There are all sorts of things that never make it onto this blog, for one reason or another. Sometimes because the time for that recipe passes: Did It Herself Harissa, my post about my accident, remains trapped in limbo. Ditto Three Lemons For The Healing Tart, Bad New Government Lasagne, Don’t Want To Talk About It Apricot Creams, Mahler Monday Marzipan Gingers and Hopeless Case Cakes.
The last six weeks fall into the latter, I expect. I don’t even know what I’d call it, or what I’d write about. So We’re Really Estranged Then Loads Of Toast? [Redacted But Horrifying] Takeaway After Takeaway? Ongoing Crisis Shortbread, To Be Consumed By The Fistful? Someone Stop Me Eating All These Coco Pops From The Packet Coco Pops?
Or, simply, I Am Not Coping With This Sourdough.
The challah stage of grief became, desperately, a sourdough stage, and the sourdough stage turned into the worst idea I’d ever had.
The whole house carried a strong odour of rotting flour, and in between sitting with my head in my hands I tried to pretend I knew what was going on with these mad routines of feeding and halving and stirring and straining. I had picked the most complicated recipe, of course, and it didn’t work at all, and I ended up sobbing into it, and that was when I thought I ought to give it all up, and go for a swim.
On a whim I dug my swimming costume out of the back of a drawer, and I went swimming, and I could not have told you why. It was the right thing to do. There’s something intensely soothing about the smell of chlorine and clean towels and soap, and more about the way things sound underwater, and more: about being by default in the Slow Lane.
All my life I’ve been desperate for the Fast Lane in everything, and beaten myself up when I haven’t made it- which, of course, I haven’t. I was the sort of child who took not having a Blue Peter Badge as a personal affront; the sort of teenager who cried when I got an A, not an A*; the sort of adult who can be reduced to tears by a misbehaving sourdough. I carry with me a permanent belief that I could be doing better, I should be doing better; being better and being more. That there is always, in some indefinable way, something more I should have been doing. That there ain’t no points for second place. That unless I’m better, best, there isn’t any point.
And in the swimming pool, I could not be the best. Couldn’t even try. The Fast Lane was so far out of my league I couldn’t even dream of it. In the Fast Lane men in tiny shorts whizzed up and down, and women in tight rubber hats tumble-turned with ease. And there I was: wading, very slowly, but persistently, into the Slow Lane, and I was swimming, really swimming, in front of people, in my cossie with my hair all scraped up, and I was absolutely proud of myself. I hadn’t done anything much. I wasn’t best. I wasn’t even nearly best. I was very slow even for the Slow Lane, and I was doing nothing complicated, and I was genuinely proud of myself, for the first time in a long time. I was doing it! I was out, and I was coping, and I was in the Slow Lane, and I was (to my total surprise) enjoying it.
And I came home (with my hair all chloriney and knotted up) and I chucked the sourdough starter straight into the outside bin, and instead I made this: salty, smoky, a little sweet, a little rich, a little sharp. And quick, and so absurdly easy! So absurdly easy I felt a little guilty for writing this recipe up like this, but I am trying to leave all my guilt and stress and grief in the lockers and write and swim without it. Just for a while. So here we are: an aubergine dip. We ate it spread on flatbreads with some spring onion, and it was beautiful. Just right for early damp summer.
Slow Lane Aubergine Dip
Takes 15 minutes, tops. Serves 2 with bread.
Half a big, or a single small lemon
One tbsp fish sauce
One tbsp oil
Two tbsp coconut milk
One tbsp chilli flakes
Two garlic cloves
One piece of ginger, about the size of the first two joints of your little finger.
Gas hob; blender; chopping board; sharp little knife; grater.
Light the gas hob. Medium flame. Balance the aubergine on it. I know! Exactly like that. Straight on it.
It will smell a little bit, smoky-ish, fire-y, and you will have to watch it and turn it- you’re watching for the skin to blacken and crackle and split in places. It will not take long: I think mine took about six minutes. It was rather beautiful, but too hot to take a picture. When it’s done- and honestly, you will know, because it will be soft and tender and smell like cooked aubergine- whisk it off the flame balanced between a pair of forks (or tongs if you have them), and onto a chopping board. Chop off the stem, and all the green part, and peel away the skin. If you winkle the point of a knife under, it should come away quite easily. Work fast, because this dip is best warm.
Fling the aubergine, whole, into the blender. Splash in the tablespoon of oil (I used olive, because it was to hand), and the fish sauce (you could substitute soy, I think, for vegetarians). Whizz it up, and while it’s whizzing find the grater, and grate in your peeled thumb of garlic, and two peeled garlic cloves. Grating garlic is a Diana Henry trick, I think, and it’s absolutely marvellous. Grate them straight in to the aubergine mixture, which should now be broken down to a sort of familiar consistency. This isn’t really mutabbal, and it’s definitely not baba ghanoush: it’s its own thing. Lemongrass wouldn’t be out of place here, if you had some: it’s a little bit Vietnamese, maybe? A little bit Thai? Something like that, but it’s certainly not Lebanese or Arabic.
Stop the blender (STOP THE BLENDER, FOR GOD’S SAKE, she says, sternly waving her stumpy finger) and taste. It should taste smoky and strong, and it will want salt, and something sharp. Add salt, a really good pinch, and the juice of half a lemon. Blitz. Pause. Taste. salty, smoky, a little sweet, a little rich, a little sharp. A tablespoon of coconut milk- mine was the end of a can, and was mostly water, and it was perfect. Blitz. Another tablespoon of coconut milk. Blitz. A tablespoon of chilli flakes, if you like it hot. Some do, I’ve heard. Blitz. Taste.
And that’s it. Smoky and sweet and salty and sour and all the things that you want it to be. We ate it on flatbreads, with spring onion and cucumber sliced thin, and I didn’t take a picture because we ate it too fast, because thats’s the sort of thing you can do in the slow lane, and it didn’t matter at all.