The night has a thousand eyes, And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies, With the dying sun.
Francis William Bourdillon
I joined the thousands, perhaps millions of those whose loved ones are hospitalised, forbidden to see them, to be with them, to hold their hands so crucial to the sense of belonging. And before it happened to me, I didn’t understand how agonizingly hollow, how grey the world becomes without them.
Husband John had a stroke on New Years Day, and for weeks I had no idea about his condition, communication was patchy, contradictory and unhelpful. Much much later, I learned that he was making progress, that there was no whiff of death being mentioned, and they were planning that he could eventually come home. And, miracle of miracles, I was allowed to visit him on the ward – this may be because his dementia was telling him that I lived in Sheffield. (And I haven’t, since 1969.)
But through that time of turbulent void that engulfed me was the multitude of messages of support, of thoughts, of prayers coming from around the world. I had no idea before how much our friends cared, and how uplifting it was to my spirit. To be frank, I suddenly realised how important were my own expressions of support to others in similar situations. It has been a startling, beautiful, revelation. And one I’ll never forget.
Yet the light of the bright world dies with the dying sun.
But it doesn’t! The stars are still shining in the darkness and in the daytime! They are there! Never mind that they aren’t visible, they don’t go away. And neither do the bonds of friendship, cherished and nourished over the years, over distances, over love. Wonderful. Thank you.
I was charmed by the email correspondence between Denmark and the state of Washington about last month’s entry (Dreaming the Impossible) about which liquid was best used for braised beef (Danish beer? Jasmine tea? Etc.) Additional feedback included the need for more vegetarian dishes. Another reader suggested ratatouille. This dish is craving to be adapted, so here is my version.
Rummage through your fridge drawers for vegetables you’d like to use up. My recipe filled a 9 inch cast iron frying pan with sides as deep as my thumb. (It served me on its own for three meals.) The more varied the vegetables’ colours, the healthier your dish will be.
Dried porcini mushrooms, crunched into shards and soaked in 1 teacup of water.
Onion red 1 peeled and sliced
Onion white 1 peeled sliced
Garlic cloves 2 peeled and smashed
Carrots 2, (one purple) sliced
Broccoli stem 1 peeled and cubed
Small coloured peppers 2 chopped
Celeriac ¼ peeled and cubed
Courgette (zucchini) ½ cubed
Aubergine (eggplant) ½ cubed
You will also need: olive oil, fennel seeds, dry white wine, pesto, tomato puree, sugar, tinned tomatoes, bay leaves, green pitted olives, tinned beans of your choice, and coriander (cilantro) or parsley to garnish.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until scented. Add onions, and cook covered on low heat until soft. Add garlic, mushrooms and 1 teaspoon fennel seeds. Now add prepared vegetables in the order of those which take the longest cooking time. I started with carrots, celeriac, and broccoli stem. Cook lidded, at a slightly higher heat for 5 – 7 minutes. Now add remaining vegetables, and cook covered for about 15 minutes until softened.
Remove lid. Add ½ teacup of white wine, bring up the heat, and let it cook until you can’t smell the alcohol.
Now add 1 tin chopped tomatoes, and 2 heaped tablespoons pesto sauce, a tablespoon of tomato puree, (paste) 2 teaspoons sugar, a couple of bay leaves, and a handful of sliced green olives. If your tinned beans need an oomph in cooking, add them now. I needed comfort, so I used half a tin of baked beans to heat through at the end of cooking time.
Let the whole casserole chuckle happily, covered, on low heat, or perhaps pop it into a moderate oven for half an hour, until everything is cosy and soft.
Serve on potato or with crusty bread. I made corn sticks to go with it.
Eat on the day it’s made. Next time I will not add purple carrots because they stain some of the lighter-coloured vegetables. It certainly was hearty. I liked it. But would you? Ahhhh, that is the question.
Curious additions which might be fun.
Slice a potato, layer atop your completed stew, brush with oil, sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on top and bake in the oven until potatoes are tender.
Add a fennel bulb to your vegetables.
Serve with grated cheese, yogurt, or a jug of cream.