Monday, 28 March 2011

lukmira, or spring onions and creme fraiche

this strange concoction of creme fraiche and chopped up spring onions is one of the last thing i ate at home before leaving for what will be forever. it is not exactly a recipe – more of a suggestion to try something you wouldn’t ordinarily think of trying. the crème fraiche has to indeed be fresh and the best you can afford (don’t offend me with half-fat rubbish) and the spring onions should be squeaky and newly dug up.

once you've got that sorted, there is literally nothing to it: you chop up the onions and you mix them with creme fraiche. maybe some crumbled feta if you feel like it and a bit of salt if you don't.

as for leaving home...well, the war started in april, and i have relived that day a thousand times. part of it is a memory of a memory. that blossom on trees – do i really remember that or have i just repeated the image, the trope, in which blossom becomes a cheap symbol, a million times? probably the latter.

other parts i remember vividly, so vividly they still require a sharp intake of breath, twenty years later. the way that sunshine came in from both sides of the flat that morning, still slightly weak and wintry but no longer pallid. the dining room table. just that: the table, brown and wooden. the kitchen, always slightly cooler in the shady corner of the flat, pigeons nesting in corners outside windows. the telephone call (or was it calls?), telling us to get ready. the lists that i have subsequently been making of such trivial, irrelevant things. i suspected those lists to be a literary affectation stolen from writers like danilo kis or bruno shultz but later i realised that the obsessive list-making is a common strategy in the war against forgetting.

the truth is, i have forgotten.

the geography of sarajevo is slowly dissolving in my head. some streets and places are crystal clear but how they fit together, the actual map, has almost disappeared. whole neighbourhoods have been obliterated by amnesia. when i think of gorica (where anela, her sister and i got drunk on her grandmother’s balcony and then ate loads of jam sandwiches), the ‘1 may’ cinema and the bar ‘setaliste’, i can no longer work out how you’d walk between the three.

sarajevo is no longer a real place for me. i know my friends think otherwise, and for those who go back to see their families, it is as real as it ever has been, every building and every street. not for me. the nostalgia that i suffer from, chronically and incurably – the nostalgia that drives me to google photos of sarajevo and just look at them – is in reality a nostalgia for a moment in past. and it is a common malaise. as much as she would deny it, it is what makes my mother read blogs by sarajevans in diaspora, get really cross with them, swear she’d never do it again, and then lapse two weeks later, or post photos of old postcards depicting the city hundred years ago.

but both of us have little desire for sarajevo as it is now.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

roast broccoli with prawns

i think i like the anticipation of spring as much as i like the actual spring itself. if not more. april and may are probably my favourites, though june still has the pale green lucidity of early summer. by july, i know the end is near despite the reckless sunshine. by august, i've already smelt the end of summer in the parched grass and holiday photos, and started dreading september and the rains.

but as much as spring is my favourite time of the year, it’s also when i am at my maddest. i don’t mean hysterical mad. it’s more of a feeling of unease, or restlessness. nostalgia for something undefined. i don’t really know what it is, or what causes it. it feels as natural to me as the changing of seasons, following its innate rhythm that i almost have nothing to do with. and strangely, it’s not some intellectual or emotional exercise of taking stock of my life which is what you’d expect at the start of a new season. that’s starting to happen anyway, as a sobering byproduct of getting older. instead, it’s just an inchoate feeling, like an itch that needs scratching once a year. i assume it has something to do with the changing of seasons. it happens in the six or eight weeks where things are on the cusp and you notice the change – the light getting stronger or weaker, the leaves coming through or falling. it’s nothing like as strong in the autumn though there is no doubt that autumns make me maudlin too.

i think i had it before i left home. mind you, i then probably thought it all very poetic to get moody as the days got warmer. i’d read too many books and fancied myself a future ts eliott, or at least antun branko simic. you'd have thought it would get worse after the war (AW, like BC and AD. my parents still had to ask ‘which war’, ‘the other one’ usually being WWII and ‘this one’ being the 90’s one) but i am not sure it did.

so, cycling through barnsbury through a storm of pink and white blossom, behind kids on stolen bikes leaving the smell of skunk in their wake, i feel the way i feel every march: like i have a hayfever of the soul.

i should say something about this recipe, i guess. when people marvel at how i can be bothered to cook when rich is away travelling, little do they know that this is the kind of food i eat. you just bung it all in the oven and what comes out is so amazingly tasty that i have thought more than once how being a banking widow isn't all that bad.

for one greedy person or two normals

1 head of broccoli, sliced into thick wedges of just broken up into smallish florets
1 red pepper, cut into 4 - optional and i don't normally use it
around 1/4 cup or 4 tbs of olive oil
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes or more if you like
a good pinch of salt (think tv chefs, not home)
loads of ground black pepper
250g fresh or frozen prawns
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
a squeeze of lemon
a good pinch of sumac

preheat the oven to 220C. grind cumin, coriander and chilli in a pestle and mortar, add the salt and pepper, and mix with about half of the oil. put the broccoli in a roasting tin and cover with this mixture, rubbing it in with your hands. you're aiming to cover the florets or bits of broccoli as much as you can.

spread the broccoli on a roasting try and put in the oven for 10-15 minutes. check after this time - it should be nearly ready, soft in the middle and getting slightly crunchy around the edges. if it's not, leave it in for a bit longer.

in the meantime, put the prawns in a bowl and mix with olive oil and lemon zest. when the broccoli is almost done, take it out of the oven and add the prawns. cook for another 5 minutes or until the prawns are done.

once out of the oven, squeeze some lemon juice over it and eat while still really hot. i like to cover mine with sumac - for some reason, the acidic, sharp taste goes really well with the whole thing.