My husband has gone to Canada to make a television programme for the W Network and is away for most of two months. He is back for two weeks in the middle but then away for three, so we’re all saying to ourselves that he’s away for 2 months because that’s pretty much what it amounts to.
He went away once before, for a week, when I was pregnant with Sam and it was entirely fine, although I had been dreading it. I missed him, of course, but in fact quite enjoyed myself. I ate dinner with Kitty at 5pm every night and then after she had gone to bed I gorged on bad telly and very small, watered-down glasses of wine and rang people I hadn’t spoken to for years and had long gossips.
This time it is not as amusing. The house is empty, spooky and creaky. I feel strangely exposed and vulnerable here on my own – I do not look forward to the long, silent evenings at all. There is nothing I want to watch on TV and I can’t think of anything to gossip about. I feel like some sort of doomed Lord of the Rings character; stricken, frozen, pale by a small stream in some lonely dark forest waiting, waiting, waiting for my husband to return.
I keep the house tidier than I normally do even when he is here, I have grimly adopted his chores, devotionally taking out the compost, doing the recycling, putting shoes away, switching off lights, asking no-one in particular why the milk is out of the fridge, closing doors, locking windows. I have already cleaned and edited the fridge twice, even though my husband is the only one who cares what state it is in. We are suspended, set in aspic. Waiting.
Things were not helped by Kitty almost immediately coming down with a nasty virus that gave her a temperature close on 104F and a weird blotchy rash, which wouldn’t have bothered me especially, but nursing her through it while hefting super-clingy, whine-machine Samuel “Grabby” Coren and his massive fat arse around at the same time drove me fair out of my wits.
Anyway Kitty recovered remarkably quickly, (whatever sort of virus can survive a temperature of 104F, it wasn’t this one), and I have had time to reflect how often I kid myself that I am the one in charge of this house, of this family. My husband is in fact the one who keeps things together, sorting out boring stuff like leaks, infestations, rings on the doorbell after 9pm, stolen cars and emergency dashes to the hospital with floppy infants.
The only thing I seem to be responsible for in this house, it turns out, is making sure everyone has clean pyjamas and pants. (And sometimes even that falls to piss.)
And dinner, I suppose I do most of the dinners. But without my husband here I am absolutely adrift when it comes to evening meals. I know from experience living on my own that you really do need to do something for dinner because otherwise you end up drinking too much and eating a lot of salty snacks, which is fine one or two evenings a month, but as a daily dinner plan it won’t do. But when I start to think, at about 3pm, what I am going to have for dinner that night, my heart really plummets in a way it never does when I think about what Giles and I might have. I can just think what would Giles like?
And I can look forward to Giles asking me “What’s for dinner?” so I can say “IT’S A SURPRISE” and then present him with something he either really loves, a boring old trusty tummy-pleaser, or something new and crazy. Sometimes the surprise is that HE is going out to get a takeaway. And occasionally, if I am feeling sadistic, I make something he doesn’t like but that he has to eat anyway because I made him his freaking dinner.
But me, what would I like? God, I don’t know. A pizza? A dozen Krispy Kremes? I don’t know.
I have been ordering a lot of takeaway sushi and picking up Franco-Viet treats from Cardigan Club Cafe at the top of my road. And anyone who wants to see me, I immediately invite them round for dinner. I have decided that I am going to give each faithful pilgrim to my lonely look-out post a roast chicken (I can survive on the leftovers for the rest of the week) with a healthful salad that can be knocked up in 3 minutes – something where the heavy lifting is mostly in the shopping.
What makes a salad delicious? To my mind it’s crunch, moreishness, zing and mild spice. And an element of… you know… ballast. We eat a lot of leaf-based salads in this house because, we just do. But a leafy salad with a vinegary dressing, it’s so Seventies! Plus eating a large leafy salad can be so aesthetically awkward, levering spiky fronds into the gob – so reminiscent of a cat eating a large spider.
To come across as a really electric, fascinating and modern cook, one also only needs to use a lot of fresh herbs, (such a bore to get hold of), and maybe scatter some pomegranate seeds here and there and people whisper to each other at parties “She does this amazing salad”. But in fact I don’t have a failsafe wow salad, (which is in fact just an assembly job). The thing I do when I want to knock people’s socks off is Jamie Oliver’s Winter Coleslaw which is terrific, but a right fucking pain in the bum to put together I tell you.
Moro is a restaurant to which I have never been, can you believe it? But I am assured that it is the sort of place that one gets a showstopper salad. Sam and Sam Clark have obligingly written many books containing recipes for these creations and I am grateful to Anna Bateson for drawing my attention to, and personally recommending, this one.
Chickpea, tomato and cucumber salad, from the first Moro book
For 2 as an accompaniment
This is not the exact recipe, this is how I did it:
1 400g can organic chick peas, de-canned and rinsed
small bunch mint
small bunch coriander
1 tbsp vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
juice 1/2 lemon
1/2 garlic clove, grated or crushed
1/2 tsp grated onion
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
4 medium tomatoes – the best you can find – de-seeded and chopped
1 small cucumber or half a large one, chopped – and peeled if you like
1 Chop the tomatoes and cucumber up reasonably small, aim to get the pieces absolutely no bigger than 2cm x 2cm and if you can get them smaller than that, great!
2 Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, chilli flakes, vinegar, salt, garlic and grated onion
3 Put the tomatoes, cucumber, chick peas and herbs on a plate and scatter with the chopped herbs and then pour over the dressing and serve