Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Perfect Lunch

“Cookbooks Lie,” said dear old dad.

This one, of many, I soon learned was absolutely true. They present cooking as science, but are mere approximations of the amounts to be used, of the sequence one must follow, of the exact methods to be used. They lie.

The thing is, I can’t resist them. I have hundreds of the damn things. I love looking over recipes, reading the seductive list of ingredients, my passions enflamed by the sumptuousness of the preparations, the lurid pictures, erotic in their rampant displays and steamy layouts.

And so I try them out. But… they… lie… It takes me sometimes years of trial and error to get the result to the point I want. I do though, I persevere. Now I’ve been cooking since the tender age of 8. Of the things I am grateful to my parents for it was giving me the chore of cooking a family meal a week.

I’m extremely lucky that I enjoy it. I love cooking, love trying and failing, then trying again until I get it right. My dear wife, LL, is a very good cook. Thing is, to her it is a chore. She can’t cook a meal without getting stressed out and bothered. So I do most of the meals at home. My family must put up with my experiments until I get it down right.

Take baking for example. For my 40th birthday (it pains me to admit it wasn’t yesterday) LL got me a bread maker. I’d been mumbling for years about learning how to make bread, so she thought it would help me start out.

It did, but cookbooks lie! Oh, the breadmaker worked well enough, I mastered it and simple white and brown loafs without much trouble, but that wasn’t what I wanted. So I went and got more cookbooks on baking. I read, and I tried, and I experimented and tested. Its taken years, but I’ve learned my tricks, and don’t really need the lying texts any more.

Which brings me to the perfect lunch. At weekends we have the same layout, but in infinite variations. First, I bake a load of bread. It can be one of many, today it was a red wine a sage loaf, tomorrow an Italian sourdough with Thyme. Then a large bowl of fresh veg. We’re food nazi’s in our house, so its organic only, preferably local, and in the summer preferably grown ourselves. Lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, celery, peppers, it can be an infinitely variable mix. Then a cheese board. There must be at least 3, and can be as many as six on the board. Mostly English, but we don’t turn away a good French or Italian, and the kids are overly fond of the Dutch.

There must be a meat, a good Ham, or sausage or pate. Sometimes a houmous or taramasalta (used to make my own until my local fishmonger moved away (the traitor) and I can’t get good smoked cod roe any more). In winter we might warm up a soup, in summer it might be cold. There might be a glass of wine if we’re in the mood, but often its just water.

Thing is, it makes a very satisfying lunch. We sit down, en familie, and nibble away until repleat.


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