The spring and chilli. (A recipe)
I have the Daft Punk single on repeat, like everyone else it seems, as it’s the sound of summer and it makes the blood rush a little faster. I’m all for that. I made a proper meal the other day too, as I like to do about once a quarter, which meant chopping up some chillies and getting the stinging chilli spirits all over my hands, inside my nose, and then later, even though I’d washed my hands twice, somewhere else where you really don’t want to get chilli. But the food - a spicy salmon soup which I believe stems from some newspaper weekend supplement from my press cutting days, is a winner, and Imran agrees with me. It goes like this:
Fry up an inch of ginger, two garlic cloves and two chillies. Then add two pints of stock, three tablespoons fish sauce, one tablespoon soy sauce, the juice of one lime and a teaspoon of sugar. Optional: add a split lemon grass stalk and fish it out at the end. Let it simmer for ten minutes. Then add four spring onions, some pepper and courgette, along with 250 grams of salmon, all chunky. Five minutes later it will be ready to serve up in steaming hot bowls that will make your nose run.
And then you can play ‘Get Lucky’ again and feel happy, because that song will do that to you. Like Pharrell sings: “We’ve come too far to give up who we are / So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars.” Chilli high five. I mean, was there ever a song more deserving of a rooptop to make out on? I think not.
Hip to the counter, one foot on top of the other, that’s how to stand in the kitchen. Although the floor isn’t quite as cold as it was a couple of weeks ago, over by the cooker, far from the heater. A shiny, round pancake is sizzling, but the first one’s already eaten, always done standing up. Pancakes feel like austerity food because they are so basic, hearty and available without a run to the shops. At least that’s how it sits with me, it was a childhood staple as my parents mortgage meant meat was a twice-a-week-only affair. I’ve made other choices that mean I get to go on holiday, and it also means I’m making these pancakes in a rented home. That’s okay with me.
Mix: 300 g flour / ½ ts salt / 500 ml milk / 2 eggs / 2 tbs oil / Makes about five.
This rambling Victorian terrace house in the Stoke Newington - Dalston borderland is my tenth home in London in almost nine years. It’s massive with heaps of stairs, warm in the bedrooms and drafty in the kitchen. It’s dark in the garden now, inaccessible from the street and full of leaves, birds and stars. As quiet as it is, there’s a rustle back there though, this constant hum. Every now again I think it’s a river, as I grew up by a whitewater which sounded just like it. But I know it’s the sound of the city, probably the traffic but maybe the rush of some kind of blood, charging around feeding us all. My pancakes stack up and I’m thinking for the millionth time how much I love this city. It’s one of my favourite people.
So I baked something, and I believe the done thing is to blog about it. Zakia came into the kitchen as I was peeling it off the baking paper and deemed it cooked, despite its initial appearance. I told her about my idea for an electrical blanket-style freelance coat to cope through this relentless cold (two weeks; an eternity), and only after saying it out loud did I realise it didn’t make any sense. But I’d not spoken to anyone all day so I was feeling a bit loopy, hence the bread. I’m not putting up a photo of it as it looks a bit … Birkenstock-y. Everything I make tends to come out looking slightly too wholesome, in that dumpy way, especially baked goods which always looks a bit slumped. I thought it tastes good though, and Zakia agreed; she asked if there’s jam in it. There is not.
I’ve adjusted it a little but original recipe credit goes to My New Roots, which I discovered via Emily Burt – both better cooks than me, judging from their photos of the bread. It’s also vegan, an asset to any cake.
Mix: 1/3 cup coconut milk, 6 tbs oil, 6 tbs maple syrup, 1 ts vanilla extract, 5 mashed ripe bananas, medium-sized. Then add: 2 cups flour (any kind), 2 ts baking powder, ½ ts salt, 1 cup chopped nuts and seeds (walnuts are nice). Line a bread-shaped baking tin and pour in the mixture. Bake at 180 °C for 30 minutes if your oven is snazzy, or 60 minutes if it’s a dinosaur like mine.
The loaf is now sitting under a clean dishtowel. Zakia asked why I’d done that, and I realised I had no idea other than it’s what my mother does. When in doubt or distress I ask myself: What Would Mum Do (WWMD). It’s a philosophy that sees me safely through life whenever I come up short. Namaste.
I’ve been making muffins - batch after batch after batch. I’ve added this new recipe to the book where I once gathered all the family recipes in preparation for adult life, but I fear young Jess might have been surprised to learn just how little adult life would be about domestica. Or should I say, surprised and pleased.
1.5 cup plain flour, 1 cup sugar, 0.3 cup cocoa, 1 ts baking powder, 0.5 ts salt. Mix this up, then add 1 cup coconut milk, 0.5 cup oil, 2 tbs cider vinegar, 2 ts vanilla extract, 1 ts instant coffee. Makes about 10. Bake for around 20 minutes on 175 C.
For a kick in the teeth swap the vanilla for almond extract. There’s icing too but it seems like more trouble than it’s worth (or mix up some coconut oil and icing sugar). Recipe is by Chef Chloe, who smiles disturbingly often but does a mean cake.