Yesterday, I was walking around town with D and Chotto-ma, down the same streets that I walk every day. But everything looked different. It was winter's early dusk, and the light was tinged with blue. It was enchanting. Now, enchanting is not a word that sits comfortably with me. Like red nail polish. But it's the only word that comes to mind.
The light poured itself on rooftops, trickled down, past the sashed windows, down to the pavements and onto the streets. It splashed about people's feet, and soaked their skirts and skin. It slid down the canopies of the market stalls, and dripped down on blond heads and black. It covered the city with a sheer, blue-tinged stain.
There was this deep sense of melancholia, interspersed with merry
christmas lights. There's nothing more beautiful than a good
It's the kind of light that makes lovers break up, and strangers fall in love. It's the kind of light that makes you rethink. Or lull you into thinking it's alright. It makes you smile without reason. Drink a glass of wine by the roadside. Buy flowers. Cry. Hold hands. Slow down. Dance. Write.
As we walked, this odd, beautiful light slowly changed. From blue to
butter, and then to black.
I didn't have my camera. But I really wanted to
share this with you, so I used the camera in my phone. It's not the best,
but it's what I've got of the day. The photographs are in the order of
our walk, so you can take the same walk we did.
This photograph is in colour. But the afternoon was black and white. It even had that droning sound and jumpiness of an old scratchy film. I should have worn pearls and lit up a cigarette. But I don't have pearls, and I stopped smoking years ago. So I put on my tatty old jumper, sat next to my daughter and built a house with green playdough. Not exactly 1920's Weimar, but a lot more fun.
Let me tell you why parsnips remind me of old ladies.
and I didn't know each other a few years ago. We both lived in different
countries. Moved in different social circles. And preferred different
The first time I met Parsnip was in the vegetable aisle of a
nondescript English supermarket. It looked like a carrot who had just
received a shocking telegram and lost all it's colour. The bleached
brother of the carrot choir.
It also looked distinctly uncomfortable, sitting there between the red
peppers and the dark broccoli. And I was looking for something familiar
in a new country. So, I moved on to the cauliflower. The parsnip and I
parted ways that day, and our paths didn't cross again for another two
Then, in the autumn of 2008, Chotto-ma was born. And one cold, windy
day, as I was walking around town by myself, with a 3-week old baby
tied to my torso, I felt like having soup. So I walked into a cafe, on a
Tuesday afternoon, and ordered Soup-of-the-Day. It was 'Spiced
As I awkwardly made my way towards an empty table, one hand
supporting my newborn's wobbly head, and the other hand balancing a
bowl of parsnip soup, I realised that the cafe was filled with old
ladies, and the occasional old gentleman. There were mops of grey hair
at every table. Some were meeting friends, or catching up with family.
Some were reading their newspapers. Or savouring their soups, one slow
spoon at a time. Some were just catching their breaths. But they all
looked happy. The sun shone on their neat white hair and carefully
ironed clothes. The air was filled with their perfumes - a heady mix of
musk and flowers. Their wrinkled faces smiled.
They had done their jobs, grown their children, paid their mortgage.
Now, while the rest of the world was busy with chores, they were free to
sit with friends, and have hot parsnip soup on a cold, windy day.
Spicy parsnip, apple & cashew soup
This is my adaptation of that soup I had three years ago. It is a beautifully warming soup, with the natural spicy, buttery flavour of parsnips, the sweetness of apples, the nutty creaminess of cashew and the heat of a chilli.
4 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 apple, peeled and cubed
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green chilli
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 cup cashew nuts
2 cups milk
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp aniseed
A pinch of turmeric
A pinch of paprika
1 dried red chilli (this will not add any heat if not broken, just a deep roasted flavour)
Heat 1 tbs of olive oil in a pan, add the parsnip, onion, apple, 1 tsp of the chopped garlic and saute on medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, cover and cook till the parsnip and apple are soft. Put the cooked mix into a blender, along with the cashew and chilli, and blend into a smooth paste.
In a small pan, heat the remaining olive oil, add the aniseed, remaining garlic and red chilli. Remove from heat when the aniseed and garlic are lightly browned, and add the turmeric and paprika. This gives the oil a beautiful colour.
Transfer the blended paste into a deep pan or wok, sprinkle with garam masala and salt, and add milk to form the consistency you want for your soup. Heat the soup and ladle into serving bowls. Now add some of the roasted garlic and aniseed olive oil to each bowl.
My grandparents lived in Tezpur, a town in Assam, in a beautiful bungalow with many rooms. Their garden was always filled with the most colourful butterflies. When I was little, I would catch the small white ones, close them in a jam jar, watch them flutter about, and then open the lid and let them fly away. They were my only friends on those long, slow summer days.
One afternoon, Ma's sharp call for lunch broke up my game. I left the jam jar on the courtyard steps, and ran inside for my meal. I forgot about the jar. I forgot about the little white butterfly still fluttering inside. When I came back, my butterfly wasn't fluttering any more. It was as still as the afternoon.
I remember sitting on the stairs cradling the glass jar for a long, long time. And I remember, for the first time, feeling the heavy weight of responsibility about an irreversible sadness.
We spent the day walking around a new little town a few weekends ago, and when I got back home, the camera showed me something I wasn't aware of. I take pictures of lights. A lot. As in lampshades, and street lights, candles and chandeliers. I dare not think what light Freud's couch would've thrown on that.
Sometimes these lamps hang low, intruding on private moments. One hung from the ceiling of a coffee shop, above a couple who leaned into each other. Their fingers nearly touching, but their feet tucked away under their own chairs, as if to quieten the eagerness of their torsos.
An old rusty lamp, looked down at passersby on a pavement. How many years had it been there, hunched over hurrying people, melting snow and pub brawls? Along the way, it had lost its bulb. Now, every evening, it gave the pavement a patch of dark, for people who needed the privacy of shadows.
At a restaurant, a chandelier hung poised above a large family gathered for Sunday lunch. There were grandparents, a few pairs of parents, three teenagers, a toddler, a dog and plates of pasta. The crystals in the chandelier broke up and shattered the light in the same way the toddler's cries fragmented the chain of conversation at the table.
Behind a shop window hung vintage glass lamps that had crossed over from Calais to Dover to lend unimaginative interiors a Parisienne chic. There were enamel lampshades hanging over freshly baked bread. Bright spotlights above swathes of Amy Butler fabric. And a naked bulb at a market stall that lit up a basket of speckled quail eggs.
Quail eggs with coriander & chilli aioli
This is the most gorgeous, garlicky, pale-green aioli. And it packs a punch. Once you've made it, you will have to double the recipe many times over, because it will seem really important to always have an entire jar of it on hand, to spoon out and smear at the slightest excuse.
12 quail eggs
3 tbs mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic
3 tbs chopped coriander leaves
1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 tbs olive oil
A little squeeze of lemon
A pinch of salt
Put quail eggs in a pan, cover with cold water and put on the heat. As soon as the water begins to boil, watch the clock for 1 1/2 minutes, then remove pan from heat and let the eggs stand in hot water for another minute. Peel shells and cut eggs lengthwise in half.
Now, the aioli. In a small food processor, add the rest of the ingredients and blitz till smooth. Top the eggs with dollops of the most gorgeous aioli, pale green and packing a punch!