I bought a punnet of Spanish strawberries a couple of weeks ago. Spain, I thought, that’s not so far away. Maybe they will be nice. They weren’t. Are you surprised? No, I wasn’t either. It’s that time of the year, though, when soft fruit is back on the shelves (the week-end special at the Spar up the road is £1 for a punnet of nectarines or peaches, indistinguishable in their hard scentlessness except for the half-hearted fuzz on the peaches), far, far before it’s even remotely beginning to be nice to eat.
We are lucky enough to live near a good greengrocers and within walking distance of a farmers’ market, but this time of the year makes me long for French markets – the kind you pop to to buy something for lunch, instead coming back laden with armfuls of cherries and doughnut peaches and spending the afternoon in the garden continuing the eternal competition to see who can spit their cherry stones the furthest. Currently, Mum is winning (although she wouldn’t thank me for telling you that); none of the rest of us have quite mastered the technique for the over-the-garden-fence bonus points. Proper class, we are.
What is it about bank holiday weekends that causes people to become quite such assiduous lawn-mowers? I seem to have spent all day listening to the blasted things: our next-door neighbour, for example, is now mowing his grass for the second time, today. Perhaps I do him an injustice, but as the next house along now has a large hole instead of a lawn (foundations for an extension, rather than anything more sinister (tunnelling, explosives testing, localised natural gas build-up – all these things are commonplace in Bath, you know)), I am disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Even John has got the mower out, an event which is only slightly more remarkable than if I were to do so, having never so much as started up a lawnmower in my life. I had been quite enjoying the dandelion patch (much more cheery than a boring old square of grass, no?) but John and the lawnmower seem to have ganged up on me while I was out, and instead I am being mollified with a G&T on our newly re-acquired lawn after a day which started with a slice of this banana cake and only got better from there. If only the same could be said for bank holiday radio playlists. Boyzone? Really? There’s no excuse.
One of the things that I miss most about living in Switzerland (apart from the chocolate, the company, and swimming in the lakes) is the bread. I took to the bread and the chocolate much more quickly than it took me to get the hang of swimming in the lakes, mind: it turns out that the time that all the snow on the mountains starts to thaw is not the same time that the lake starts to warm up. Who would have thought it? Yes, alright.
Where were we? Oh yes, the bread. It was quite a revelation, if I’m honest. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been to mainland Europe before, and good bakeries in England – I don’t quite spend all of my time in the bakery aisle of the local Spar, sobbing – so I did know about good bread. I’d just, sort of, temporarily, forgotten. After all, over here we mostly get variations on the theme of plain white, posh white, wholemeal, and seedy (although at least they don’t put bone-ashes in it any more. I presume). I was most definitely not prepared for potato bread with walnuts in (delicious, by the way. As if you needed to ask).
Yes, yes. I know. The first time I saw this recipe header, my eyes skipped straight to the next page, too: lentils? and cabbage? I can think of far nicer things to put in my mouth, thanks, like for starters this lamb, beer and black bean chilli right across the page. It turns out, though, that this harsh judgement was grossly unfounded. Far from being the boring health-fest that I’d imagined – you know, the kind of thing that people on the cabbage soup diet might eat as a treat, if they were feeling really naughty – this has become one of my favourite weekday, easy-to-knock-together meals. Instincts, you have failed me. (Yes, again).
After dismissing the recipe as fit only for masochists, I happened to pick up the same recipe book a bit later on in the month (like, three-days-before-payday later), and suddenly – in the way these things do – the whole idea seemed much more appealing. Something to use up that manky half head of cabbage in the fridge? Plus a 57p tin of lentils, and that half a lemon that’s been knocking around for longer than I’m prepared to publicly admit? Fantastic! And oh, what I’d been missing.
Was it really only a week ago that I was talking to you about my tragic lack of breakfast recipes? Well, as it turns out – and this should come as a surprise to none of you, I expect, except your correspondent here – the answer to this problem is: ‘muffins’.
Not the horrible kind you get at the coffee shop, full of ingredients you’d never knowingly let anywhere near your kitchen, let alone your breakfast, (and once, even with a surpise splodge of horrible lemon goo in the middle – that wasn’t a good day) but the kind barely sweetened, full of fruit and packed with wholegrains. I say packed only for a given meaning of the word, you understand, that being “about 25% spelt flour” – but I did use the flour full of the extra wholegrain bits that I sieved out of the zopf, so I reckon that counts, don’t you?
In this house, though, what really matters in a breakfast food is its ability to entice us out of bed in the morning – especially on a day like those we’ve been having lately, with the sun shining gloriously through the curtains and nothing but the prospect of 7 hours in an air conditioned cube to look forward to (okay, maybe I exaggerate; my life is not quite so bleak as this). If that same enticement can be at least reasonably healthy, or at least pretending very hard to be, then by my reckoning we have hit upon the ultimate morning food.