Saturday, 18 February 2012

Puree and simple

I never thought I'd ever say this again, but I have just loved winter. The last time I said that it was years ago in the time of skiing, when we discovered the new world of wonder, speed and, it has to be said, fear.

The last ski trip I did was with a junior school.  And let me say right now: whatever you do, do not go skiing with a bunch of little boys. Even though I hadn't skied for a while, I started the week full of confidence. But despite the breathtaking setting of the Italian Dolomites, things didn't go my way. First, even if you elect to start again at beginner's level, the boys are fearless.  They zoom past with a manic will, and you can never keep up.  They also use you, an adult, as their brakes.  Aah, I'm going too fast, I'll just crash into that grown up there....  And down you go, while they hoot, and slide away again. They think nothing of skiing straight over your skis if you're queuing, and again, bang! over you go.  And if you've finally got a decent shuss down a narrow little run, one of them will be lying sprawled in your path.  A choice:  kill the little beggar, or avoid! avoid! bang! 

We also chose a year of El Nino, a weather system that melts all the snow, so as well as sharing the slopes with over-excited mini human torpedos, the slush was deep and terrifying.  And so it was, on my third miserable afternoon, that I dragged myself, defeated, bruised, silently sobbing with shame, into the noisy restaurant, only to find all the expert skiing mums sitting around two bottles of wine. Darling, we can't ski in this, they all cried. I wasn't alone, and a certain camaraderie was formed.

One of our group, a dad, was a film-maker, and a few weeks later, after the video had done the rounds at school, it was my turn. It was the usual hotch potch, most of which I had forgotten. I smiled at some of the happy memories.  Then the final scene of the movie. The camera was set up to capture the last run of every single one of the party for the finale. Skier after skier whizzed past, jumps, twists, shrieks, and the cavalier waving of hands. And then a long, long pause.  Finally the last of our number came into view.  Shaky, bent double, her skis in a giant snowplough edging excruciatingly slowly over the crest. Yes. It was me. A broken woman. That was the last time I skied.

But now I love winter again.  True, it has been very mild, so running through the woods behind our house has been something of a crystal-clear joy.  But also walking on the Anglesey coastal path in what really was quite chilly weather.  We arrived in Wales just missing the snow that brought the M40 to a standstill.  It was sleeting as we left the motorway, and despite all the warnings, hundreds of our fellow motorists were caught for seven hours in the storm.   

In the rain, though, Wales is quite mournful.  The whole place is built out of local grey stone, and truth is, it all looks quite doom-laded and miserable.  A teensy bit like the Welsh themselves, really. In fact when a very cheery waitress served us full of smiles, surely she came from Liverpool. We told her she didn't seem Welsh. Everyone says that, she laughed, as if accepting a compliment.   

The rain stopped, the stars came out, it all turned into something quite spiritual. The mists, the birds, the subtle colours; ochre, pink or marroon.  The fulmars, with their white necks, nesting early on the cliffs in contented pairs. With the sunshine breaking through to illuminate emerald fields, the grim stone houses take on a charming air. And one night, a barn owl hooted straight into my face from the trees outside our open window.

Anglesey was the island home of the ancient Druids, who were annihilated by the Romans in 60AD for their spiritual beliefs.  Dotted with holy wells and bronze age forts, it is a strange mix of the sombre and the magical.

And of course, what they are really proud of in Wales, their lamb.  We stocked up of course, but regret not buying the whole shop. Excellent meat. And it goes very well with my latest rave, puree.

Influenced by the cheffy programmes I am addicted to, I started pureeing my veggies, and it really adds something different.  Puree a cauliflower, and the sweetness is intoxicating. It seems to bring out the very essence of the vegetable. It's the only way to eat celeriac, and works wonders with turnips, root artichokes or swede. Here, in case you need it, is the recipe:

Steam cauliflower till tender.  Place with butter, milk, salt and pepper in the blender.  Whizz till smooth, then reheat gently.  They all go something like that.