Before I met M, I had little exposure to Central and Eastern European or even Jewish cooking - surprisingly, since I had always loved Mediterrean and Middle Eastern food, and since my father, who had spent time in Germany as a young man, used to cook sauerkraut for me as a child. But M's grandfather's family was Jewish and from the Ukraine region and his Jewish grandmother's side was Polish, and M has an acute love of Jewish and Central/Eastern European food.
Sour cherries, smoked fish, wild mushrooms, sweet quince, figs, pomegranates, poppy seeds, pearl barley, lentils, beetroot, gherkins, walnuts, coriander seeds, caraway, cumin; beef goulash, chicken Kiev, braised lamb, stuffed dolmeh, moreish pierogi... The ingredients can all be found on our doorstep on Green Lanes in Harringay. Shops specialising in Iranian, Greek, Turkish and Polish food abound here. We're very lucky.
When we returned home, M made Rowe's classic beef Stoganoff and served it with peas and grilled balls of mashed potatoes. He seared a pound of beef fillet strips in a little butter for a couple of minutes, then added a diced medium onion, salt and pepper and fried for a few more minutes before setting aside. Then he added more butter to the heavy Le Creuset saucepan and sauted 400g diced brown mushrooms for 5 minutes. He returned the beef and onion mixture to the pan, sprinkled it with a tablespoon of cornflower and a teaspoon of English mustard and stirred well. He continued to stir whilst he added 200ml of beef stock (made with 2 Oxo beef cubes). He popped the lid on and let it simmer. After 20 minutes, he stirred in 125ml of sour cream and let the mixture cook on a low heat for another 10 minutes. Before serving, he sprinkled in 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh parsley.
It's not been all eating chez Planethalder. I've been feasting on books too. I finished the brilliant Chinese novel The Uninvited and have since been engrossed in Hanif Kureishi's portrayal of a man's infidelity and the breakdown of his marriage.
"It is the saddest night," Kureishi's protagonist begins in Intimacy, "For I am leaving and not coming back. Tomorrow morning, when the woman I have lived with for six years has gone to work on her bicycle, and our children have been taken to the park with their ball, I will pack some things into a suitcase, slip out of my house hoping that no one will see me, and take the tube to Victor's place."Clear eyed and unsentimental stuff.
It's Sunday now, and the sun is streaming in through the kitchen window. Our windows are steamed up - a sure sign it is chilly outside. We've eaten toasted bagels with cream cheese and raspberry jam and drunk several mugs of coffee. M is now at the gym, but I don't feel guilty because I went to the gym all of last week at work. So I've moved the laptop onto the kitchen table and am writing and surfing in between flicking through magazines and Nigel Slater's cooking diary.
M will call me when he's on his way home and I will meet him at our local Polish grocery store to pick up pickled herrings with red and green peppercorns, beetroot caviar, gherkins in brine and black rye bread for our lunch. We'll also pick up a chicken from Baldwin's as we plan on cooking roast chicken for dinner tonight, stuffed with chunky bulgur wheat mixed with lemon zest, raisins, pine nuts and parsley. But before dinner we will go to Hampstead and re-visit our wedding venue to check it out once more to get a better idea on the lighting and decorations we'll need for next February and where the musicians will perform.
Though we are out and about, and though we are both busy at work and planning our wedding, we're generally visiting less museums, art galleries and theatres than usual. Winter is a time for hibernating, for cosying up inside in the warmth, for turning in early and sleeping in late. Winter is for cooking and eating, for curling up on the sofa and chatting, for reading snuggled up inside a duvet, for watching trashy American dramas or Asian horror films on DVD, for shopping and treating ourselves, for dreaming and reflecting and appreciating what we have right now rather than what we don't have. I haven't made new year resolutions for years. I never resolve to do new things until the first shoots of Spring appear around March. Only then am I ready for the new. Until then, and a February wedding notwithstanding, these are the days for standing still and wintering.