This is A Winter’s Tale, and our escape day – from domestic blindness – not ours – from domestic chores – ours – and a chance for another belated birthday lunch (I said before that I spun it out!).
Off we drove to the winery, all flossied up with our little morale-boosters, pearls and rings and scarves and high-heeled boots naturally. We thought we’d missed the turn down a long, winding, muddy, country road, so I did a difficult u-turn and drove back to the main road. We searched for another turning, but finally admitted defeat and turned back to the first muddy road. Three minutes away said the signpost, so I took the second drive, since the first had barred gates. Half a mile from the road, the narrow track ended at a farm gate. Not the winery. I did a three point turn, but alas, the green grass hid a deep muddy ditch.
After grinding deep into the mud, I stripped off my coat, dragged some cardboard and a rug for good measure out of the boot, and tried to spread them in the mud behind the wheels. I’ll push, said my 75 year old Friend. Nothing worked. This felt like a midwinter’s nightmare. Neither of us had a cell phone, and or could work one anyway. So I tottered down the muddy lane in my high-heeled black leather boots, but there was no tractor, car or person in the vista stretching to a far horizon of olive trees and grape vines, green hills and a few cattle. Finally, I saw a distant car turn into a drive, and called in a ridiculously faint voice, “excuse me,” which cut no ice across the distance. Finally puffing up to the house, I caught the woman as she carried her shopping inside. She wasn’t interested in the slings and arrows of our outrageous misfortune, but said when she’d got her frozen stuff into the deep freeze, she’d let me use her phone.
Ringing the winery, I blackmailed the maitre de shamelessly, saying unless they were able to send a tractor to rescue us, we wouldn’t be turning up for lunch. After a long interval while she searched for someone with a tractor, the chef (who else?) arrived in his four wheel drive. Nice young man, very over-weight, with jeans about fifteen sizes too small, and his builder’s crack positively worrying as he wrestled with a piece of cord between his car and mine. After watching him try fruitlessly to tie a knot that would hold (he was after all, a chef, not a mechanic) I turned away for the sake of my blood pressure, and comforted myself that there was always the AA. As I turned I caught Friend’s eye, the other side of the car, and we both hastily stifled our giggles. After a few more minutes of the increasingly catastrophic builder’s crack and knots that kept unravelling, we were both nearly hysterical with suppressed laughter.
Finally the chef instructed me to sit in the car and put it in neutral. Naturally this didn’t work. Again, my thoughts winged to the AA. Then another car arrived. The woman gardener from the winery. She had the thing sussed in no time. Wearing boots and workman-like trou, she strode into the breach and through the mud, told me to put the car in reverse and rev, while the chef backed his car. The gardener stood in front and lifted the front bumper, mud flew everywhere, and suddenly I was free.
After this comedy of errors, our chef dashed off back to the winery, some miles away, to get back to cooking for the waiting guests, while we followed the gardener in good time, and were escorted into the dining room with much courtesy. Phew.
Lunch was obviously going to be some time, by the time the chef had washed his hands and steadied his nerves, so we comforted our shattered ones with a nice glass of rose. By the time lunch arrived we needed another one, which was one more than our usual allowance. The pudding course was not as we like it, so we had affogato, Friend with cointreau, me with Bailey’s. By now, our liquor quota was about two and a half weeks overdrawn, but our spirits were soothed and mellow.
When we went to pay, the restaurant now empty, we explained to the maitre de who had answered our SOS that neither of our sick and elderly husbands was in a fit state to come to our rescue. This was like a red rag to a bull. “My father is such a burden to my mum, I think he should be pushed over the cliff,” she said fiercely. “He recovered from an operation with all the drugs and now sits around talking of nothing but himself. “ She didn’t seem to realise that she was talking about to be or not to be.
We got ourselves away after I told her that when it was my time, and age had withered me, I intended to grow a garden full of hemlock, and make myself a nice strong cup of hemlock tea, going quietly to sleep like Socrates. She thought this was a good idea. And in spite of all the excitement and the excess, the merry wives from the winery still managed to drive home in a straight line.
So after much ado about nothing, all’s well that ends well, with apologies to Shakespeare.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
A storm has raged, wind and rain lashing the windows – more comfort food is needed. Today it’s thick lentil soup. All you need is two cups of red lentils, two onions, three or four large carrots and some chicken stock or bouillon cubes. It’s a nourishing protein- rich meal in itself. And cheap too.
I simply fry the onions gently in a little butter till soft, grate the carrots into them and fry for a minute. Add the lentils, which have been well washed, and four cups of stock or hot water and bouillon cubes to taste. Simmer gently till soft, and then whizz to a smooth consistency in the liquidiser. In the old days we would push it through a sieve to get this lovely smooth consistency. Taste for salt. You can add more or less stock, depending how thick you want it.
You can flossie it up with a bacon bone, or a few chopped rashers of bacon, you can add garlic, bay leaves and a dash of curry powder. But I love the sweet simplicity of this recipe with the sweetness of the carrots off-setting the earthiness of the lentils. Serve with salt and pepper, and lots of chopped parsley on top, and with a hot roll and butter you have a filling meal. If you have plenty left over, you’ll find it thickens up over-night, and you might want to dilute it slightly with more stock.
Food for Thought: Truth has as many skins as an onion. Old French Proverb