31 July 2016

The right thing

I'm going to fucking need the ambulance – I want to pick up the phone and shout into the receiver. I'm having a crushing, no – squeezing, no – stabbing, no – burning sensation somewhere there, an inch deep under the ribcage, on the left of the sternum. I take a breath and it gets worse, a sharp pain shoots up my neck and into my shoulders, so I try not to breathe that much. As I wipe my cheeks dry there is a black residue on my fingertips, the mascara. I can't see, but I'm sure I must look like shit right now. Please fucking help me, I want to say.

That's stupid, so stupid to have wound up like this. I was going to unlock my bike, but I need a moment. I pull my bag off the shoulder, put it down on the pavement and place myself next to it. I pick my phone from the bottom of the bag and look at the black screen like it's a mirror. I do look like shit: the eyelids thicker than usual, especially the lower ones, puffy cheeks under the eyes, the mascara leaks. I search my bag for a napkin—the keys, wallet, lipstick, yes, a bruised ripe peach, a crumpled post-it with a grocery list (three exclamation marks next to 'cherries'), but there is no damn napkin today. I swipe the phone screen and dial Anthony. I tell him I'm sitting on the pavement, tell him about the chest pains. Take a deep breath, he says—but it feels there is a sharp fish bone stuck in my throat, I say back.
You are changing jobs, he says, with a very calm voice, and it's a lot of emotions, coping, accepting, and releasing, but you did the right thing. But did I? I ask.  

It's been a long while, Anya, seven whole years. Of course you did, of course. You needed to leave, to go and learn a new thing, you know it.

I baked and shaped my last breads there today, you know, I say and pull out of my bag an oval loaf of sourdough bread -- a batard -- I took from work. It smells sour and creamy, the time-old and visceral smell of good bread, and that's so very reassuring at the moment. The smell of these breads has always reminded me of my grandmother's well-used wooden salt-box (designed as Baba Yaga, the forest-dwelling deformed witch from Slavic folklore; this one was with a mortar, that's where the salt went). It had often been a centerpiece on my grandmother's dining table. I've got a baguette for you as well, your all-time favorite, I say with a stress on 'your'.

That's nice, thank you. But do something nice for yourself too today.

Something nice. I've been meaning to make a cherry clafoutis for a while now, maybe I should do that, I only need to pick up fresh cherries for it, yes, I'll do that. I'll get a kilo of fresh fat near-black staining cherries for a clafoutis. Only I won't make it. I'll eat the full kilo, berry by berry. Because fresh cherries are great like that. They make me very happy.

OK, I guess I'll get going, I say, wipe my cheeks dry again and get off the phone. I peel myself off the pavement, bump into a tourist with a camera a few steps away from my bike. Pardon me. Deep in my skull a headache is unfolding, the dull type. I take a deeper breath, still no better, it only pushes more salt out of my eyes. I put my sunglasses on, so no one sees the tears, unlock the bike to ride off.
Quick Flapjack Cherry Granola  
Adapted from Stirring Slowly, by Georgina Hayden
Serves 4

Since I don't trust myself around fresh cherries, I don't bother anymore to try and cook with them, at least for this summer. Dried cherries, however, are no problem, I can manage that. 

Why are you making a pancake granola? Anthony raised his eyebrows on a recent morning. Before I also didn't know that there is such a thing as a British flapjack and that it's not a thick pancake. The British understand flapjack as a chewy oatmeal cookie bar, and that's what the recipe in question refers to – good, chewy, toasty, crispy oats.

I tinkered a little bit with the recipe and came up with a formula (not that much different from the original) I'm particularly fond of. No cinnamon, but lemon zest; no vanilla extract but fresh vanilla bean seeds; runny honey with a neutral taste -- acacia honey works best here. The result is a pure, mild, well-rounded oatmeal flavour, a little savory, not undone by sweet dried fruit, with a few fresh and singing flavours (lemon zest and cherries) in between. 
1 Tablespoon flavourless oil
¼ teaspoon fresh vanilla bean seeds (from about half a vanilla bean)
125 grams rolled oats
grated zest of a small lemon (about ½ teaspoon)
50 grams dried cherries
50 grams dried figs
2 Tablespoons mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, poppy, sunflower) 
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt, such as fleur de sel
3 Tablespoon light neutral runny honey, such as acacia honey

Combine the oil, vanilla seends and lemon zest together in a medium-size non-stick pan with a good splash of water (4-5 Tablespoons) and place it on a medium heat. Scatter in the oats and stir it all together. Put the matching lid on and leave the oats to cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. While the oats are cooking, roughly chop the dried cherries and cut the figs into similar-size pieces.

When the oats have softened, remove the lid and add the seeds to the pan. Turn the heat up a little and toasts the oats and seeds for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the salt and add the chopped dried fruit. Toss everything together and drizzle over the honey. Mix well and cook for 2-3 minutes until you have a golden chewy granola.

Leave in the pan for a few minutes to cool, then spoon over fresh berries and yogurt or leave to cool completely, and store in an airtight container until needed. It will surely keep well for up to 3 days, this much I can tell, maybe even longer, but it never lasts with me that long.


For a much brighter, sharper taste, use 1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses to 2 Tablespoons runny honey instead of lemon zest. I must say I can't quite decide which version I like better. Depends on the day, I guess.