[Inside the Memories]Kitchen Life: Making new memories while remembering those we’ve lost

release time: 2021-07-14 04:52:37

  Food is what the best memories are made of, as Catherine Devaney finds out when she looks back on a life she just recently lost.

  It must be a fact of human existence that as soon as something is taken away it becomes the one thing we crave most.

  Parents among us will be particularly acquainted with the hazards of giving neglected toys away to the charity shop: in which regard, my advice is do not, under any circumstances, let the kids see you doing it – operate under the cover of darkness if you must – whatever you do, don’t say “but you never play with it” because that’s completely missing the point, obviously, and never, ever ask them for permission. But there’s a toddler in all of us.

  On a grown up level, take exercise as an example. As soon as it was restricted to half an hour per day there we all were, abandoning the sofa and channelling our inner Joe Wicks, walking up and down driveways, circuit training in our living rooms, hostage to a collective exercise frenzy like captive gerbils.

  With socialising contraband and coffee shops curtailed, unable to meet up in person we zoomed and skyped and virtually quizzed our way through a cold spring.

  I met up virtually with friends I haven’t so much as shared a Starbucks with since student days. When flour ran short we devised all manner of inventive and frugal ways to make pizza (abstinence not being an option). And a simple hug became the forbidden fruit, for most people.

  In our family, hugs are called “bosies” and entered into with great reluctance and trepidation only once a year, at Hogmanay. Coming from a long line of confirmed non-huggers my family were genetically predisposed to adapt very comfortably to social distancing. We were the poster boys for keeping our distance.

  

  Catherine Devaney

  Boris needn’t have worried about a lack of caution on that score, no indeed. So much so that if our lives had been left to play out as we planned, the recent easing would probably have meant a bit of awkward shoulder rubbing and a brief tap on the back before we returned to offering each other a cup of tea and sitting comfortably a safe distance apart.

  I would probably have been advocating a nice scone as a safe proxy for a hug. It’s not that we don’t love each other, we’re just a bit Celtic when it comes to expressing our feelings.

  Except that in the last few months life, for us, hasn’t played out as planned and now the one man that I so seldom hugged in adult life, but now most want to, I cannot. And I’ve simply joined the ranks of thousands who have lost someone during lockdown and must now unwillingly unlock to a world that seems utterly changed.

  All of the inevitable reflection that follows has left me pondering whether our indomitable capacity to romanticise the past is a peculiarly British trait, or simply a human one. The whole of 2020 is a prime example.

  I honestly don’t now remember the days of rain, the cancelled holidays, the drudgery of those interminable months of home schooling at the kitchen table, the missing of friends, the stomach-churningly awful daily death stats, nor the boredom.

   ? James Veysey/Shutterstock

  Home schooling at the kitchen table is now a memory for Catherine.

  I know all of that happened, mostly because I wrote about it at the time. But I’ve now genuinely forgotten the drudge and only remember instead, misty-eyed, how at the beginning of lockdown it was such a novelty to chat with Dad through the kitchen window, tutting and pausing our conversation every time a car went past.

  I remember how marvellous it was to sit in the garden together when things first began to ease, that I made cream buns for his birthday and it was sunny.

  I remember how we joked about whether Nicola would let them use the loo, how we laughed at our attempts to socially distance across a smoking firepit, eating banana pudding and sticky toffee sauce, and wasn’t it just jolly hilarious to barbecue in the rain.

  Our ability to mythologise the past, to leave the raw, difficult bits on the cutting room floor, to remember sunshine without shadow is probably part of a very necessary survival instinct.

  It can be comforting to remember, when things seem particularly dreary, that given the passage of time the gloom, however unrelenting, will ultimately prove less tenacious than the occasional rainbow.

  Or, to put it bluntly, don’t worry too much if you lose your temper with the kids in the ice cream queue, because rose-tint will eventually prevail and, once safely navigated through the blame-ridden perils of the teenage years, they should only remember the chocolate sprinkles and tutti frutti.

  It can be comforting to remember, when things seem particularly dreary, that given the passage of time the gloom, however unrelenting, will ultimately prove less tenacious than the occasional rainbow.

  And so I’m not going to whinge about the truly dreadful weather or bemoan the endless dithering about a holiday traffic light system I neither understand nor care for. I choose not to dwell on the fact that every social encounter is now beset with awkwardness, underpinned by the unvoiced question: to hug or not to hug. These things I will not remember by next year.

  There will be the rare day of warmth and sunshine and that is what I will remember. I’ll remember the hugs, without the awkwardness. And there will always be food to help us curate our memories.

  Quite how we arrived in summer I’m not sure, but that we can meet again, laugh and share food together is something to remember and that we no longer have to do it all outside is definitely worth celebrating.

  

  I even caught myself putting out some dips to share the other day – a post-pandemic foodie milestone if ever there was. It’s time to embrace all things seasonal, light and fresh.

  Elevating the everyday with a squeeze of citrus, a sprinkle of fresh herbs is a simple recipe for summer days; and you absolutely must go in search of local strawberries, needing nothing more than a sprinkle of sugar and a drizzle of double cream to conjure up childhood memories of endless sunny days (because, of course, it never rained).

  Whether you’re eating alone or eating with friends, summer flavours are short-lived and something to be cherished.

  Grilled peach and buffalo mozzarella salad is a gorgeously simple dish, literally bursting with freshness. The quick heat applied to halved peaches, lightly brushed with olive oil and placed under the grill or on the griddle, seems to intensify the sweetness which pairs so beautifully with creamy moreish mozzarella, or ultra-creamy room-temperature burrata.

  

  Add some rocket for a hint of pepperiness, some prosciutto for saltiness, a scattering of crushed pistachio and finish the concoction with a simple dressing made from a quick shaking of olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest and sea salt. This is a dish made for a Sicilian terrace, with the glint of the Mediterranean in the distance, but for now the glimmer of sunshine between Scottish showers will do just as well.

  Another summer favourite of mine is risotto, packed with fresh peas, bright green broad beans and British asparagus, finished with a generous stir of mascarpone and lashings of parmesan and lemon zest.

  Comforting enough for the rainiest of summer days, but also light enough to be eaten outside in the sunshine with a glass of something white and cold in hand, it’s the ideal summer safe-bet. All risottos should begin with simmering hot stock (you’ll need about 900ml to serve four people), I prefer chicken for a richer flavor but vegetable will work just as well.

  Begin by sautéing a finely-diced shallot and two garlic cloves in 25g butter and a splash of olive oil on a medium heat, in a large pan, then stir in 250g arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter until the grains start to look a little translucent around the edges.

  Then pour in a glass of white wine and stir until it bubbles, before gradually adding the hot stock, one ladle at a time. Wait until each ladleful is almost absorbed before adding the next one, stirring gently all the time.

  

  Meanwhile, place a few handfuls of frozen peas, podded broad beans (by this I mean be sure to pop them out of their tough, drab outer skins to reveal the cheery, verdant beans inside) and a few spears of asparagus (halve the tips and slice the stalks into bright green discs) into a pan of boiling water for one to two minutes then drain.

  When the risotto has almost absorbed all the liquid and the rice is al dente, take it off the heat and stir in the vegetables and a generous spoonful of mascarpone. Then grate in plenty of parmesan and the zest of one lemon, before finishing with black pepper. Serve straightaway and it should ooze onto the plate… risotto doesn’t keep.

  Kitchen Life: Rediscovering the joys of cooking outdoors

  Kitchen Life: Forget meditation – a warm scone is the secret to inner peace