Another birthday in what I sometimes think of as the years of reprieve. Lay in bed this morning thinking how much happier I am now than I was a decade ago.
Hugs and kisses, calls from friends here and from a lovely friend in the UK who also sent me a copy of Richard Morais’ The Hundred-Foot Journey, a novel that is really just an excuse to write all about food. Perfect reading at this time of year when the asparagus, artichokes, mange touts and tiny broad beans are in season. My neighbour Thinus (not his real name) has painted a watercolour of a pink hybrid tea rose and framed it for me. My housemate is going to grill lamb cutlets for supper. If the wind dies down I shall go out and plant basil, purple opal basil and Thai holy basil and another lush green leafy basil that has the most intoxicating (did I say that?) spicy fragrance. In summer you cannot have too much basil.
Another neighbour came by to talk to me about recipes for tarragon chicken. I can talk about tarragon chicken for hours, just as I can sit messing with dug earth and basil seedlings for hours. In my 20s I had no idea of the woman I would become and imagined I would spend my mature years playing Colette’s courtesan Léa in Chéri and seducing unsuitable oversexed young men who would then steal my pearls and break my heart. Bereft, bewitched, bothered and bewildered, a madwoman with withered breasts and frizzled grey hair like a shock of Medusa snakes, I would then write erotic fiction and find myself banned and ostracised by all even though some would call me a genius and I would live alone in my bare attic room smoking hashish and toying with absinthe.
No basil leaves or roast chicken for that poor woman.
Tarragon chicken. Years and years ago I had a friend I shall call Kalliope (an assumed name) who married a wealthy proctologist about 40 years older than her. She shrugged when we spoke of love and admitted privately that she had married for money. When I had dinner with them, she would talk about George Clooney’s indecently cleft chin and the proctologist would talk about the gorier moments of colonic-rectal surgery.
As a marriage it should not have worked, pragmatic to the point of mercenary. But Kalliope turned out to be an excellent cook and within a few years she was fat, luscious and contented, and he too became rotund and more secure in the relationship. I’m sure there is a great deal more to this story, but married couples guard their secrets. Kalliope would make what she called Poulet a l’Estragon Extraordinaire while I sat in the kitchen and learned from her. She simplified the recipe from Elizabeth David and smeared the plump organic chicken all over with softened butter and fresh chopped tarragon. Then she put a fistful of butter and tarragon into the cavity and roasted the chicken in a medium oven for 45 minutes, turning it over halfway through. She didn’t flame the chicken with brandy or add cream to the gravy. She just tossed a green salad with a Dijon vinaigrette and set out crusty sourdough bread.
It tasted extraordinary, so good that I would lie awake wishing she would leave the proctologist and run away with me. Roast chicken with tarragon is erotic heaven.