Despite being charged with full responsibility for the care and well-being of a disturbed and at times horrific three-year old plus a speechless. legless nine-month old, today was a day devoted to producing lots of rustic, home-cooked food. It was pissing with rain all day and there was nothing else I wanted to do, other than murder my immediate family. A day of calm on most culinary fronts, other than those that were sporadically interupted by spikes of dangerous white noise followed by short but awkward readjustment periods. The eldest wearing me into the ground basically.
So I tried to get her involved in some way to redeem a qnother, rather panic-stricken, scene which took place earlier this morning whereby she lost out on her warm buttery croissant with spoonfuls of fresh strawberry jam on account of her inability to recognise House Society, or any other society for that matter. We began with some roughly chopped veg to flavour the cooking water for my ham hock, which was then to be used as a stock for the flageolet beans. There is something deeply gratifying about waking to a bowl of plump fattened beans that have been soaking all night in a clean white bowl and to a knuckle of pig alongside it that has been spending its long night similarly.
We boiled it up for a good hour and a half, strained it and flaked the deep purple flesh from the hot, sticky bones. It had taken on a sweet bacony flavour without any of the salt or nasty chemicals you associate with most twenty-first century swine; a tangerine, star-anise and three cloves bringing a sweet and comforting seasonal hint -- something to bring us all together, a thing which is in dire need of taking place soon around here.
Meanwhile I got to work on an apple pie. First, I wanted to recoup my losses from last week’s sorry pastry case for my even sorrier treacle tart (which to my annoyance the Café at work had bettered effortlessly this week). And I succeded, even though it could have been still more elastic, to bake a smooth, thick and crumbly case which I then filled with sliced coxes and topped with a warmed mix of golden syrup, lemon and butter infused with cinnamon bark and overlaid with a pastry lattice the diamond gaps of which were studded with whole blanched almonds – the ideal task for the delinquent mind.
By the time the Swiss Pie had been assembled and left to chill in the fridge it was time to get the beans on. So I sweated the sliced remains of a leek and a couple of shallots and some garlic in my casserole and rolled the plump olive-green pulses around in the hot oil for a bit before splashing in a good glug of pastis. A ladle or two of stock and then I left it for an hour or two to simmer. It was green and aromatic, fresh and musty, and it looked almost alien when I tossed in the bulbous purple meat and a tablespoon of dirty-yellow
All that was left to do -- in between scattering pieces of variously hot/cold, old/new bread before the youngest while she did her Stephen Hawking impression in her high-chair, and ignoring her big sister’s minute-by-minute assaults against my authority -- was throw a creamy broccoli cheese together. The cabbage had been in the fridge for days and was becoming limp, so I sliced it and placed it in a buttered dish rubbed with raw garlic and poured over it a high-finesse gruyere sauce topped with more cheese and fresh breadcrumbs, which bubbled into an awesome gooey crust after its half-hour spell on the top shelf. In there below it, in my tardis-like-main oven, were the circular strudel and the remainder of last night’s sweet potatoes. This was to be a meal fit for all of us, the close family unit.
But it didn’t quite turn out that way. In fact, just before I placed the first bean of the heart-warming strew into my mouth, I thought I was going to burst into tears at the dinner table. The cacophony of two screaming children after days of similar had made irrelevant my long, slow food, half of which was made with them in mind, and brought me once again to the edge. We soldiered on, however, the meal doing all lit could to mask the indefinable madness that is being a parent of the young. And it did very well indeed, the cheesy greens matching in a coarse and unsophisticated manner the ham and beans. I would have gorged myself on it had the youngest not decided it was the best thing she had ever tasted, and it was satisfying to watch at least one of my dependents stuff themselves on my food with leaking gusto.
Nevertheless, the scene was hardly reflective of the high-res images of strangely familiar faces in the OFM around large wooden tables in some corner of continental Europe in their late autumn setting, nor indicative of the certainty and clarity of the Indie’s “Kitchen masterclass: Part 4, Puddings and Cakes”, jostling about in the foodie-revolution-PR of today’s Sundays. WAS IT? We are normal. Actually, I quit liked the latter.