22 October 2014

Good soup


I wrote about my Mam's vegetable soup back in January 2011, just a few months after I started the hungry writer blog while living in France. It's a post I'm particularly fond of and a few other people liked it too. Here's one of the comments it received:

My house (in Ames, Iowa,USA) is filled this frigid January night with the heady and hearty scents of your Mam's Vegetable Soup - this weekend's treat to me.

How lovely is that?! 

'The fragrance, the tenderness.' the blogpost ends, literally and metaphorically. And they are present too every time I make it and serve it.

I made it recently for a friend of Tony's who's had 8 sessions of chemotherapy this year and will not let cancer get the better of him. I am sure he has his dark days, disappointments and fears, yet he smiles and jokes with us and gollops up Mam's soup sprinkled with parsley and Parmesan, dunking chunks of crusty bread into the broth, then digs into the cheese plate (Cheddar, Cheshire and Gorgonzola) and lamb's lettuce salad, and tops his meal off with a cup of green tea to celebrate the news that his recent scan showed no progression.

'That is the best possible lunch you could have made for me,' he said. The fragrance, the tenderness. 

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about a single act of tenderness

We have to allow other people's positive thinking to be contagious, for them and for ourselves. A Facebook friend recently updated their status complaining about inspirational quotes, about how damn depressing and irritating the ooze of them across the internet can be. No. I won't let myself agree. Even if the sentiment feels too easy. Even if I scroll past a lot of them myself. I won't slam them or the people posting them. Every drop of good feeling matters. 


The above and following photos are from The Secrets of Pistoulet, a magical illustrated little book of contemporary fables all about making soup and making people feel better. There are decorative transparent pages, a pull-out letter, recipe cards in envelopes and a bubbling pot of uplifting, inspirational quotes. 

'Strong is the hand that lifts the soul.' 'Passionate choices have potent consequences.' 'Clarity of the mind brings a moment of grace.'

The recipe instructions are quirky, flirty and fun. The 'Potage of Vision' instructs: Go to the farmer's market and look for the farmer with the clearest and most penetrating eyes. 

I shall try that out at West Malling's Farmers' Market at the end of this month! 

On the last page the author and illustrator, Jana Kolpen, has written: Peace to all creatures great and small. On the home page of her website you read this: Art that makes you smile. 

I've said it once already. How lovely is that.


15 October 2014

Feed me

Feed a cold: starve a fever. I've plumped for 'cold'. There aren't that many things that will stop me from eating even if eating for the last couple of days has consisted mostly of toasted organic wholemeal bread and cups of tea. 



Toasted bread - the real stuff with a crust, not the doughy, long-life, ready sliced version - has to be one of the great comfort foods of the world: a satisfying light crunch with a soft, warm heart tickled with melted butter. 

On the first page of his culinary autobiography, Toast, Nigel Slater says, 'It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you.' 'Putty in their hands,' he says.

I wholeheartedly agree with the first sentence. Not so much with the second. I'm not the most amenable of patients. I think it's the 'wounded animal' part of me. When I'm ill I just want to curl up, put my tail over my eyes, and be left alone. No, please don't stroke my head, or pat me. In fact: DON'T TOUCH ME! Fortunately, Tony has known me long enough to realise this and can deliver a plate of toast and a cup of tea in such a way that I do soften enough to smile and say thank-you.

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about touching. And not touching.

Apparently, there's some dispute about the 'feed a cold/starve a fever' saying. It could be a centuries driven misinterpretation of 'feed a cold to stave off a fever'. That's the kind of information that delights a hungry writer's mind, and stomach.

8 October 2014

An interlude for chips


Fat

Skinny women order his fish
fried in low-cholesterol oil,
batter as crisp and sheer as glass.

He teases them about goose-fat,
the slip of it, how it dimples
under fingertips, at the right point
of tenderness how it gives
to the tip of a tongue.

He dreams of women
whose flesh parts for him
like lard – their overlap, the spill
and pleat of them, his hands skating
over their suety gleam, their excess
rejoicing under his palms.

From Learning How to Fall (Parthian 2005)


Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about chips.

1 October 2014

Fancy pants


a name lost to you over millennia 
with more flash and glitz than 'gourd' 
but you three are making up 
for that with how you dress. 


No matter that you sound 
like a growl in people's throats 
when you are the vessels of history 
and myth: water-carriers, birdhouses, 

drums and nose-flutes, the carriage 
for a princess. Bright, hard-skinned, 
your own determined selves.
If the end of autumn 

is leaf-mulch and wood-smoke 
then you are the unbridled 
beginning, the flag-waving, 
fancy-pants of its arrival.

We want more of you. We want to
fill the kitchen with your rowdiness 
as the days slowly shrivel,
as we light the fire earlier

each night. You're the echo 
of summer, the sun packed 
tight within you like memories, 
the ones we cannot let go. 


Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about hard-skin.

24 September 2014

Travelling bites

Is there a difference between travelling and taking a holiday? The former makes me think of gap-year students roaming around Asia and the Far East or older adventuring types who will happily drink warm yak's milk or sleep under a Landrover in the Sahara. Compared to that shuttles from the airport and room
The wonderful kitchen at Le Rughe apartment
in Montepulciano, owned and run by the lovely
Nico and Elena of Sant Antonio Country Resort
service seem rather tame although both of those things are guaranteed to make me happy. There does seem to be a bit of snobbery around what you call yourself and what you do during the weeks, or months, away from your home 
turf: travelling is challenge, holidays are fun. But the older I get then convenience, comfort and safety are towards the top of the list of any holiday requirements. Fun and laughter are right at the top. 

Tony and I are staying in Montepulciano for a week checking out its possibility as a base for a longer 'learn Italian in school' trip next year. Sometimes I feel as if I'm on holiday, that 'freshly risen dough' feeling when all is bright and airy around me. I'm curious, light-hearted, relaxed. Occasionally, I feel as if I'm doing things to fill time: walk these streets, visit another town, check out that museum. Because that's what you do on holiday, isn't it? Have new experiences, take photos, collect memories, tick things off lists. That makes it sound as if I'm not enjoying myself, and I am, but I'm also distinctly aware of myself as a 'visitor' peering at the locals, the souvenirs, the architecture. A kind
Montepulciano street.
of inverted 'culture' zoo experience.

And maybe that's what travellers, or people who call themselves travellers, don't feel, or don't want to feel. They merge with their new environments, work there, get involved, set up homes rather than briefly stop over and observe. Or are they just under the illusion that's what they're doing and they're actually equal to us ordinary holiday makers bumbling around the world, sometimes fitting in, other times wanting to go home?

Hungry writing prompt
Write about not fitting in to the world around you.

Fortunately, any slight and temporary feelings of disorientation, discomfort or disconnection - wherever I am in the world, home or away - can generally be resolved by food. Is that shallow? I don't think so. To eat the food produced and made local to you connects you to its landscape and its people, however subtle that connection might be. 

In Tuscany the pici pasta is a hand-made fat spaghetti usually served, in this area, with one of three sauces. I've tried two so far: aglione (tomato and garlic) and cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and black pepper). The third one (briciole) involves day old bread, toasted and breadcrumbed, mixed with oil, garlic, pepper and salt. I'm not sure of the 'carb-on-carb' combo but I bet it'd taste delicious all the same. 

The name pici probably stems from the verb appicciare - to stick. And my pici at Pienza yesterday was sticky, especially after the cheese started to cool slightly on the terrace of the wonderful La Terrazza del Chiostro, but that was no reason for complaint. Every mouthful was a heart-lifting, stomach-patting, deep-mind-and-body-connecting delight. 

And, of course, there is one aspect of travelling, or being on holiday, that makes all the difference, no matter where you are in the world: the people. And all the people we have met in this small area of Tuscany are rich with kindness and humour. There has not been a single restaurant, cafe or shop in Montepulciano where we have not been greeted with a smile and good-natured assistance with our stumbling Italian. Come si dice en Italiano... we begin and they open their arms, their hearts and welcome us in.