As I said in my previous post, I spent about five weeks in Fitou this summer. I enjoyed myself so much that for a couple of weeks I managed to convince myself that I should stay there, not return to New York and somehow stay married. Clearly I came back but it was tough! The decision to buy a house in France wasn’t greeted with universal approval by you boys. There were several comments about how boring it would be spending all our holidays there in the future, but you clearly got over it, and the time that we spend there together, for me, is very special, and this summer was no exception. Whether we were actively seeking culture in Narbonne on the petit train or visiting the Chateau de Salses, or whether we were flooping by the pool, it was a lot of fun.
We also ate out quite a bit, at local restaurants and we even travelled a bit further afield to Leucate and to Fontjoncouse. Eating out, for me, has always been a treat and I try to choose restaurants with dishes that I either can’t or don’t cook at home. I appreciate that occasionally sending out for pizza or an Indian is lovely simply because you don’t have to cook, but I’ve never wanted that to be a regular part of my life. It wasn’t the norm when I was growing up to go out for meals for anything other than special occasions, and such visits really were a big treat. Even getting fish and chips was hugely exciting. The first restaurant I remember visiting was a Chinese restaurant. In those days, Chinese restaurants always had an English food section, and sad to say I remember ordering from this because I had no idea what the Chinese dishes were. Grandma once told me that Chinese restaurants were Alastair’s favourite because, although he always ordered fish and chips followed by ice cream, it was the overwhelming excitement of seeing a Chinese person. Yorkshire, and in fact the UK, wasn’t anything like as racially diverse as it is now.
Papa introduced me to Indian food at the Taj restaurant in York (still there incidentally). I remember that we shared a keema pilau although I don’t remember what main course I had with it. I know that Papa started with mulligatawny soup which was a perennial favourite of his. The joy of sitting in that restaurant with its baroque flocked wallpaper, discussing food with Papa, and having him all to myself is still with me. When I was about 15, we started eating out once a month at Romanby Court Restaurant (where I later worked), and this was the first time that I remember eating ‘finer’ food. I felt so grown up, working out what my starter would be, and then asking Grandma or Papa about the main dishes. Romanby Court always served minestrone soup as well, and this was probably when I finally ate most vegetables. I learned how I liked to eat steak there (medium rare), and the dessert trolley was to die for with profiteroles and chocolate sauce, millefeuille and crème caramel (one of Grandma’s favourites).
There was no stopping me now! I moved to Leeds and tasted authentic Chinese food for the first time (also the first time I ate with chopsticks). I learned that Sweet and Sour Pork wasn’t usually served with the sauce in a polystyrene cup on the side, and I realised what a world of difference there was between the Chinese restaurants with English menus and the real stuff which I adored. With the move to Brussels, I ate moules et frites (very successful), oysters (less successful but years later I tried them again with a great deal of success), and also my first Greek food (which I know I have mentioned before).
With the move to London and meeting Dad, we started eating out more regularly when budgets allowed, either going out on our own or joining groups of friends. Suzy and I were living together and we took Andrew for his first Indian food, and to an Italian place in Wimbledon the name of which escapes me, but where Andrew always ordered paglia e fieno, simply because he liked getting two different colours of pasta! There I tasted my first spaghetti alla carbonara, bought a cookery book so I could recreate it, and you know the rest! I could continue advancing through my life citing new firsts but I suspect it would get boring, but suffice to say, the joy of trying new foods has never left me, and the excitement of choosing dishes in a restaurant never goes even at my advancing age. I hope I never become complacent about this, and I am enormously grateful to have been able to live abroad and to travel as much as I have. Greed has always been a motivating factor for me, though I prefer to think of it now as ‘gastronomic curiosity’.
So I do have a recipe for today, and there is a picture, George, even though you’ve seen it before. Today’s recipe is Roast Pork Loin with Roast Vegetables and is one of the dishes I cooked in Fitou. I almost always roast vegetables when the oven is on. Having frugal parents, I know that you should make good use of your energy. My favourite roast vegetables are potatoes, cooked in goose fat, but I very much enjoy the taste and colours of roasted aubergines, onions, peppers, courgette and I always add garlic. These take about 40 mins to cook, and only need to be sprinkled with oil and put into a hot oven; if you’re roasting root vegetables, then you need more oil.
I used a 3 lb rolled boneless pork loin. I put in on a piece of foil, large enough to wrap round it completely and to fasten tightly. I salted it well – I didn’t add pepper because Big Andrew was with us, but usually would have done so. I washed a handful of fresh rosemary and removed the leaves from the stalk, chopped them finely and mixed with about two tablespoons of dried herbes de Provence which were in the kitchen cupboard. These herbs were sprinkled over the meat, making sure that they were on all sides.
I then wrapped the pork in the foil – it doesn’t have to be snug to the meat, but it does have to be properly closed so that the juices won’t escape – and put it into an oven that was been pre-heated to 180 C/400 F and cooked for about 40 mins. I then checked that the middle of the meat was cooked, and served.
I put the meat onto an ashet and sliced; poured the juices from the foil over the top; surrounded with the roast vegetables and served.