Have you ever had the experience of meeting somebody and within minutes of parting thinking “what an amazing person- I want to see them again”? I don’t mean that heady feeling of a romantic connection with your heart all a-flutter and everything seen through rose-coloured spectacles – I mean in a totally non-romantic context. Of course, the opposite is also true, and after spending only an hour or two in somebody’s company you may be glancing wildly around for the exit and praying you never have the misfortune of having to be trapped in a room with them again! But there are definitely people you meet who make an almost instantly appealing impression, and more often than not they will have this effect on almost everybody they meet. So what’s the secret? I’ve been pondering what it is that makes me remember some people with affection and admiration and others not.
One of the characteristics that instantly attracts me to somebody is kindness. If I go for lunch with somebody who is rude to waitstaff, receptionists and other “unimportant” people, I instantly assume that they are the same kind of people who hit their dogs and barge little old ladies out of the way to get a seat on the train. But (as I recently did) I go to lunch with somebody who is unfailingly polite and friendly to waitstaff, I feel nothing but admiration (and they get better service too!). Most people are also instantly attracted to somebody who has a sense of humour – smart and witty, not bitchily funny at other people’s expense. Making people laugh is an invaluable social skill and requires a degree of ability to read your audience, which in turn implies a degree of emotional intelligence – all good stuff. And I’m pretty sure everybody would agree that somebody who seems genuinely interested in other people will always be remembered with more fondness than somebody who shouts everybody down in an effort to tell THEIR story rather than listen to anybody else’s.
It seems that at this time of year with the turning of the seasons, my mind always returns to this question: how are we remembered? Part of the reason is the natural melancholy and introspection that accompanies the end of summer; but part of it is that I lost my mom in the Autumn. Tomorrow it will be eight long years. And I know I am not the only one who remembers her – I often speak to friends and her ex-students of colleagues who remember her and I am always amazed at the variety of stories they tell and breadth of the memories they treasure. One ex-colleague told me how my mom had taken over the radiography department at her hospital in the 1960s and immediately mixed up all the carefully segregated teacups for white and non-white radiographers, saying “this is ridiculous – we are all colleagues!”. “She gave us back our dignity”, the colleague told me later. A school friend remembers my mom as having a fierce intelligence which both scared and mesmerised her; while other friends of mine remember her best for her famous chicken curry and her chocolate mousse. A lecturing colleague and fellow-language fanatic tells me she still misses my mom’s ability to quote reams of poetry with perfect accuracy. Many of her ex-students say she literally changed their lives, treating each one as if they had the potential to change the world, even when they were failing courses and bunking classes.
As for me, I remember her as having one of the most incisive minds and one of the sharpest tongues I have ever experienced. I remember her for her sometimes totally infuriating intellectual snobbism. I remember her advice to treat adults as children and children as adults in order to keep everybody happy. I remember her love for jewellery and clothes and our monumental shopping trips together. I remember her for the tremendous courage and humour with which she faced the prospect of dialysis and all the indignities that renal failure brought over the course of 8 years. I remember her for her encyclopaedic knowledge of classical music and English literature; for her love of Stephen King novels and cheerful embracing of cathartic swearing at a time when my friends’ mothers simply did not swear; for her perfume (always Calêche); for her Ferragamo shoes; and for her obsession with Georg Jensen tableware. I wonder if these are all things for which she wanted to be remembered; and I wonder what people will remember about me.
I hope they remember coming to my house for lunch and leaving at midnight, replete with good wine and good company. I hope they remember that I made them laugh till their cheeks ached. And I hope they remember the simple delights of this galette. It was meant to be a “last gasp of summer” dessert with nectarines and cherries, but alas, no cherries were to be had. So I substituted plums for the cherries and this was the result. One lunch guest who tried it said that what she liked about it was that “it actually tastes of fruit!”, as opposed to sugar – which was the look I was going for You can make the pastry the day before – just take it out of the fridge about 30 mins before rolling it out. And you can try different nuts in the filling – almonds, pistachios or hazelnuts.
NECTARINE AND PLUM GALETTE (serves 8)
FOR THE PASTRY:
250g plain flour
150g butter, cubed
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1-3 Tbsp iced water (added one at a time – stop when dough forms a ball)
FOR THE FILLING:
50g ground pecan nuts (or nuts of your choice)
30g soft brown sugar
500g plums, stoned and cut into 1/8th wedges
400g nectarines, stoned and cut into 1/8th wedges
40g granulated sugar
icing sugar to serve (optional)
To make the pastry, either blitz together the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor or rub the butter into the flour and sugar mixture in a large bowl, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix the yolk with the water and add that to the mixing bowl. Mix again with the food processor or by hand until the dough comes together in a ball. Scrape out of the bowl, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for a few hours.
When you are ready to make the galette, remove the dough from the fridge about 20-30 minutes before you want to roll it. Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
Roll the pastry into a circle about 24cm across and 2.5mm thick. Place this circle on to a metal baking sheet covered with baking paper . Mix the ground nuts and soft brown sugar and sprinkle over the pastry, leaving a rim of about 4cm all the way round. Pile the fruit on top of the nut mixture – no need to be tidy about this! Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the fruit. Pull up the rim of the pastry and fold it over the edge of the fruit all the way round so that it seals in the filling (you may have to pinch bits together to secure).
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes, until the pastry is turning golden and the fruit slightly caramelised. Allow to cool before serving: the caramelly sugar, nut and fruit mix will firm up as it cools – hot out of the oven, it will be a messy affair! If desired, sift over a light dusting of icing sugar once cooled. Serve with whipped cream with just a touch of Amaretto in it.
And with less than 10 days to go until the next From Plate to Page workshop kicks off in Tuscany, we are busy finalising menus and putting the finishing touches to our presentations and workshops. We are also about to announce a couple of exciting new sponsors – and stay tuned next week when we announce the fabulous venue for Plate to Page 2012 – in the UK!