Friday, 26 June 2015

French Onion Tart (or I haven't done a recipe for a while have I?)

I emerged from university all those years ago and set up my first proper home in Bath. It coincided with my mum presenting me with my first Elizabeth David. It was an old battered copy, probably from a jumble sale or a charity shop, although I might be doing her an injustice. Some of the pages were a little loose, and they were discoloured and scented with that magical ancient musty book smell. Wait a minute, I'll go and find it so I can show it to you...

I can remember reading through it and thinking that it could well be the only cookery book I would ever need. These days I have probably got over a hundred cookery books, but there is one recipe from this one that follows me around and knocks on the door as a very welcome visitor every six months or so. I know it so well that I haven't looked the recipe up for years and in fact I've just found out that I've made a little amendment or two to it in the interim. I made this recipe back in the old days in Bath, and it was the first meal I cooked on the first day in our current house, 14 years ago, on the basis that it was the one thing I knew I'd be able to buy all the ingredients for in the local shop. I've made it to impress people; I've made it as comfort food. I think I even made it in honour of Keith Floyd when I heard he'd died. And today happiness was a couple of hours while the children were out, some gentle music and a pile of onions...

Tarte à l'oignon (or Onion Tart if you look in the index)

A lot of onions: more than you can fit on a chopping board once they are peeled and halved (Elizabeth David says 2lbs), finely sliced
40g butter
2 eggs
70g gruyère cheese, grated
100ml double cream (my addition, I'm not sure when that started but there didn't seem to be enough cholesterol in it before)

Pastry (again a few additions to make the crusts a little more welcome)
100g plain flour
50g butter
Salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
A good grating of Parmesan

Melt the butter in a big frying pan, over the lowest heat possible, and add the sliced onions. It might be hard to fit all of them in the pan but it does shrink down over time. Season them well and keep stirring occasionally. At first the mixture will be wet but as it cooks it will start caramelising on the base of the pan so you need to ensure you turn it all over. Keep cooking very slowly - it usually takes an hour or so - until there is a little colour everywhere and the huge pile of onions has turned into a luscious few tablespoonfuls of loveliness. Like this...

Let's have a little close up, can you smell them yet?

While this is all going on, make your pastry by combining the flour, butter, seasonings and parmesan. Oh and turn your oven on, 180 degrees or gas mark 4.

 Rub in the butter, then add just enough water to bring it all together. Mine today was bit too wet so I had to add some more flour.

Wrap it in cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour. Then roll it out and line your quiche tin. A circle of baking parchment and some baking beans and Bob's your uncle. Into the oven with it for 15 minutes.

Now take it out and leave it and the onions to cool while you go out to pick up your daughter from her friend's house, discuss summer holiday playdates and buy some secondhand roller skates from the friend. By the time you get back, the pan will be the perfect temperature for you to add the eggs, cream and most of the cheese, plus a little more seasoning, and give it a good stir.

And the baking beans can go back in their jar. Turn your oven back on and put your filling into the pastry case. Top with the rest of the cheese.

Cook for... well... half an hour or so. Until it looks like this. Funny how some of the best food just looks beige... Serve with some good tomato-heavy salad and vinaigrette, and a good glass of red wine to raise to the memory of Elizabeth David and Keith Floyd. Bon appétit.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Lost in translation

Husband leaves tomorrow morning for a week in Japan. He is going to investigate laser machines but the trip strangely seems to include a rather large amount of sightseeing. You might not think this is very interesting but it has been a testing time for me. You might not know it, but Japan was my place, not his, and I always had it on my list of things to do that I would show him around there one day. As soon as I heard he was going, I was adamant we could all go. Opportunity of a lifetime. Wrong. Four days of upset and arguments and it is not happening. All is reconciled now; my time will come. But it did make me think about an awful lot of everything and for a while it became a symbol of everything I've had to give up since children came along. It's only today that it occurs to me that it might just be linked to my next big unveiling of news. Sometimes you need a big shove to realise what you really want and to try to go after it.

Another thing you might not know about me is that a long long time ago I went to university and studied French, German and Swedish. It took me a long while to find a job using just one of my languages, and then I stopped because of the babies. And for a long time, along with the old wild nights out and the less saggy body, I told myself it was all just part of the past and that I was better off this way. The children would be my ultimate reward and I could get all the fulfilment I needed from framing some bits of felt or from organising a PTA fair.

Last year when we were getting the kitchen done and the only tap that we loved on Pinterest had to be imported from Sweden, I dusted off my 25-year-old Swedish, relearning to tell my past participles from my definite articles and translated every last word of the assembly instructions into English. I'm not convinced Charlie ever needed to look at my translation to fit the tap but it set my heart on fire. It coincided with an old university friend getting in touch on Facebook and asking if I'd ever thought about translation. A little filing cabinet in my head had its first memo put away into it.

Last Christmas, on a night out, two friends drunkenly rounded on me and told me I was wasted and that I would be much happier if I got a proper job. I spent a lot of time justifying myself to myself - but I think the second memo went into the filing cabinet.

Then recently the cabinet was flung open... I answered an urgent call on Facebook from the International Feltmakers Association for someone to translate an interview with a French felter and designer for their members' magazine. How lovely to combine two of my favourite things... the joy of writing down for all those British readers that the designer had worked for Yves Saint-Laurent and spent evenings alone in the studio on all fours picking up offcuts of sumptuous fabrics that she still had in her box of scraps - a woman after my own heart. Then a week in France and some children who tested the definition of my ultimate reward to the limits and the damage was done, the dam had come crashing down and on my return I found myself googling translation.

I'm now halfway through my application for a part-time MA in Translation at the University of Bristol (I did one for Portsmouth distance learning too just in case). I've done my test translations in French and in, gulp, German pulled out of my head after a gap of 20 years, and although I keep rereading and amending them on a daily basis, I'm getting quietly proud of them. Next I have to write a 1500-2000 word essay complete with quoted references on why a good translator needs to have a good knowledge of the target language. It's daunting but it's a good buzz. There is a huge chunk of my brain that has been lying dormant for years. And I'm really pleased to say it's started jumping up and down and shouting "Hello!" and I'm very happy to see it again.