Feeding a little life, with dried tubers

Distracting myself from August’s cruelty, and finding some sun

All I wanted was an apple, when I woke the other night. I craved its crunch and could taste its juice; had Eve held it in front of me — cruel trick — I would have snatched and devoured it. But not a supermarket apple.

Apples are the fruit of the other equinox. Outside, the alliums, and a row of spuds I left undug, and daffodils, are waking up. Their friends in the cupboard are spent, begging to be chucked, or buried. I ate all of the pumpkins, and the sunny summer preserves. I wish I had a good lemon tree.

The cupboard, in short, is bare.

One winter, I toured the best delis, and sampled all that they had. Green olives so newly pickled, they still tasted of their oil, not salt. Valrhona chocolate. Spanish red peppers, and sweet wine vinegar. Marvellous smelly cheeses. Over-rated truffles. Time passed, expensively. I holed up, another year, at what was, then, my favourite local, living on sweetly-extracted espresso, proper homemade gingernuts, and the house special lasagne.

Tim, the espresso-maker, has gone. My wallet is bare like the cupboard; my credit card is closed. This was the year I would stop being so bloody lazy, and reacquaint myself with my kitchen. I would brave August and answer its question: what to eat, when there’s nothing to eat?

This is totally self-inflicted. I could shop at the supermarket and never notice the seasons’ passing. That would be a worse misery: better hungry, and alive.

I wasn’t hungry, at all, in the end. New potatoes saved me, from the winterless north — or Pukekohe, prosaically.

I learned the secrets of a good ‘tartiflette’: soften shallots in butter. Bury them, under baked and sliced cold potatoes, chopped free-farmed ham, taleggio cheese. Drown the whole lot in cream. Bake again, until delicious.

I braised oxtails in boutique porter. The porter made rich gravy, with a phantom beery kick; the sticky meat slipped off its bones.

I made a winterish salad: jerusalem farty-artichokes and new spuds, tossed in bacon dripping and roasted, dressed with the bacon, tatsoi greens, and a chivey viniagrette.

There were plans (and there’s still time), for apricot and sherry pot-roasted chicken, with gratin.

I supped coffee at Customs Brew Bar. Bite-sized peanut-butter choc-chunk biscuits were the perfect accompaniment. I am a good, er … ten? … years too old to blend into Customs’ lunchtime student crowd. Part of this is less of an age problem than one of funkiness. But they are kind to me anyway, and the coffee-tasting is an adventure.

I found I could copy the biscuits; in fact (sorry, Customs) I can make them better. I ground and brewed my own breakfast coffee, hot, bittersweet and black, and paired it with cold greek yoghurt.

This morning, I wore gumboots and tramped around the garden. It had been raining hard. The sun was a watery smile.

The alliums and spuds have new friends, today, all the soft green things: baby lettuces, peas, mint, parsley, chives. And — hardly-hoped for miracle — one snub-nosed asparagus.

It looked like a food garden again. Spring’s here. I survived.