I know you have a dozen other things to do, but if you don’t have any in the cupboard, remember to buy a bag of white beans today. Then later – not yet – sit down with a cup of tea, or glass of sherry and read this. Next week, on one of the in-between days that thread Christmas to New year, put the beans in a bowl and cover them with water. The day after cook them, or rather let the oven cook them. But before you put the sage in the pan, don’t forget to rub it and wave it before your nose.
It is a bit late in the day to link you to my Christmas recipes, which are rather like our decorations, so from three places, some old, some new, a few precious, others sparkling, strung together differently each year! I am a cautious enthusiast when it comes to Christmas, I plan, but due to my almost pathological inability to be truly organised, there is always plenty of room for improvisation! It will all be fine.
‘Lookout for winking lights and the smell of clementines, listen for the music drifting from a radio behind the shop counter, keep expectations flexible, laugh, give more than you take, sing and dance at least once – even if it makes you cry, do something for someone without expecting anything back, don’t worry about having enough food – you have too much, read a poem, make a jelly, take yourself off for a walk’.
I used to pour scorn on this sort of Christmas advice! These days I try and take it. Also, if you fold and squeeze, hard, a piece of clementine peel right next to a candle flame, the essential oils sparkle and crackle like tiny fireworks, and the scent is even stronger.
On the subject of citrus, we have chosen a cover, a picture of oranges and lemons I took last winter. Not the one above I hasten to add – who the hell would put a sink on a cookbook cover! I am looking over first edits now, and gathering pictures, mine and Nick’s, of Rome and Sicily, two places and two kitchens, while still writing! But I am nearly finished and excited at the thought of sharing my second book ‘Two Kitchens‘ with you in July next year.
Meanwhile Five Quarters won both the André Simon food book award 2016 and the Guild of food writers First book award 2016. Best of all it has made its way into many kitchens, and dare I say it, beds. In bed with Five Quarters – I like that. Many of you have let me know how much you have enjoyed reading and cooking – thank you.
I am sorry not to be writing here more often, I miss it. I will. Meanwhile my Guardian Column is weekly, and I know many of you read that. Next week’s recipe is an excellent and simple one for a beef and pepper stew called Peposo. So when you pick up the white beans, why not get 1 kg of braising beef for the freezer too, and clementines, don’t forget to buy lots of clementines, and look out for winking lights.
Merry Christmas and warmest wishes to you all – R