An entire summer has gone by without me writing about our summery meals of crisp salads made with home grown leaves from my flourishing vegetable garden, or of hot weekend afternoons when all I could bear in the midst of menopausal melt-down to make for lunch was some variation of gazpacho, chilled first in the fridge and then dolloped out into chunky whiskey glasses. Or when I have felt more energetic, to twack a handful or two of just picked, tender green basil and oil and garlic and pine nuts in my mortar until it yielded up goopy pesto, spooned over quickly cooked tagliatelle. Simple dishes. It’s been a summer too of endless dishes of eggplant, to use up the gloriously giving and giving of dark dense-fleshed aubergine, gleaming, hanging heavy and low on the hip-high vines, waiting to be picked. Next year I will plant three vines only, not five. Tomorrow I will pull up the last of the straggly leftovers.
Tonight I’m sitting in front of a just lit fire, wondering what to cook later when my husband comes home from a day of making music. Our lives have settled into a sedate rhythm of dinners for two mostly. Every now and then his son joins us, and more recently, my newly-back-in-joburg youngest. I’ve noticed a definite shift from us entertaining quite often, to what seems to have become the odd event. Maybe that’s how it goes: a quieting down, a paring down almost: a simpler, easier, more unfussy attitude to cooking as we grow older and our children start peeling off into their own other lives.
But I have a little flutter of excitement when I remind myself that my oldest son and his wife will soon be here from two years away in China, where they have been teaching English. Yesterday, in an hour in between therapy clients, I found myself thinking about meals I would like to cook for them: roasts and stews, they’ll be here in July. “Anything but pork and nothing even slightly oriental, please!”, my son groaned longingly over skype the other morning.
That I can do. Lamb stews. Moroccan tagines. Beef bourguignon. Coq au vin. Bobotie will be the only traditional South African dish I make. I’ll leave the braais to his father, who lives in the same suburb as us, and whose idea of cooking is throwing huge portions of meat on the braai, or that other ubiquitous Afrikaans tradition of a “potjie”: a stew cooked in a fat-bellied black cast iron pot on three legs over coals.
I have a feeling that this will be the shape of things to come: occasional dinners where I would try new recipes with old friends, those who still remain in our circle: there’s been a fall-off from friends leaving to go far away, and some leaving because of the natural ending of friendships which had run their course. I’m aware in moments of some sadness about that. But recently we have had new faces around this table, and I’m delightedly finding that even in this later stage of our lives, the experience of cooking for others, of sharing food and stories, remain. Something ineffable in that. And yet so very very simple. Cook a meal. Set the table. Pour a glass of wine. And share the pleasure and the nourishment of simple food, or even an elaborate show-offy dish or two, with people we love and who have continued to return.