Yesterday I got stuck in a bookshop.
I don’t mean stuck there in the normal way of bookshops- the too many books, too little money, too little time way- or locked in, like the Waterstones man.
I mean stuck there because I was scared and I couldn’t work out how to overcome it.
I was scared of the dark outside. I stood in the corner of the bookshop in a full body stutter: one step forward, two steps back, trying to will myself home. Come on, I thought, come on, come on. And I didn’t. This happens more often than you might think, this freezing, like a temporary paralysis. The best way I can think of to explain it is this: could you step off a cliff? Of course you could, but you wouldn’t. That’s what it feels like. What kind of idiot would step off a cliff? What kind of idiot would step out into the dark street? My flesh is willing; the spirit is weak.
I know how silly this is. Believe me, I know. I knew at the time, standing in the corner of my favourite (?) bookshop, trying to persuade my reluctant legs to just fucking move, crying into the clean unbroken spines of Literary Criticism: this is bloody silly, girl.
It doesn’t happen often, this stuckness, or at least, not this way round: sometimes I can’t leave home for days, but it’s rare I can’t get home. But yesterday afternoon, I was scared, and I was stuck. It was ridiculous, laughable: sometimes anxiety is. Often it is. My fears are myriad, and they are stupid. They aren’t real. They are as real as monsters under the bed or thieves in the hall cupboard: they are stupid. I know that. But if knowing could cure an anxiety disorder, I wouldn’t have one. If knowing that my fears were irrational made the slightest bit of difference to my anxiety disorder, I’d be dandy. I know.
I have walked that street a hundred times; this time, I just couldn’t. Just couldn’t.
And then I did. Forty minutes of pacing the bookshop, looking at the sky outside, and then I did it: opened the door, and went out into the street, counting the steps in Roman numerals to distract myself from the gathering sky. And on the way home, I thought of this: something as far from November evenings and rush-hour tubes and panic as could be. Bright. Clear. Uncomplicated. Warm and spicy and sweet. Pink salmon, barely seared. Red chorizo. Black rice, white coconut. Ginger, chilli, pepper, honey. Soy. And when I got home I made it, and it was good.
I don’t have any explanations for why sometimes I get stuck. I don’t have a way to fix it, either, except to cook through it, to press through it, to trust that I will, somehow, get through it, and it will, somehow, be over. I don’t know if this post even makes sense to anybody to whom this hasn’t happened; perhaps it doesn’t. But the supper was nice, all the same. A small victory. And we should celebrate small victories, I think.
Stuck In A Bookstore Salmon And Sticky Coconut and Chorizo Black Rice
Dinner in 35 minutes.
Serves two, if those two both forgot breakfast and lunch.
200 ml chicken stock (I made mine up with the stock pots)
400 ml light coconut milk
2 tsp. chilli flakes
Thumb-nut of ginger
1 tbsp. Thai fish sauce
200g Thai black rice
About 50g chorizo
4 garlic cloves
4 slimmish fillets of salmon
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp soy (I used one dark, one light, because we were on the verge of running out of both)
2 tbsp shaoxing rice wine (sub in sherry, if you can’t find shaoxing, but Sainsbury’s stock it in their specialist section.)
The first thing to do is marinate the salmon; take your little bottles, and measure out your sauces like an alchemist. Two tablespoons of that one, two of that one, the juice of a whole lemon (a lime would be better, but I didn’t have one).Two teaspoons of ordinary honey. Stir. Plunk in your salmon fillets, and spoon over to cover.
Leave your salmon; take up your knife, and your chopping board. Peel your chorizo, and dice it into little pieces. Don’t worry too much. Dice your garlic, too. Focus your mind entirely on the chopping, slicing, dicing. You are doing a splendid job. It’s a small job, yes, but you’re doing it. Well done you.
Take a largish heavy-bottomed frying pan, and set your chorizo and garlic to fry off over a medium flame. You might need a little splash of oil, here. There’s something absolutely Spanish about the smell of frying skinned chorizo: I like it. Makes me feel holidayish. Let your garlic golden, your chorizo release paprika-scented fat, while you make up your “stock”.
Take your can of coconut milk and tip it into a jug. I have to get Tall Man to do this part, because I have never mastered the can opener. Blame my dyspraxic hands, or something. Add your chicken stock (as ever, I did this by tipping boiling water into the jug with the coconut milk, and whisking in a stock pot. I know. I’m lazy. It works.); a good shake of chilli flakes. Grate your nut of ginger, and stir that in, too. A tablespoon of Thai fish sauce. Stir. Inhale the steam. Feel the chilli in it catch at the back of your throat, and the ginger warming you all the way down.
Stir your chorizo-garlic, and tip your rice in to the dryish frying pan. Stir. That dark, nutty smell of black rice toasting is something rather special. It makes bad things better, I think. White basmati smells clean; red Carmargue smells woody; arborio has a different smell again, though I can’t define it. I love them all, but today this Thai black rice is my favourite. Yesterday the bookshop I was stuck in was my favourite, and the scent of black rice was my favourite. I am fickle, but content. Stir the rice again. Stir again. Turn the heat down right low, and tip in half your stock. Cover.
Go away for fifteen minutes. I watched some House (now on Netflix!!), but you could also do the washing up. If that’s how you roll.
You will have to use your judgment here for a moment: if the rice has absorbed all or most of the liquid, put more in. If not, don’t. Stir, stir, stir. Cover again.
Return to House.
It is not lupus.
It is never lupus.
Ten minutes. Taste your rice again. It should stick briefly in your mouth- nutty-sweet, a little sharp, a little sour. Dense and unexpected, dark and thick and strangely wholesome: like a risotto in a black hole.
Spoon your rice out into a heavy serving bowl; cover with tin-foil to keep the heat in. (If you have two frying pans, you could skip this step and also have dinner slightly earlier: I’m pretty sure that anyone with two frying pans is the Queen by default.)
Give your frying pan a desultory scrub, to get the last grains of sticky rice out. A biggish flame. A hot pan. A very small splash of a mild oil, if your one (1) frying pan isn’t non-stick. Mine was once non-stick, and is no longer. C’est la vie des poêles, or something.
Pick up your salmon, and fry them skin down for two minutes. Turn them, and fry for one minute. You want the salmon to be just barely, barely seared, so that the fat pinkish flakes inside fall apart when you stick a fork in: crisp outside, soft yielding interior.
Spoon the rice onto two plates; flick the heat off, and very carefully lift the salmon fillets onto the bed of rice, silvery skin up. It’s an incredibly beautiful supper: minimalist, muted, clean. Nothing complicated, or difficult. A small glorious minute. Tiny triumph.
(You could serve this with Tenderstem broccoli sauteéd with more chilli flakes, if you felt like it. I did feel like it, but I had already been out to the shops once and it had been a long day. So I ate a tomato for a starter, and called it quits.)