‘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.
It’s raining today, in case you hadn’t noticed. I’ve just filed a long piece about the best pudding to make in high summer and bright sunshine, and now it is raining with blustery gusto. Oh British summer, how you toy with me.
I bought a huge punnet of nectarines this week. One of those punnets that is designed to ‘ripen in the fruit bowl’, which sounds, when you’re in the cold aisle of a supermarket, like a dream: you will have soft fruit gradually ripening as the week progresses, for you to pluck at whim, your kitchen gently scented by the heady, sweet, honeyed perfume. Imagine Eden with formica kitchen units, and you’re approaching what I envisaged in the fruit aisle.
We’ve been decorating a lot recently. Despite moving into the house we now live in in October last year, and endless trips to Homebase, we are still sanding, still painting, and still making trips to the timber yard at 6:30 am. I am not a gracious decorator. I have little to no idea what I’m doing, so await instruction, and then moan about whatever task I’ve been given. The prospect of cooking at the end of these long, sweaty, dusty days is not one I want to entertain.
And when I feel like that, I make these: speedy, spicy, peanut butter noodles.
We spent the last weekend in Edinburgh with my goddaughter and her parents. Friends from college days who, having actually put their money where their mouths are, and produced a real live human baby, I now deem impossibly grown up.
It must have been twenty years ago that I first tried mussels on holiday, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to shake off the sophistication I felt when eating moules mariniére for the first time.
Lately, I have dreamt in custard. Lying in bed last night, I could have sworn I could smell the faint boozy hum of vanilla, the richness of eggs and cream. It’s not surprising. Over the last month, custard and I have become pretty well – if reluctantly – acquainted.