The beauty of waking to rain lies in the listening. There is no more delicious sound to be had, tucked up, dry and warm. Blowing small ripples across the surface of my tea, thawing fingers frozen solid by the cold, I watched the rain fall from a grey sky in silent gratitude last week. Winter inspires introspection, and close skies, well, they make looking down rather than up easier on the eye. Earth squelching beneath socked and booted feet; the profusion of green that thrives in this damp cold; a small scruffy dog leading us across the park – there is much to look down on during this season. My neck, however, was developing a crick from the weight of a low, skewed gaze. With the rain that gaze shifted upward, to the cold, dripping sky.
Sunday: Football. Sherbrooke lies in the Dandenong Ranges, a place of steep, rolling hills and small-scale daffodil farming on Melbourne’s fringe. A rectangular field of mud sits atop a steep hill there, too. Drawn by the promise of a little bushwalking, we plunged into a triangular sloping patch of tall trees and scrubby undergrowth on the other side, an hour before play got under way. Wind rushed way up high through the bending branches of slender eucalypts, a lonely, haunting sound deep in winter, one I love. Later, the sky changed dramatically as Oscar played, much better, I am pleased to report. There was bright sun and a small kiss of almost-snow on the wind. Back turned on the action, I watched two kookaburras settle themselves, feathers bristling, on waving branches. Wild. Graceful. A young magpie sang out, announcing their arrival and the dog, clown that she is, balanced on her tiny hind legs to leap at them, barking. Their disdain for her futile attempts made us giggle.
Listening. Hmm. Should have listened more closely to the little voice that said, ‘too fussy’ – you know the one, surely - when approaching a recipe from what is, this winter, my favourite reading. It was delicious, oh yes, but used every pan and all my patience to produce a dish that was scoffed in seven minutes flat. Sheesh. This got me thinking. About formal, fussy dining and the kind of multi-pan, showing-off it involves in home kitchens. Frankly, I can’t be bothered. Better to serve a simple dish cooked well and wow them with a sauce good enough to make them look up and engage, if only to refill their plates, at least once. Yes, please.
Why re-invent the wheel? Walnuts are exquisite right now. From Claudia Roden.
A chunky, robust Southern Turkish sauce from Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Perfect for dipping crisp, raw veg in to and slathering on falafels. You can make your own, and sometimes I do, but it’s just as easy to go out and buy a good dry falafel mix and doctor it with huge handfuls of finely chopped coriander and parsley.
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Coarse sea salt
1½ cups (about 125g) of shelled walnuts, chopped
4 tablespoons of tahini
Juice of 2 fat lemons
1-2 tablespoons of boiling water
Large handful of chopped parsley
Pound the garlic with a good pinch of salt for 30 seconds, add the walnuts and continue pounding to make a chunky paste. Blend in the tahini and the lemon juice, then the boiling water, stirring well until smooth. Stir through the parsley and thin with a little more water if you like.
Or, whack the first 5 ingredients in a food processor and whiz away, stopping just short of a smooth paste. You may need to add a little warm water to get things moving around the blade nicely, but you want some texture here. Stir through the parsley. Keeps well in the fridge, but bring it back to room temperature before eating.
Serve with oven-warmed pita breads; a bunch or two of red radishes, quartered; hot, doctored falafels (see recipe intro); shredded lettuce and some thick plain yoghurt.