It was a grim day. Grey and damp weatherwise; blue and bleak emotionwise; stark and empty clientwise – and nothing on the desk but a pile of fiddly admin stuff to do when a heap of invoices to post is both a fantasy and a pressing need. Then the doorbell rang.
Clomp, clomp, clomp. Clang. Kerchunk. I opened the door, gloomily, expecting an irritating question from an irritating questioner.
He had the beamiest smile I’ve ever seen. “Hello! I’ve come to read the meter!” he said, smiling with such broad genuineness I could only grin back. If he could bear his endless round of doorbell-ringing, greeting grumpiness (or getting nowhere at empty houses), bending into dark, dank and dusty recesses to do such a routine job, then … regardless, of how I felt, I couldn’t but share his enthusiasm.
Even the warning, that he should duck or he’d bang his head on the pipes in the outdoor meter cupboard, didn’t dampen his mood. “No worries!” he enthused. “I’m used to ducking!” Crunch, crunch, crunch of gravel “All done! Thank you! Cheerio!” and off he went, as if every house, every cupboard, every meter were a delightful discovery.
It’s easy to spiral into yourself when working alone, immersing yourself into the small detail of something that needs a big picture view, telling yourself it’s important not trivial; worthwhile not valueless; self-esteem enhancing not energy-sapping.
Finding something that brings you back into the wide world is important. Doing it is even more crucial. You can’t rely on the random arrival of a meter-reader to lift you out of your stupor. It’s down to you and you alone to maintain your get up and go so you get up and get on.
Making my day with garden-fresh eggs and asparagus
1 bundle Norfolk asparagus
3 quail’s eggs, fresh from the coop
1 medium hen’s egg yolk, laid that morning
¼ pint light olive oil
a pinch of Colman’s mustard powder
Himalayan salt and celery salt
- Make the mayonnaise. In a mixing bowl and using a wooden spoon, blend the yolk of the hen’s egg with the mustard powder and a grind of black pepper. Slowly drip in the olive oil, stirring briskly all the time. When the mixture has thickened and seems reluctant to emulsify any more oil, add a little lemon juice, then keep adding the olive oil. As it thickens, add more lemon juice to taste or hot water from a recently boiled kettle. Add pepper and salt, to taste. Cover the bowl with cling film (or faff about covering the mayonnaise carefully with a dampened piece of greaseproof paper, excluding all air, as we were taught at the Cordon Bleu cookery school). Chill. (If the mayonnaise separates while you are mixing in the oil, either add a little hot water and stir it in vigorously or slowly add the split mayo, a dollop at a time, to a second egg yolk.)
- Prepare the asparagus. Bend each stem until it breaks to remove the woody ends. Boil gently for three or four minutes until just tender (it depends on their thickness and freshness, they should have a little bite). Drain and immerse immediately in cold water so they stop cooking and retain their colour.
- Prepare the quail’s eggs. Boil the eggs gently for two minutes then remove and put them in cold water immediately to stop them cooking. Peel them gingerly (I found the shell very hard to remove and the eggs almost split – they need very gentle handling).
- Lay the asparagus on a plate. Tuck in the halved eggs. Add a dollop of mayonnaise or, if you prefer it runnier, pour it over the asparagus. Dip the asparagus into it mouthful by mouthful. Dust the egg halves with a light sprinkle of celery salt and add just a hint of mayo to each one, aiming not to drown but to enhance their subtle flavour.
Yesterday, a friend, Alex, arrived bringing just-laid duck, quail and hen’s eggs from her garden – a treat that made my day that day. Having read of another blogger’s taste test of eggs (she noticed no discernible differences) I thought I’d conduct my own. What struck me most was the translucence of the white of the duck’s egg. It almost shimmered with paleness; I found it rather haunting. The yolk was a soft, light yellow, strikingly so compared with the strong golden ochre of the yolk of the hen’s egg. On the taste front, the hen’s egg was by far the eggiest – a rich and full bodied shiraz of a yolk compared with the subtlety (a light burgundy?) of the duck egg (which I enjoyed most). I wished I could preserve the quail’s eggs as shattering their pretty, speckled shells seemed like vandalism – and proved to be so, given how hard it was to pick off the shell without gouging out nailsful of the white. Full praise for kitchens who have to do this “to perfection” (irritating phrase, spoken irritatingly throughout MasterChef); no wonder they cost so much in restaurants.
Thank you, Alex, for my morning fresh day.