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.
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.
Sam has, for as long as I can remember, claimed lemon posset as his favourite pudding. Whenever I asked him what he wanted after supper or Sunday lunch, that would be his answer. I, on the other hand, could never be pinned down to one: the thought of having to choose between sticky toffee pudding and trifle, creme brûlée or tiramisu is horrifying. Even asking me to choose a winner between lemon sponge and ginger sponge is asking too much. I’m a flighty pudding eater, and I refuse to rank them. But Sam remained steadfast and certain: lemon posset.
I’m going to make some wild assertions on love and romance, and then I’m going to tell you to cheat. And I’m going to finish it all off with a chocolate and caramel tart that would make the angels weep. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Learning to cook will, for me, always be bound up with two other things: grieving for my mother, and my relationship with Sam. One death, one birth, both preceding my first foray into the kitchen by such a small margin that I struggle to unpick the different strands of my own narrative.
It was around this time of year, and it seems appropriate that, as I celebrate one and remember the other, I cook a dish that connotes limbo. Sadness and joy. Patience, and quiet triumphs. That dish is Shakshuka.