on the tack sharp and the cream

A Culinary Proposal

a thursday, the fourteenth of may, 2020


I wake early, which is rare. Breakfast is half a baguette from the freezer - I toast it on the defrost setting, but it quickly catches and sends plumes of smoke about the room. This, and small round tomatoes, cooked oiled with a dry green chilli in cast iron. After a spell, an egg in too, then ramson leaves from the freezer. a tart tin as a lid on top ‘till the yolk’s a touch glazed and the leaves have given themselves over. This tipped, slid, then scraped out onto the waiting toast. I sit and eat amid the smell of burning. 

I’ve been making faces in the mirror in the mornings - like I’m Jim Carey. 

As I do, and after, I think about how much it is the focus of Lion’s breath in yoga - that baring of the mouth, the eyes - and how important the flexing of those muscles is in a full practice. Your face is your body, too. As much as I split the physical and the cerebral in my day, disuniting the brow and what is behind it from my two legs and two arms, it is there. It is muscle. 

Because of this ongoing lack of the face-to-face, my own face is unflexed. The range of emotions produced by the concreteness of other people do not show on it. I make expressions when I’m on the phone, I suppose, looking at myself in the little movable rectangle, responding to words, laughing. But mainly in the today, in the now, when I look in the bathroom mirror it is with a flat face. There is an inverse correlation: between time eye to my own eye in the mirror, and the good days. 

Yes - the face needs flexing. And for this I go back to those foods that do that. Those tack-tongue-against-roof characters. 

The radish, yes. 

Whole and without preparation on a visit to the fridge 

for observation, and just thrown in. 

I welcome the sharp flame; allow it to be an affront.  

Throughout the day, I eat pairs of miso cookies, shaped dough got from the tub in the freezer then baked and dipped in double cream. I’ve been adapting a recipe, and the miso is not enough for it to be as savoury as I’d like. Alongside, peppermint tea - to be virtuous.

At one point later, a bowl of croutons - rough torn from the end of a stale pat of a failed loaf - fried in vegetable oil, dressed with salt only. Sat in a sunspot on the floor with the bowl in hand, half way through it, I decide it needs something else, but don’t do anything about it. 

Another of the face flexers is the eating of liquorice in its forms various  - the powder used unreservedly - I’ve no shaker, so tipped off a knife (readily allowing it to be too much). This marl of grey-brown powder is something of a revelation- on pancakes, on buttered toast, in yogurt, atop milky frothed oatly in small clear glasses.  

On toast especially, this as seasoning is a distinct shock on something so quotidian. It makes me eat it more slowly, focused on the butter’s action, its darkening and enveloping of the dry powder. It’s malt tang, but not at all creamy.

And the pellets too - the various sweets which slip through the net because they aren’t saccharine, the sugar hardly breaking the surface of the aniseed. So - little pucks, the size of your fingernail and round, popped out of a tin with a man in a wig on it. As an anti-food, to stave off the urge for the sweet and the buttery when I don’t have the inclination to cook.  A few of these, then, hours later, after the croutons.

I realise all at once that it is getting dark and it is past nine and I am hungry  - and then too that I let lunchtime pass me by, despite waking up abnormally early and so eating a breakfast at the generally established breakfast-time. 

So, an anchovy and potato sort of gratin for dinner with oregano - I bought too much double cream and am trying to use it up. The onion softens in the saucepan. I cut two redskinned (Albert Bartlett) potatoes into sticks. Ignoring a lot of its suggestions, I use a recipe quickly found titled, enigmatically, ‘Jansonn’s Temptation,’ from an article: a list of ways to use up double cream.

I open a tin of anchovies - my first time. I use some energy to peel back the metal from metal - the curl it makes is comic, graphic as anything. It’s not the potted shrimp of a jar, oil set and white in the fridge door, that I have become accustomed to. 

The slightly fried potato and onion goes into an earthenware dish, layered, laced with the anchovies, then the thinned cream and breadcrumbs. Halfway through cooking you add more cream. Despite this, I still have cream left. I google if it’s ok to freeze. 

It is all happening all at once - the cooking of the main event but then all these side-things. It is usually this way - this room has become outside of time. 

The answer is ‘probably’. I take out two ice-cube trays and upturn them on the counter, flexing them to release. I spoon cream from the carton into a small jug, then pour it into the ice cube tray and the freezer. The intermediary of the little jug is not necessary, but makes for a gentle gesture - the pouring line of thick cream from cold ceramic to cold waiting plastic. 

I slide the ice to the counter edge and off it, into a glass. It is this full glass of ice that moves me to make a drink, and, too, that last week I let myself buy fizzy water. I remember I took the bottles out from the bag one by one and lined them up in a row against the skirting board. From here they wait their turn to go in to the fridge: to empty over a day or two, to be replaced, to go back to the line on the floor, and to be reused for something else in another part of the flat.

We pan back over to the cold iced glass then. Blackcurrant cordial  - made a few weeks ago using the last of last years’ crop from Harlesden (frozen whole), diluted with fizzy water, then a pinch of salt. This foams up the fizz, acknowledging its own adding. The drink is tacky-tart - has the effect of the radishes. The liquid, fizzing, fills your mouth. 

I check on the gratin - take the round, smaller but deeper dish out, put it on something on the kitchen table, and find a fork. I seek out from the depths a single piece of potato, and doubt a second if it’s not mackerel - they’ve converged to the same singsong slip consistency, both hung with cream. I eat a couple of very hot pieces, and on the third decide it’s not cooked through. I put it back in, shut the oven door, and make another drink - the ice from the first has corroded, not melted uniformly but in a crust that must be the work of the salt - I guess. It is hot in here now, in this dark room, artificially lit at the centre, so the drink is welcome.

I pull the shallow dish from the oven. Its shape is what is called a fish dish I think. It is glazed navy on the outside and dark cream on the inside. The liquid has pulled back - it has reduced in the oven. I track the line along the edge, where the cream of the stoneware meets the cream of the food, and think of cheese. The great creamy cheeses, when fully ripe, and how their craters recede from the rind in this same way. I think, too, of the tide. How, like scum on its nearest edge, the cream has darkened to a caramel. I observe its gradation from high to low tide. 

The cream, as I planned, is spent. 

The cream has spent itself in the heat, and the anchovies have given over too, to the cream. They’ve shaken each other’s hands enough times that the each has forgotten who started it. 

The food is the antithesis of the drink. They cut each other. The tack purple, supplement to the rich.