Writer's block and happy accidents
You may have noticed it, not sitting there at the foot of the page.
No "next time..."
Usually, by the time I'm posting a piece, I know what I want to write about next time. I might struggle to get the words together in the right order, but I'll have a fairly clear idea of what I want to say. This was different; I didn't have a clue what I wanted to write. I started to feel some solidarity with Old Mother Hubbard, staring into the cavernous void of her nursery-rhyme larder and finding only anxiety about what to do next.
Entertaining can be a bit like that, too. You've invited friends over and you're deciding what to serve, but nothing seems quite right. One thing's a bit heavy for the season, another doesn't agree with one of the guests, the third you've served several times before. In reality, we're probably setting ourselves an impossible task. Our friends come to dinner because they enjoy spending time with us, and if you make a great coq au vin they'll probably relish eating it every time. It does no harm to revisit your culinary triumphs or to serve what you might think of as a casual family dish.
Another vegetable I like to experiment with is white cabbage. I discovered long ago the pleasure of having it braised with lots of butter and pepper. Just shred the cabbage finely and place in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of water, about an ounce (25g) of butter and a good grinding of pepper. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and place over a very low light for a good half hour. The cabbage will release some of its own moisture and, if you keep the heat low and the lid tight, should not boil dry or start to fry in the butter. Recently, I decided to treat myself by using some truffle butter in there, but mistook a package of miso butter for truffle butter. It turned out to be a perfect addition to a fairly bland vegetable, and I'll certainly be adding it to my repertoire of vegetable dishes.
- Keep calm: even when you've been cooking all day, perfect food is not the aim; enjoyment is.
- Know your theory: if you know what purpose each process or ingredient serves in a recipe, you can use that knowledge to 'fix' another dish.
- Have some interesting staples in your larder. I like to use strongly savoury sauces like anchovy essence, mushroom ketchup and Henderson's Relish. I keep flavoured butters in my freezer (but should label them better!), and useful things like cornflour (cornstarch), spice mixes and sultanas in the cupboard.
And as for writer's block? Simply write about your disasters. 😉
Next time: barbecue entertaining