Something really light for a change

Today I made my first ever pot of soup that had pearl barley in it. I love barley, I don’t know why I had not done it before. Just like that time Ingeborg and I drove to Maputo… we just got in the car one day and drove there. It did not take very long, in spite of the border being chaotic and us losing about an hour and a half while doing some bureaucracy. It meant that we only got to Maputo after dark. Even so, we kept on thinking, why haven’t we done this before? It was a bit depressing to have to wander around the crumbling city on the first night looking for a place to sleep, but that was an adventure too. In the end, I loved it.

I remember sitting on the balcony of the hotel on the Avenue (some day in) September when the May 1 Workers’ March came crawling past, droning with mass exuberance and vibrating with, of all things, outfits in a variety florals and Scottish tartan. It was like having a front row seat to an Ionesco play. Across the road was some shop with a deep doorway and men kept on dashing in there to squirt out the excess water from the 2Ms or Laurentinas, which were flowing freely. I felt somehow that this was not quite in keeping with the  revolutionary spirit reverberating down the street. But then again, I was the tourist on the balcony eating hotel breakfast, so what did I know?

One of the best things in Maputo was the bread and butter. Soft rolls with crisp crusts and lightly salted real butter.  Perhaps it was the only thing the Portuguese left behind intact, other than a national language. That and Pasteis de Nata.

And the only thing I ever wrote and lost, and have no idea how, and am sad about, was an account  in Afrikaans of our weekend there. I was very pleased with it, I remember. It took a long time to write, just like anything to do with serious literature. Not that it was serious. It was just in my mother tongue, which I find increasingly difficult to be coherent in. But I think it was good, and I am sorry that it’s gone. I think I sent it to a magazine who ignored it. No wonder magazines are dropping like flies in the face of the economic crunch.

Anyway. The barley soup.

First thing this morning I took two pieces of beef shin, salted and peppered, and browned both sides over high heat.  I put them aside. In the soup pot I made a soffrito. A soffrito is how I start almost any soup or stew. It is an Italianesque version of a mirepoix: finely chopped onion, celery and carrot, cooked slowly over a low heat till soft and sweet, but not brown. I add garlic, parsley and two fresh bay leaves to that. I have a laurel tree on the balcony that utterly reinvented itself when I moved it into the sun. If I had fresh thyme I would have added that too.  If there is any nation on earth that knows about astonishing food it’s the Italians. So take my word for the soffrito.

In an ideal world, if I had some white wine I would have added a cup to the soffrito towards the end. When most of the liquid had been cooked away, I would have added the meat, salt and pepper and some beef stock, and simmered it over a low heat for an hour.

As I had neither wine nor beef stock, I just added the meat, salt and pepper and three cups of water and simmered it over a low heat for an hour. (Put the lid on the pot.) O yes. I had a couple of slices of pancetta in the freezer, so that went in. Inspired, really.

Then I lobbed in half a packet of soup mix: those lentils, barley and other dry pulses-and-grains that you get from Woolworths or Pick & Pay. And then I simmered it for another two hours, checking that there was enough water every now and then.

When the barley was chewy and the meat falling off the bone, I sucked the marrow from the bones, tossed them, and had some soup. It was so lovely. I don’t know – not everybody loves soup, or barley, but if you do, this is amazing.

Tonight I have a lot of reading to do, so I am not going spend a lot of time on the Urban Dictionary[1] except to mention that even it has a part in the Universe’s plan to reassure me that things are going to be all right. Today the word was “Reader’s Block”, and this is the explanation:

Related to Writer’s Block, this is when you cannot, for the life of you, pick up a book and read it. Sure, you may be able to read a paragraph or two, or maybe even a page, but you don’t retain anything of what you just read or have the attention span and/or will to go on. This is common for those who have ADD, are in possession of garbage literature, or are just so exhausted from having to read so many books during school/college that reading anything else, even for pleasure, has become impossible. To those who love to read, this is worse than heart disease and cancer combined.

Eddie – Hey, man, I see you’re reading McCarthy’s The Road. Nice.
Nerdlinger – I’m trying to read it, but I got this damn reader’s block! I’m 20 pages in but I don’t remember anything. Fuck!
Eddie – Poor bastard.

Was this not what I was talking about yesterday? Coupled to that well-timed review of the new AS Byatt in the Independent, on the SAME DAY as I was writing about how I just could not get into Possession… it is clear to me that the Universe is intimating that I am thinking the right thoughts at the right time.  

If I turn my thoughts to world peace for example, who knows what might happen? On the other hand I might also do well to turn my thoughts to the interview I am going to tomorrow. I have decided what to wear, which is good. Now I just have to figure out how not to let everybody know that I have absolutely no recollection of applying for this job, or what it is. But tomorrow is another day.

Right now, I think I am going to take my book and only my second really huge martini to bed.



[1]Get the Urban Dictionary word-of-the-day (WOD). No, really. It makes everyday just a little surreal, and I always wish that I was the one “who thought of that”. A couple of days ago the WOD was wwjkd: What Would James Kirk Do? When stuck in a life-threatening, impossible situation with no realistic plausible means of escape, only a plan thought up by James “Jim” Kirk would work.

Person 1: OK, were stuck in an underground cavern on a distant planet with no access to the surface.
Person 2: We need a plan. WWJKD?

Pretty great eh? I am going to have to come back to this at some point.


6 thoughts on “Something really light for a change

  1. Fil Blanc 13 May 2009 / 12:50

    I cannot believe that you prepare all these delicious things without inviting your blog followers for a taste…As a vegetarian the Barley thing appeals to me (not the beef shin though). Egypt has just slaughtered 250,000 pigs. Nothing to do with “swine flu”. It was a way for the government to hit hard the pig farms owners (which happen to be coptic christians)… Anyway, the all concept blasted my mind. 250,000! I started counting: 1, 2 ,3, 4… trying to imagine the sounds, the fear, the blood… My appetite is definitively gone even for the barley part of your soup. x

    • Betty Noire 13 May 2009 / 21:59

      What a lot of wasted pork. These Egyptians are crazy! (Did you ever read Asterix and Obelix and the Pyramids (or “and the Sphinx”, or just “in Egypt”, whatever it was called?)

  2. Fil Blanc 13 May 2009 / 22:19

    Of course a classic : “Asterix et Cléopatre” She had a beautifull nose… that made Caesar and Marc Antoine (Marc Anthony in English?)CRAZYYYY!

    • Betty Noire 13 May 2009 / 22:39

      I don’t think it was her nose that made Marc Anthony crazy.

      • Fil Blanc 13 May 2009 / 23:05

        Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed (Blaise Pascal) but yes, you are right, there was something else, maybe her new hair style?

  3. Hardspear 14 May 2009 / 14:50

    Mmm.. Sounds good. Just the kind of winter warmer which we are going to need in the following months. I’ve eventually commented on the post below as well.

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