15 January 2012

I can't complain

Good day, Dear Reader –

I trust January is being nice and gentle with you. And while I’m at it, I’d like to ask: What do you generally think of January? I personally find the year’s first month a reclusive egg. I own it is no fun to arrive on the spot intent to raise a few toasts to a new year and throw in a few tipsy jokes here and there only to find out that everybody has sobered up after the visit of the festive and jocund December and promised to go teetotal for the whole month. Thus far having found nobody around the bar, January makes a beeline for the kitchen…and, dash it, what is there to be seen? Lettuce and broccoli have taken up the diner’s plate. It’s quiet. Void of major festivities of its own, January does only so much as to grow cold and pass by in the wake of the past holidays.

My point is: January for me is just that month that comes when Christmas holidays are over. A rather daunting attitude, I hear you say. And I agree. I’m having a hard time letting go of good times. It is why our Christmas tree is still here, still sparkling, still perfuming our home. I’ve been like this since the daunt of me, begging my mother to hold on to the tree just one more day until my father would have to intervene with a shirty speech about how much the dry needles litter the living room’s floor, and how it is on his way to his chest of books, and how silly it is, holy spruce, to have not yet got rid of the Christmas tree by the end of January and that we’d better do it immediately. Upset, I’d strip the dear tree of the ornaments, taking down tinsel after tinsel, one shimmering string after another, knowing perfectly well that of course it was the time to throw it out, of course it was silly to keep it for so long. But in my view, for long as there was the Christmas tree, there was no emptiness. I am my own governor now, and so far the tree (this time mostly decorated with peppermint candy canes) is staying. Anthony says he doesn’t mind. And I’m glad. I’m filling the void.

Where am I going with this? Ah yes, I’ve been free from work the week that’s just worn off. I was going to make a few day trips around Holland, to get engaged in a shopping spree, to visit a few museums I haven’t yet been to. In one broad brush stroke, my plan was to be out and about, filling my January with excitement – and I couldn’t wait! Needless to say, I quite surprised myself that when my free week finally arrived, all I did, and wanted to do, was stay in. My initial standing was to plunge in the dark underwater of self-loathing: What a downer! What a pooper scooper! Humbug! Most likely I would. But I got distracted. Anthony got swept off by a beastly case of poisoning, the type that blows one flat out, and makes one think, That’s it. He was in bad, bad pain. We were both scared. My main tasks at the time were to make sure there is enough Gatorade in the fridge, it being the sole thing he could keep down, and to call an ambulance if the situation would spiral out of control, which, luckily, it didn’t.

I’m happy to say Anthony is OK now. The circumstances so transpired that we both stayed in. And actually, except his sickness, it was nice. We played Monopoly day in, day out; watched a lot of Pat & Mat and In Living Color (such a great show!). I did a lot of reading. And when Anthony finally felt hungry again, we ate chickpeas. I can’t complain about my week off. I don’t think so. And as long as our Christmas tree is still around, I will not complain about January.

Hot Chickpea Salad
Simple French Food by Richard Olney

Composed of chickpeas, olive oil, vinegar and fresh herbs, this is one of the unfussiest salads I’ve ever made. All you’ve got to do is to plan slightly ahead – at least two hours for soaking the chickpeas and as much for cooking them -- and water and heat will take care of the rest.

I have a soft spot for chickpeas, but that, however, didn’t equip me with the knowledge that they are very sensitive to hard waters. To neutralize the effect, Richard Olney would soak his chickpeas in sifted wood ashes and rain water, to which a good pinch of bicarbonate of soda would be a fine substitute, he writes.

Rain waters and wood ashes or not, this is what you do. Rinse the chickpeas well after soaking, chuck in a pot, cover amply with water and throw in a carrot and/or celery stalk along with one onion studded with a few cloves and a sprig of thyme. Bring slowly to a boil, cover partially and cook into submission over a lazy simmer, salting the lot generously only towards the end of cooking time. Drain. Serve hot, accompanied by a fragrant olive oil – “The immediate explosion of perfume when good olive oil is added to any hot vegetable is always exciting” -- vinegar, salt and pepper and some finely-chopped fresh parsley. No measurements are required for this type of dish, your own taste being the essential pointer.