Monday, August 21, 2006

A Fragrant Tangle

Tangle - noun
1. a complicated or confused mass of hairs, lines, fibres etc knotted or coiled together
2. a complicated problem, condition or situation

It is interesting how the state of one's mind and emotions can transfer into one's cooking. Here I am, 31 years old, truly single for the first time in 10 years and not sure who CB on her own, without a man is but fast coming to some wonderful but scary conclusions. Still aching and hurting but trying to move on. Trying not to think of him but of building a new life whilst trying to mend a stupid, fragmented heart (don't worry - this is the last you will hear of my emotional outpourings - I have plans for those elsewhere. In a truly anonymous fashion). I am rather tangled, in every sense.

A supper with friends at the weekend, dazzling with zingy flavours and conversation, has rather tempted my tastebuds into life once again, as did a trip to the local farmers market the following morning. And so this evening, tired after a day at work (during which I felt the creativity bleeding out of me) I opened the fridge, mentally re-ordered its contents and created the following dish. Tangled in appearance, it rather matched my spirit.

A Fragrant Tangle of Leeks and Prawns (serves one - get used to it!)
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 small red chili, seeds removed and thinly sliced (in an attempt to ward off a summer cold)
2 small leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
glug of wine (I used red as it was open but white would also be lovely)
handful of spinach leaves
tsp of wholegrain mustard
150g or so of large, cooked prawns

Heat a glug of oil in a frying pan (one to which you own the matching lid), and when shimmering, add the garlic, cumin, coriander and chili. Fry until the aromas tickle your nostrils.
Add the leeks and heat gently to soften. Add a glug or two of wine and cover with the pan lid. Stir from time to time to stop them sticking and trickle in a teardrop or two of wine when necessary.
When the leeks have separated and start to resemble a knotted ponytail (around 10-15mins) add the spinach and the mustard, stir, check the moisture levels and cover once again.
Once the spinach has wilted, stir in the prawns, heat briefly and then tip into a bowl.

Eat, smile and be happy.

Tangled, yes, but in a beautiful, (lemon) soulful way.

(No pictures as my camera is with an Italian.......)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dining Alone?

My new single existence is one to which I am trying to become accustomed. I won't bore you with hateful and self-pitying mentions of the hurt, anger, loneliness and a myriad of other emotions which surge through my being. Or of the panic to find somewhere to live which is steadily setting in.

But being alone does tend to open one's eyes and mind. I refuse to withdraw into my own little world and to never venture out into the wide world, to spend every meal time at 'home' just because I may not have a 'date' for that particular lunch or dinner.

Dining alone is a rather strange experience and one which differs between the lunch and dinner sittings. At lunch, the solitary diner is easily explained and tolerated. But come the evening, and one is treated either with sympathy, suspicion or downright rudeness (I'm sorry that I'm not going to spend as much as a couple, but is my custom any less valued? Clearly). And so I have rather come to enjoy lunching on my own, and by refusing to bury my head in a book or magazine, behaviour often exhibited by other solitary diners, I choose to use it as an excellent opportunity for people watching.

There are the business lunches where an awkward hesitation hovers over the wine list. Will the client imbibe or not? One can audibly hear a breath of relief exhaled by the hosting agency as the phrase “I think a little glass of wine might be in order” is uttered. The couple of gentlemen of a certain age who guffaw with added gusto to avoid any confusion as to their sexuality. “Not that there’s anything wrong with queer chaps you understand. Heavens, Cynthia was married to one once.”

The ‘yummy mummies’ whose attention is diverted to their wailing offspring and who only manage to half consume their by-now cold lasagne (“I need the carbs sweetie. I’m breastfeeding.”). And of course, no musing on lunchers would be complete without mentioning those legendary ladies-who-lunch. The mineral water sipping, Silk Cut Slim puffing, Chanel encrusted brigade are not just an urban myth. Fearful of not fitting into next season’s Manolos if their weight creeps over seven stone, they appear to exist on greens and the occasional prawn. Oh, and a glass of champagne on a Friday.

The couple whom have been married forever, for whom food is solely fuel and whose only conversation is “I hope that’s not salt Geoffrey, you know what Dr Hughes said.” The young couple who are caught in the heady whirlwind of fresh love and whom devour more of each other than their shared fruit de mer (she daren’t tell him that there is a risk that shellfish might make her eyes swell to the size of gobstoppers).

Yes, lunchtime offers a fascinating insight into human behaviour and relationships. And that's the positive spin I shall try to continue to put on my new life.

But of course, all dinner dates are very welcome.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Restoring Recipe

Now that I am living alone and have a temporary 'home' (I have now lost all concept as to what that word actually means), I am trying to adapt to this strange new life. Gone are the lingering weekend mornings making bacon sandwiches for the man I love, conjuring up the occasional evening meal for us to share and being cocooned by familiar and loved surroundings. Instead I am renting someone's flat, using their crockery, putting my food in their fridge and eating my solitary salads in their garden. Cooking for one just does not have the same appeal at the moment.

In a period of change however, I have found one delightful and unexpected pleasure and a new outlet for my passion of cooking. La Cucina Caldesi cookery school.
I have assisted at two classes so far and love the sense of satisfaction that helping others to cook brings. Encouraging children who are timid about handling food to attack dough with gusto. Gently helping a grown man to delicately slice an onion. Explaining how to use a food processor and why one toasts spices and pine nuts to release their aroma and flavour. Preparing a tortellini filling of ricotta, sage and parmesan for the chef, collecting all the ingredients from the restaurant's kitchen and gently stroking the beguiling skin of a perfect aubergine in the process.

It is long hard work and I have never washed up so many pots, repeatedly, in my life and by the end of the day I am very tired. But in a glowing way, happy in the knowledge that I may have helped just one person to gain a little more confidence with food, have encouraged one person to try a new flavour and have met a variety of characters in the process. And I am learning a huge amount in the process and particularly about foods which I would not cook for myself (due to gluten and dairy being involved) such as pasta and bread.

Yesterday with the charming Ursula Ferrigno the class of eleven adults made pasta, bruschetta with caramelised red onion and young pecorino, baked stuffed courgettes, meatballs, goats cheese and grilled vegetable focaccine and a glorious hazelnut meringue gateau. Wonderful aromas, a mingling of like-minded strangers and a combination of beautiful Italian flavours. Now that's a recipe!

Oh and if your self-esteem has taken a bit of a knock, I heartily recommend running in and out of a kitchen full of young Italian chefs all day. Yes, yesterday was a good day!

(I forgot to ask Ursula or the school if I could post a recipe hence the absence of one. I shall remember however to do so this Friday at the childrens class).