After a late start, I gradually learnt to cook and for years now I have shared the culinary responsibilities with my wife, herself an excellent cook in the French tradition. In our cooking we have always tried to follow that tradition, so get almost as much pleasure from choosing the menu, buying the ingredients and preparing and cooking the dish as we do from eating the finished product.
Although recovering well from her horrible cycling accident [On Church Road, Greyhares, 12 February 2015], Rohan is still very limited in what she can do. Last week, we celebrated her walking around the garden and climbing a flight of stairs for the first time just using crutches. Despite these advances it still falls to me as her carer, to be the chef, which brings me to my plan: why not spend time and effort making our meals really delicious? Why not cook dishes from our past that not only make the saliva flow but also allow us to reminisce and to forget, at least momentarily, the reality of some of the more awful aspects of our current situation?
The menus so far have varied enormously. One memorable evening, Rohan simply wanted her childhood dream of baked beans on toast. Her request was slightly embellished, and it was a delight to see her lose herself as she munched her way through baked beans piled-high on thickly-buttered brown-bread toast, topped by a fried egg with a firm white and a runny yolk.
There have been more substantial dishes too. The first was a belated Christmas dinner of roast turkey garnished with all the trimmings, served just after she returned home. In addition we have dined on blanquette de veau with wild rice; the oddly named Cullen Skink which consists of smoked haddock in a leek and potato broth; magret de canard with redcurrant sauce; and a rather special beef stew with baked potato. What makes the stew so special? About thirty years ago I was making this stew while listening to a radio commentary of a football match involving my team, Queens Park Rangers. Classically, the diced meat is first browned in the pan, though in my version it is slightly burnt. QPR were winning and, for easily explicable reasons, I was distracted and thus burned the meat. The stew turned out to be delicious, thus slight burning is now part of the recipe and its origins are commemorated by referring to the dish as “QPR stew“.
Finally, there have been some dishes which have been augmented by new components. Twice I have made a new tarragon sauce with lemon juice, cream and finely chopped shallot; once it was used to embellish griddled chicken and once pan fried halibut steaks. Both were delicious!
It is now six weeks since Rohan was discharged and the experiment is working well, but how much is due to the lovely tastes, and how much to the pleasure of sharing experiences forged over nearly forty years, is not clear. And there is that third aspect. While, at the moment, Rohan does not do the actual cooking, the rest of the preparation, as in the French tradition, we do together.
So far, so good, but then there is the ever-present carer reality. It is for me to clear the table and wash up. Despite the invaluable help of a dishwasher and the distraction provided by the radio, I find the clearing up a real chore. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is nothing. Our escape through eating royally together is a real delight.
Illustration: A bowl of Cullen Skink with bread [Metukkalihis, Wikimedia Commons]