these are a few of my favourite things (today)

14 07 2010

I have just finished watching yet another cycle of the magnificent BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. M bought me the DVD collection last year and will happily watch it with me. He gets a kick out of the great Lady Catherine de Burgh and Charles Bingley and finds the language and formality of the period as charming as I do.  M is the quintessential polymath and I appreciate that – so very much – about him.  Even Zuzu, who trots in and out of the room through the marathon viewing sessions, has come to know many of the lines…

I am all astonishment.” – (Caroline Bingley to Mr Darcy)

Are you not diverted?“-  (Mr Bennett to Elizabeth)

and, of course, this delicious line –

You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (Mr Darcy to Elizabeth).

Ah,  the beautiful language and enchantment of Jane Austen’s work. A wonderful counter to the brisk pace and witty repartee of my other favourite series ‘ West Wing ‘ which I have to admit, with a small amount of sheepishness, I have watched six times complete – that is 7 seasons, 155 episodes. M and I now pick and choose episodes when we need a fix and we even play a ‘quote-a-long’ game where the winner can recite the most lines verbatim. What?? Is that odd?

Of course, I am perfectly capable of carrying more than one preoccupation at a time.

For a comfort read and between other more lofty novels, I pour through the glorious pages of small town Provence with Peter Mayle.  ” A Year in Provence ” is one of the early ‘foodie novels’ and Mayle’s evocative presentation of the taste, texture, scent and sight of authentic French cooking is not to be missed. I find, however, that there can be a distinct disadvantage to ending the evening with this or any of the books in that trilogy, when my stomach begins to rumble and my mouth waters in anticipation of the perfect heirloom tomato paired with just the right amount of olive oil and balsamic and the freshest basil. I have to say that even for a vegetarian of more than 3 decades, his descriptions of the old Provençal farmers enjoying a hearty Boeuf Bourguignon, can be enticing.

Culinarily (ooh – great word), I am having a small yet passionate dalliance with Bruschetta.  With very humble origins, Bruschetta has become a very popular and extremely varied appetizer with many people having quite particular recipe preferences. In 15th century Italy, however, it was merely an appropriate way to use bread that was going stale as well as to sample the fresh oil from the olive presses.  Toasted and rubbed with garlic, the bread was coated with the olive oil, salt and pepper and eaten immediately. Today, however, Bruschetta is understood to mean the topping on the toasted bread and the recipes cover all tastes and palates. Variations  include toppings of tomatoes, spicy peppers, vegetables, beans, meat, and cheese.  The most common restaurant version includes garlic, basil, fresh tomatoes, onion and mozzarella.

I have, of course, my preference. I had the most delicious Bruschetta appetizer, once,  in San Remo on the Italian Riviera. Since then I have had an unaltered favourite topping. The movie Julie and Julia served to cement my bias with the most intense and tasty Bruschetta-eating scene. I defy anyone to watch it and not find themselves with a sudden hankering for sloppy, oily, garlicky tomatoes on crusty toast.

This recipe is rather vague as it really depends on how many tomatoes you intend to use and how many people you wish to serve. Ingredient amounts tend to alter around that fact.

Step 1: Slice in quarters or eighths, a selection of tomatoes into a bowl – any variety will work. I like to include cherry tomatoes as they are so sweet and delicious.

Step 2: Pour enough oil to coat the tomatoes. I usually use a garlic or tomato infused olive oil but, again, you can use what you have (I sometimes use rice bran oil).

Step 3: Slice a handful of fresh basil. I like to keep the pieces long and thin but it’s just an aesthetic preference for me.

Step 4: Chop 4 or 5 cloves of garlic. This is entirely a matter of taste – I LOVE garlic and will use it at every opportunity. Gently stir together the ingredients.

Step 5: Toast your choice of bread. I use baguette and slice it in small rounds when I am serving it as an appetizer or in half (as above) when I make it a meal.

Step 6: Rub a clove, or 2, of garlic over the toasted bread. This grates the garlic onto the slice and makes a delicious base for the topping. From time to time I will spread a little pesto on the toast before the topping.

Step 7: When you are ready to serve, add a generous sprinkle of salt to the tomatoes – this releases their juices – then, spoon the tomato mixture over the toast.

Serve and Enjoy!

Now, I am off to enjoy another favourite indulgence – rose and vanilla tea in one of my beautiful Royal Albert: Old Country Roses teacups.

My Nana had a large collection of tea cups and when I stayed with her as a child I loved the ritual of morning and afternoon tea, which she observed faithfully. My grandfather would come in from the garden and my Nana and I would have laid a beautiful table with fine china, delicious loose leaf tea and all the fruits of our morning baking efforts.  Invariably, I would choose the Old Country Roses teacup for myself and savour every pinky-waggling sip.

These days I have my own Royal Albert tea set. It was given to me by Zuzu’s daddy for my birthday in 2000 – which happens to be the same day she and I left our California home to begin a life here on this little island.  It is a prized possession, made all the more special by his thoughtfulness.  Zuzu and I continue the tea ceremony in our own fashion.

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