Familiar images of women - all shapes, ages and kinds - sitting around rustic tables, gossiping, swapping stories and working at a rythmic, female task with a sunny afternoon ahead of them, I'm pleased to report, do not lie. It's all, every word of it, true. And I do love a task well-equipped with good, cold riesling. Followed by champagne. That the afternoon in question was sunny and utterly - completely - perfect and spent in easy, warm company was just the icing on my cake.
Had me a ball, I did.
Having never really - not properly, and certainly not in any quantity - made dolmades, I crossed everything for a batch of deliciousness. Proud to say, I am, that we delivered. Vine leaves, the traditional wrapper, have been a bit of kitchen find for me this summer, made all the more exciting for being absolutely, totally free. The more delicate they are, the better, so I'm kicking myself for not having discovered them, paler and sweeter, in spring when I first spied that vine next door through the lens of the Holga. AOF's right about spring being ideal for leaf harvest-age, rather than mid-summer. Right now, toughening under the sun, edges crisping on our straggly vine, they're almost too far gone. Perfect time to make use of someone else's bounty.
And what a bounty. Now that is a lush grapevine.
AOF even has heavy bunches of grapes. Fabulous, no?
Claudia Roden came along in the train, for another addition to the esteemed company already in the cauldron. I bought this (Amis, Kingsley, on Drinking) between train and tram stops for Peter along the way, so it was, also, a very good day for books. Claudia's been a constant companion, of late, David, too. Someone suggested not so long ago - wish I could recall who - that no-one really uses the Roden except for the now ubiquitous Sephardic orange cake which is, of course, everywhere. I resolved to dust her off immediately and use her far more often. Very pleased I did.
So. There are more recipes out there than you can poke a stick at, but AOF's thoughts are an excellent starting point. Method is what matters here; a simple, understandable one, ripe for additions and subtractions as you become familiar with rolling, folding and wrapping. Make it your own. I know we will. Moon, I hope, will get to grow up with a few more of these outings. She's a fantastic small person to have on hand.
Roden mentions two variations I'm keen to try next year. Soaked, cracked chickpeas, about a handful swapped for a little less rice and an Iranian version, with all the things we used plus some currants (yum) and fresh dill (I imagine huge handfuls of it and maybe some crushed fennel seeds? I do so love the bitter stuff). Simmered for, perhaps, an hour longer at this tougher stage of the season, in a liquid of part tomato passata and lemon and double that of olive oil; loads more garlic (cannot...help...self) and more salt. Water as needed. Less pine nuts, definitely.They never seem to taste of anything much when cooked in liquid.
Lovely, ladies. Thank you.