You know what smells really, really bad? Shrimp paste. Yes, I know, this should come as no surprise to me: it is made from fermented ground shrimps, after all. Also, I really should get over the habit of sniffing curiously at things which I know will be particularly offensive to my nostrils, especially when I’m going to put those things in my food. I used to do this with fish sauce, too: eurgh, fermented anchovies, yek (surprise, surprise, right?), then I’d put some in my dinner, and then I wouldn’t want to eat my dinner because it smelled of fermented anchovies.
I have just about made my peace with the fish sauce – I went on a Thai cookery course a little while ago, and it turns out that the secret to making Thai food that tastes actually properly like Thai food is to put huge quantities of fish sauce in everything. This is distressing at first, but the trick is not to inhale while you pour, and definitely, definitely not to immediately run the measuring spoon under a hot tap right near where your nose is.
Sorry, guys. I meant to come home and make the most delicious-sounding rhubarb and rye scones from my new favourite place for finding things to do with rhubarb. I also meant to make watermelon lemonade, because somehow it’s been 30 degrees out for the last two weeks and I’ve sort of forgotten what to do when that happens but I’m pretty sure long, refreshing drinks are in order, and what sounds more refreshing than watermelon lemonade?
Instead, though, I didn’t. Firstly, I got distracted by a boyfriend (mine, just to be clear) in a pub garden with a glass of pimms and some calamari – not a good start, productivity-wise – and then, then, somebody on twitter posted that the water at Claverton Weir, my
second new favourite swimming spot, is at a perfect temperature right now. I am not so good at resisting that kind of temptation, apparently.
Oof! I don’t know what happened there, but one day it was May, and then suddenly it was July. What happened to June? I’ve gone straight from early rhubarb to elderflowers, without so much as a whiff of wild garlic and hardly an asparagus spear to be seen. My sister is becoming really quite concerned that I don’t seem to have eaten in a month. (I’m secretly hoping that she’ll take pity on me and come and live in our flat when her lease is up, and make me lots of her delicious food to fatten me back up).
In reality, though, I have been eating – mostly ice cream, I admit, but I have been eating – I just haven’t been writing any of it down. I blame John, who very unreasonably had a birthday only a week before our old housemate returned from 18 months on the other side of the world for four very short days before jetting off to Finland, only a week before my godfather flew across for a visit from Australia (although, in his case, not with a new Finnish girlfriend).
Obviously, it’s been a very hard month.
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.