Monday, July 28, 2014


“I can’t even…” is a recent hot catchphrase, used by young people in their late teens and into their twenties, to allude to an impossible-to-talk-about kind of event or feeling. It’s a very useful tool, I find, especially as I plod away at my book project, nibbling at the edges, or sweating out recipe testing, or worrying about time and space, history and context. I’m often so enmeshed, “I can’t even…”

Meantime out in the immediate world we’re having a cool and well-watered summer. The garden is happy, drinking it up and greening. The exceptions are still the eggplants, which won’t set fruit without some assurance of warmth, an assurance only intermittent and thus not credible. The cucumbers and greens are thriving and continue to be sweet and appetising, at all hours and for every occasion.

I’m pleased because recipe testing for this Persian World book includes dishes that are traditionally accompanied by a plate of fresh herbs, such an easy task in summer time. The zip and zing of fresh tarragon and mint, basil and green onion is hard to beat. The mouth comes alive and everything tastes better, life itself in fact.

The other day a friend came by and I put a small plate of fresh arugula and tarragon on so that we could nibble at the greens as we chatted. They were so energising they made me feel as if my brain had added sparkle and energy.

What other ways are there of bringing ourselves to greater liveliness? Yes, yes, a good party, dancing, etc. I agree. But on a daily basis?

A number of close friends have urged me to try Vipassana meditation. They have gone to ten-day sessions, and each time return from them energised and radiant. I see the evidence, but just cannot imagine sitting still for ten days. Life feels too short! My attitude is short-sighted perhaps, but I’m stuck there.

This spring and summer I’ve stumbled onto a wonderfully accessible alternative, and that is drawing. I took a course in May-June, three hours every Wednesday afternoon for five weeks, and then a five days-in-a-row course just last week, both from Kelley Aitken, and both taught in the galleries at the Art Gallery of Ontario. A good drawing teacher, either in person or even in a book, teaches you to see differently. And once that happens, and you engage with looking and with transmitting what you see onto the page, well then you’re away!

It’s not about “I’m so terrible” or “See look how good I am at drawing!”. Instead it’s about concentrated focus on a non-verbal task. It’s like practising music, I suppose, or any other form of focusses attentiveness. I found I was losing myself in the process, in the best sense of “losing myself”.

And I found myself feeling relaxed and light as air (as wll as pleasurably tired) at the end of each session.

“Welcome to your meditation practice!” wrote a Vipassana-practicing friend on my FB page after I posted about the joys of drawing.

At the times when, as happens intermittently, I get overwhelmed by the scale of this current book project and all that I need to pull together, I can now opt out into a mind-cleansing place, and return refreshed, with better vision and insight (hopefully!).

And so, like those life-giving sprigs of fresh green intensity, my drawing pad and pencils can - and if I follow through they will - become an energiser, a wonderful option that is indescribably fruitful, in ways “I can’t even….”

I bought some gooseberries at the market last Saturday. Dawn-the-Baker, of Evelyn’s Crackers suggested that I make “spuma” with them. What’s that? I asked. (She also suggested a gooseberry cake recipe in Jane Grigson’s FRUIT cookbook (a real treasure). And so I made both.)

Spuma is a real discovery for me, a chilled/frozen Italian dessert made with intensely fresh fruit syrup and egg-whites beaten to stiff peaks, that are folded together and then frozen.

My proportions were:
- 3 cups gooseberries (no need to top and tail them) cooked to softened with very little water and a scant 1 cup sugar, then pressed through a sieve into a bowl (discard the solids) and allowed to cool to room temperature;
- whites of 4 large eggs whisked (I used my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer) with ¼ cup sugar for less than 3 minutes, or whatever time it takes to get stiff peaks;
- a bowl into which I poured the meringue and then folded and gently stirred in 1 cup of the room-temperature gooseberry “syrup”/sweet liquid (I drank the remaining little bit of gooseberry liquid; what a tonic!);
- a plastic bag to cover the bowl tightly and a freezer to put it in.

After two to three hours you have a chilled cold dessert, delish over cake or fruit or on its own. There’s no dairy, so it feels light as air in your mouth.

AND A NOTE for next time: I found that the mixture had separated a little before it froze: there was more pale meringue on top and more gooseberry at the bottom of the bowl. Next time I will try stirring it gently after twenty minutes, when it’s partly frozen, to make sure it stays well mixed.

ANOTHER NOTE, for other fruit: If you are using raspberries or cherries, or peaches or plums, which are sweeter than gooseberries, try using only 1/2 cup sugar for 3 cups fruit. You can taste the syrup and adjust it of course, so go lightly on the sugar to test what you want. I like spuma on the less-sweet side. I find it more refreshing.

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