For one of B’s special birthdays recently, I prepared a special meal as celebration and consolation. You can see part of the menu in the first pic but it’s unreadable, so here it is:
Risotto of escargot
Langoustine and salmon fumé in creamed scrambled eggs
Boned quails stuffed with chanterelle and foie gras served with vegetable aspic
Venison sirloin – slow-gin flambé with braised potato
Special meals have been a feature of our lives together, both home cooked and in restaurants. We often have bed time memory trips to such times and places to ease us into sleep when the stress of life intrudes and brings on what we call ‘the dark puther’. Some of these meals have been reproduced in my novels too. They are a useful vehicle for establishing characters and relationships. Many a seduction in life and literature has begun over a table of fine food and wine.
Not all our memorable food experiences have involved fine-dinning. In Rome at Christmas: A tiny place near the Pantheon.
They served take-away roast suckling pork in a crisp pizza style bread. The pork was infused with exactly the right amount of sage and included soft moist meat and crisp crackle skin. It was perfect. We went back for seconds then sat on a wall in the shadow of the Pantheon and enjoyed a sublime food experience.
Another great memory is B’s first taste of the underrated flat fish – Brill. When I first took B to Northern Ireland, we spent some time in around the Mourne mountains. There I showed her the places of my youthful escape. (I used to rent a semi-derelict old farm-house in the heart of the mountains. It had one tap bringing water from a spring, which often spewed out live wriggling leaches! Heating and cooking was be means of an ancient wood or coal-fired range.) We found the old house again, now completely derelict. We peered in at the old rusting range. My big old coffee pot still stood upon it. I recounted how I used to leave this big enamel coffee pot simmering on the range and would top it up constantly and empty it only when the grounds filled it. I would throw old eggshells in to give the thick black coffee a wonderful sheen.
After we drove through the Silent Valley and down to the fishing village of Kilkeel.
On the harbour we found a shop selling fish fresh from the boats. I spotted a lovely big Brill and bought it. Later we set up a the picnic-table and gas single ring cooker. The big fish only just fitted in my fry-pan. It was stiff fresh and was, with doubt, the best fish meal we’ve ever had. Crisped butter fried skin, milky white flesh, firm and sweet. Finished with a splash of Sancerre, it was utterly fantastic. B’s still raves about it and when I cook Brill now she invariably says: “It’s good but not at good as the great Kilkeel picnic.”
Memories like these, fuel for the body, feed the imagination and provide rich material for a writers creative efforts. Yes food and romance go hand in soft stroking hand.