Dieting is relentless. It can become a hard fought mundane affair with regular inflections of unadulterated guilt: “But I nibbled a crust yesterday and I feel enormous. Did I dream waking up and hitting the bacon butties? I’m sure I’ve had two slices of carrot too many. If I write it all down will I discover too much? On Tuesday in desperation I began chewing the leg of the table; is wood fattening?”
But every once in a while, I get the urge to go large. So last night my old friends Sarah and Richard came round for a Moroccan feast. I’ve know Sarah for thirty six years (say it quickly) and Richard for twelve. In fact both of his sons have been taught by me. There’s a lot of family history there. Obviously my circumstances rule out any quick bish bash bosh arm waving garlic slamming pan drumming heroics a la Jamie Oliver.
He is a clever chef who understands food and how to make money out of it. Back in the Brit-Pop days he slid down his banister straight onto his scooter whilst opening the front door with his feet and bursting onto the street wearing his parka. He would then charge into artisan suppliers hailing a cheeky Essex boy’s greeting as he snatched the biggest salami with his teeth and pounded out the door on all fours howling like a banshee.
Then he’d be standing of the seat of his Vespa tossing a pan with his customary rotary style swerving in and out of the automobile boulders, moving as fast as an ice-age glacier on the pitted streets of London.
In one smooth mellifluous movement, young Jammy would slip effortlessly back into the rider’s seat applying the brakes for the approaching red light. As he paused twisting the revs he’d look at the camera and say “Easy Tiger.” As he left the deli, the cheery shop keeper would offer a happy wave knowing that other over-sincere wannabee foodies would be breaking his door down for over-priced organic illusion. “Why’s my carrot wrinkled and floppy?” “Oh it’s natural guv. It’s a mature carrot. They increase in flavour with age. That’ll be four pound seventy-seven for the two.” Customer, satisfied with achieving an acceptable level of cheeky banter will leave as happy as a dog with two carrots.
Having said that, Jamie’s web site is packed with brilliant ideas. It’s easy to follow and shows a simple approach with stunning results.
That was not my approach. Mine was far more sedentary.
1. Wheel myself around the kitchen with note book and pen.
2. Inspect stocks.
3. Note anything that can be Moroccanised.
4. Sit down on the sofa and write a menu.
5. Click Tesco online with a cup of tea in hand.
My week in a notebook:
And the menu?
Nibbles of olives and haloumi seared tastefully with appropriate griddle stripes.
Maneesh, an Arabic flatbread covered in seeds and dried herbs with Baba Ganoush, a dip of roast aubergine, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. The second dip was yoghurt with cucumber, mint, coriander and chopped tomatoes. Oh, I also put some chopped sun-dried tomatoes in there.
Ah the image of sun-dried tomatoes; an Italian village street sloping down towards the vineyard. A host of ripe succulent blood red tomatoes hanging on a trellis in the heat of the Tuscan sun. Terracotta roof tiles and whitewashed cottage walls. The Italian matriarch turning them with the help of her beautiful dark sultry daughter. Grand papa sitting on the outside bench finishing his pre-lunch cigarette, looking hopefully down the road for the return of his son and two lusty red-blooded grandsons back from their early morning hunt.
Oh wait a minute. They’re made in a factory using a lot of science.
And mine were dried in my oven. Either way, sun-dried tomatoes are tasty things. I always dry mine with a touch of garlic and cumin; a perfect Moroccan combination.
We ate all the bread. That was a big compliment. Next in line was a lamb tagine which had been cooking for eight hours in the slow cooker. It’s always worth getting some Ras al Hanout. This is a potent blend of typical North African spices. One sniff and you know it means business. In a very crafty move, I had prepared the paste on the Wednesday and left it sealed in the fridge. (The ingredients of the paste are on one of the above pages of the great notebook.)
On Thursday I made the bread and the dips. Today’s efforts were putting the stew on, making carrots with mint and coriander, a bit of bulgar wheat and making apple and fig filo parcels smothered in sesame seeds.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. I couldn’t find the bulgar wheat or the sesame seeds. This was a perfect case of molehills becoming mountains. What would an able bodied person do? Stand up to the cupboards removing every item whilst swearing profusely before said ingredients were found?
Perhaps. I had to use stealth. I opened all the cupboards, high and low and rolled back to get a good view. I switched on my phone torch. I looked for opportunities. Ten minutes later they were sitting in front of the microwave. All right, I had to get out of the chair and grope blindly on the top shelf risking fatal injury but I did manage it.
So it was a bit of bish bash bosh but in a gentle slow motion:
Bishhhhhhhh baaasssshhhhhh booooooossssssshhhhhhh.
The main BBB was in the eating of it. Do I feel guilty? I’m telling myself no. But I’ve been a bit under the weather lately. The fatigue has had me going on about walls and the art of getting over them.
Today I felt better. I think it’s because I paced the whole exercise. In fact, the next time I do it, it’ll be far more slick. Slick but slow.
Thank-you for reading.
In the Concise Oxford Dictionary “wall” has a myriad of definitions from a barrier of bricks to a defensive line in football. There appears to be no reference to its emotive nature and its common usage as a psychological metaphor.
“Molly looked up at the wall. Today it seemed enormous. Although she knew quite well that this monstrous barrier to her happiness and freedom never magically changed its size, its appearance altered. In the cold cruel light of morning, it seemed solid and impenetrable. When it was raining the angry clouds above darkened the stone rendering it grim and unforgiving. Even in the gentle glowing light of a summer’s day, Molly felt intimidated by its sheer mass. This was a barrier of fear-a symbol of pain, suffering and restricted freedom. Once the insides of this imposing monument had been observed, it was generally accepted one would never view it from the outside again. Molly however-gentle little Molly with the pleasant smile and forgiving nature, had other ideas.”
From “The Long Summer.”