Sunday. A hot afternoon to wade home through, too hot, surely, for this stage of December. Grab the bag (second off the carousel), heft it through the gathering crowd, ring Peter - we're still a little way off - and decide, instead, to take a taxi. Windows wound right down, air rushed into the back seat as we hurtled along the freeway, smacking against my forehead, blowing away the dull ache that had persisted all morning. Home. Ring the bell, a leaping terrier to placate - hi baby, did you miss me? - a kiss, then into the shower. Later, fireworks filled our ears and the sky, Chanukah celebrations in the park. We stood on our porch, watching with that giddy, giggly awe cracker night induced when I was small.
Felt good to be home.
Christmas is hot, hot, hot on our heels, something one cannot, however hard one tries, escape. Searching the aisles of a West Gosford supermarket for bottles of ginger beer, a non-alcoholic drink for my heavily-pregnant sister-in-law, a woman in black was screeching at her son, "Put that f--ken full-sugar coke back on the f--ken shelf. Ya caarn't have it 'cos of them f--kers that come at Christmas."
Charming. I'll bet their place on the 25th is a riot.
In my own polite, middle class, university-educated way, there's something of that very spirit creeping into my world, some sort of humbug, more meh- than banshee-style bah- perhaps, but a humbug of some variety for certain, and I felt that woman's pain. In a small way I'm looking forward to cooking for just Peter and I this year. A Christmas break without travel for once may do us both good.
But what to cook?
This has been quite a year; revealing, sometimes distressing, encouraging, creative, all of which is good. The learning curve that is life is just that; a curve, replete with ups and downs, highs and lows, but somewhere during our moves my once inexhaustible interest in cooking was misplaced. In fact, it turns out that the damned thing has upped and left, and I've been bereft of it for a solid three months now. Thinking about putting up one of those Lost Dog - Reward posters you often see taped to telegraph poles, a fringe of scissored, tearable slips with my telephone number below an image of, I dunno, maybe some perky bulbs of fennel? A bowl or two of ripe tomatoes perhaps?
Or maybe some zucchini. I found this recipe in Maggie Beer's Harvest a few weekends ago. Maggie got it from Elizabeth David's Italian Food, using verjuice (constantly flogging that stuff, our Maggie) for David's mixture of wine vinegar and sugar. This is about as adventurous as my cooking's been of late, but please don't let that put you off. It's wonderful, wonderful, quite unexpectedly so. Besides, we all need as many simple zucchini recipes as possible given it's practically Christmas already.
Summer, here we come.
Slice 4 or 5 small, crisp zucchini into thick rounds. Pour olive oil, 2 tablespoons should do it, into a wide frying pan and tip in the zucchini. Shuffle them around so as they sit in one layer as comfortably as possible, cover the pan and cook on a medium heat, untouched, for 5 minutes. Lift the lid, grate in a little cinnamon and add some pepper. Salt if you like, but try it without first and see. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of sugar with 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar in a small dish, up the heat beneath the pan and pour in the sweetened vinegar. Simmer - fast - until the sauce is syrupy, and serve at once.
I stirred through some torn basil leaves and roughly chopped green olives, but go nuts. Add anything or nothing. Seriously good.