By the time you read this, I will have undergone and, I hope, survived, my first technical lecture, my first demonstration, and my first practical of the school year, and already have blithely moved on, and be up to my elbows in mousseline and crème pâtissière. But right now I am a wibbling wreck of nerves and inadequacy; right now I am just a girl standing in front of a patisserie course asking it not to burn her.
Two years ago, Sam and I visited Siena on holiday. And since then, Siena has been my favourite place in the world.
It’s quieter than Tuscany’s biggest city, Florence. It has a breathtaking palazzo, an incredible Gothic cathedral, sleepy streets lined with even sleepier wine bars. I thought it was unbelievably romantic the moment I saw it. And I discovered, soon after arriving, that it’s home to some of Italy’s best food. So when we found out we would be returning to Florence for a wedding this September, it needed no discussion: we were going back to Siena.
A couple of weeks ago I made blackberry vinegar, and since then I’ve been looking for just about any excuse to use it.
This is the perfect vehicle for that condiment. It would, I should say, be a glorious dish, even without the vinegar. It’s dark and moody and autumnal, but light enough to eat whilst the weather still occasionally throws an uncomfortably humid day at us. But it is brought to life by the blackberry vinegar: the combination of the crunchy, salty duck skin with the sweetsour, fruity vinegar is perfect.
Last week was the wedding of two of my closest friends.
We’ve been friend ten years almost to the day; we’ve been friends through engagements and bereavements, we’ve shared drunk tears and sober laughter. We’ve read the same books, we’ve held the same babies, and we’ve watched the same people get married. They are so inextricably a part of my life and who I am.
My salad-for-supper obsession continues apace. Partly because I seem to have about a hundred odd items in the freezer, that I froze in good faith far too long ago, and now need to find a way of using. Enter the salad, the perfect vehicle for a mismatch hotchpotch of freezer tombola. I love chicken livers, and they’re perfect flash fried with a splash of sherry vinegar; and the croutons and lardons turns this into a handsome supper.
By the time you read this, I will be on holiday. In fact, I will be nearly back from holiday. Back, I hope, to crunchy leaves and high-tog duvets and tights fresh from the packet. I’m ready for crumbles and shepherds pies and soups thick with lentils. And mashed potato. I’m ready to eat a lot of mashed potato.
‘It’s not a salad, Liv’ says Sam for what must be the fifth time this morning. ‘Stop calling it a salad’. Sam has very clear views on what constitutes a salad, and this, he insists on saying grandly and repeatedly, is not it. It is a salad, for what it’s worth, it just uses herbs rather than leaves (although that argument didn’t fly with Sam).
Until last Sunday, I had never been blackberry picking. It was inevitable, then, perhaps that I managed to get caught on brambles no fewer than four times during our excursion. But I emerged physically and figuratively victorious, with stained fingers, and overflowing tupperware. After two large boxes, crammed tight with blackberries were wedged into the freezer, for dark crumble-filled days, there was still a surplus of berries. So I made this vinegar.
When Sam and I first started dating, I would occasionally make him neat, thoughtful packed lunches as an act of love. They invariably involved expensive ingredients, or time consuming preparation: smoked salmon, or proper homemade chutneys. I composed salads that would make a grown man cry, with mackerel and beetroot and horseradish, or tiny potatoes, with dill and creme fraiche and gherkins. He would probably have been as happy with a haphazard cheese and salad sandwich as anything else, but for me it was a way to send him off to work with affection. Fast forward four years and he now survives on a combination of leftovers and sandwiches he hastily makes himself. Until now.
When we were little, there was one pudding that my non-pudding-making mother would occasionally make: pavlova. We would watch it being made, placed carefully into a low oven. We were barely allowed to watch it whilst it cooked, so keen was the fear of cracking. When it came out, little fingers weren’t permitted to pry or poke. Then it was crowned with cream and accoutrements, and placed in the back porch – desperately tempting, and absolutely forbidden. I thought it was the most impossibly glamorous pudding.