For Feanor

And your collection of food in books. 
He opened it and then poured equal quantities of brandy and champagne into three large glasses.
The kitchen ... was stone-flagged and at one end a positive battery of charcoal fires glowed and winked under the bubbling pots.  The walls were covered with a great variety of copper pots, kettles, platters, coffee pots, huge serving dishes, and soup tureens.  They all glowed with a pinky-red gleam in the fire-light, glinting and winking like tiger beetles.
The first course that Demetrios-Mustapha set before us was a fine, clear soup, sequined with tiny golden bubbles of fat, with finger-nail size croutons floating like crisp little rafts on an amber sea ... Demetrios-Mustapha filled our glasses with more of the pale, musky wine and placed before us a platter of minute baby fish, each one fried a golden brown.  Slices of yellow green lemons in a large dish and a brimming sauce-boat of some exotic sace unknown to me accompanied it.
Demetrios-Mustapha removed our empty plates, poured a red wine out for us, dark as the heart of a dragon, and then placed before us a dish in which lay snipe, the heads twisted round so that their long beaks could skewer themselves and their empty eye-sockets look at us accusingly.  They were plump and brown with cooking, each having its own little square of toast.  They were surrounded by thin wafers of fried potatoes like drifts of autumn leaves, pale greeny-white candles of asparagus and small peas.
"You do like wild boar, I hope?"
I said that it was one of my favourite meats, which was true, but could I have a very small helping, please?
"But of course you shall," she said, leaning over the great brown, gravy-glistening haunch and starting to cut thick, pink slabs of it.  She placed three of these on a plate - obviously under the impression that this was, by anyone's standard, a small portion - and then proceeded to surround them with accoutrements.  There were piles of the lovely little golden mushrooms, chanterelles, with their delicate, almost winy flavour; tiny marrows stuffed with sour cream and capers; potatoes baked in their skins neatly split and anointed with butter; carrots, red as a frosty winter sun and great tree trunks of white leeks, poached in cream.
During the pause, the Countess smoked on a long thin cheroot and ate salted peanuts ... she called for the next course, and Demetrios-Mustapha produced two mercifully small omeletes, crisp brown on the outside and liquid and succulent on the inside, stuffed with tiny pink shrimps.
The meringues were large and white and brittle as coral and stuffed to overflowing with cream.
"Mustapha, bring the boy his owl and bring me some coffee and some of those nice Turkish delights up in the lounge."
I dismounted, went behind an olive tree and was deliciously and flamboyantly sick.
- Gerald Durrell (Birds, Beast and Relatives)

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I find it astonishing and distressing just how many avid readers have never even heard of Durrell. I wish I could make his books - particularly the Corfu trilogy - mandatory reading for schoolkids at least.

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I've always wanted a stone-flagged kitchen, with great big fires and hanging pots. I should move to rural Europe, methinks.


Of cricket and madness

The full article here.
"There was a moment as he struck it that you thought he'd messed it up; but he hadn't, and then all you could do was bang on tables and throw water on yourself."

 - Hassan Cheema (Cricinfo blogs)


Planting roots

Increasingly, there are days when I daydream of planting fruit trees.

Over the years, I've had the fortune of having access to private gardens and courtyards that have had a plethora of fruit trees.  There are the friends and family who've lived on land where fruit trees existed (some of which they planted themselves). In England, the houses I lived in and visited all had fruit trees, even if just one lone apple tree, not to mention fruit bushes everywhere.

One of my favourite memories is of discovering a love apple tree in Lonavla, and plonking myself in the branches one whole morning, stuffing myself sick with dozens of a fruit which normally cost a pretty penny back in Bombay.  I'd like to think I love that memory because it's a mixture of the large-village atmosphere of Lonavla as it was back then, the knowledge that this wonderfully warm summer morning held no threats of schoolwork, and the fact that I was on holiday away from the city.  But I know it's mainly because I remember the delightfulness of crunching into dozens of sweet fruit, which had not been touched up or fake-ripened and were not bland.

I have a couple of fruit saplings now, but they're in pots.  I tend to them, enjoying the few fruits they've already started giving, and hope I will be able to take them along in the next move.  I could leave them behind to some little park here, but the gardeners don't seem to be too fussed and keep talking about quotas, which makes me angrier at the concept of planned gardens.  And perhaps, even if they were enthused, I mightn't leave them behind.

Because I want to watch these trees grow.  I want to see them age year by year, defying the winds and the rain and the sun and the horrible things in the air to keep getting a little wider, a little more hard-skinned.  I want them to not be the nomads we're all increasingly becoming, to settle down in one spot and create a little bastion of oxygen and shade and coolness and colour and aroma and taste.  I want them to be the little permanence I can return to, a little reminder of time and memory that will (hopefully) outlast me.

I want to plant apples and love apples, and pears and guavas, and peaches and nectarines, and plums and damsons and greengages, and oranges and sweet limes, and papayas, and mulberries and raspberries and gooseberries, and figs, and chikoo, and mangoes and mangoes and oh-so-many-mangoes.  I want to wander the countryside to plant them wherever there's space and suitable conditions, and wherever somebody wants them.  Call me Johnny Fruitseed.

And who knows, maybe some day, some kid might hoick themselves up into one of them branches and spend a lazy summer's day curiously watching to see just how far their tummy will swell and just how messy their clothes will get if they keep eating.

And who knows, maybe some day, I will too.


A Manual of Life: Why Not To Have Children

Reason #319

You realise that, unlike your (sensible) father, you would actively support and facilitate their watched-too-many-kungfu-films* plans to become Shaolin monks.

* If you haven't already planted such ideas in their tiny brains  *wicked chuckle*.