year, too. The temperature is more suited to the both of us now and there is an energising rather than a draining of energy that too much heat creates.


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