We had our first one hundred-percent Shere-ite dinner party on Saturday. Eight people were invited, and all of them said yes. They even seemed pleased to be asked. My first friend here, the thin dog-walker, arrived, looking elegant in wide black trousers and a full-sleeved wrap around blouse, accompanied by my soon-to-be painting pal, the water color artist and her mate. They all walked up from their homes on Lower Street. We live on Upper Street. The main street in the village is called Middle Street. They keep things simple here. At least it’s easy to find your way around.
Our helpful neighbors came all the way from next door, and the doyenne of the village, who lives up the road also walked, but did ask for a ride back up the hill after dinner.She is in her 80’s. None of them are honest-to-God born and bred Shere-ites, though. The doyenne has only lived here for 40 years, and all the rest for shorter periods. As in our southern French village, you are only an authentic villager if you have ancestors in the cemetery.
I wonder what that could possibly be like. My longest consecutive term in one house turned out to be in France, where I was always on the tips of my toes ready to jump in any direction. Yet, for 14 years I stayed. To die in the house you were born in both attracts and repels me. Surely you would at least feel you belonged, watching others come and go, knowing how the community works, who is new and who isn’t. Knowing the landscape you look upon is the same one your parents saw. I wonder if it engenders a kind of tolerance, a feeling of permanence, as you know you are pretty much stuck with what there is. Villages are not necessarily known for tolerance, though. Time will tell.
My painter friend said she liked Tajine, and as that is one of my special dishes I made it on Saturday. I love to put it together, grinding the garlic and coriander, cumin and saffron together, sprinkling it over the meat, followed by lots of chopped onions and preserved lemons. Then it just cooks – for a long time. No additional liquid is necessary, the onions provide enough. The last hour of cooking I add dried fruit – I like prunes with lamb, and maybe black olives. It’s yummy served with raisin and almond rice, and zucchini with strips of red pepper.
We lit the candles, tucked everyone around our new mango-wood dining room table, and started the meal with a Moroccan aubergine dish something like "Baba Ganoush", with lots of garlic, tomatoes, and more black olives. We ended with two desserts. I don’t know what came over me, making two desserts. I just couldn’t stop. I guess it’s the long period of cooking deprivation I’ve had to observe since I ruptured my Achilles tendon.
The orange-ginger-honey cake was the usual hit, refreshing after the tajine, and the French chocolate tart – well, can chocolate anything ever fail? Especially drenched in heavy Jersey cream or a dollop of clotted cream from Devon —
Oh, and two home-made breads accompanied the meal – but more about those later.
- BREATHING OUT – AUTUMN
- Westward Bound