I did not know how to concasser tomatoes.
I can slice them. Dice them. Even strip them of impossibly thin skins.
I am referenced to an earlier page in my 500 Recipes for Vegetables and Salads (which is very old fashioned for its inclusion of a Carrot Ring Mould circa 1972, and supremely optimistic given that here in the Outpost I possibly encounter just 5, which includes, obviously, for I must learn to concasser them, tomatoes).
And so – as directed – I turn to page 63 which describes concasséed (and the accent persuades me I am dealing with something eminently grander than usual Outpost fare) tomatoes as skinned, quartered and de-seeded.
And I consider – as I begin to gather my ingredients together – whether the regular focus on something new to cook, to eat, will concentrate whatever loneliness I might feel, reduce it and boil it away to nothingness? Elizabeth Gilbert sought herself in her book, Eat, Pray, Love. Italy. Indonesia. India. The places she visited, all beginning with the letter I, and so she pondered, appropriate given that she was on a voyage of self discovery. I.
But I’m not. I don’t need to find myself. (I have always dismissed the notion as mildly self indulgent – well, it’d have to be, wouldn’t it?). But I need to discover some old facet of me and polish it to a new and enduring brightness.
Why not cooking? Can a failed domestic goddess emerge as an aspirant one?
In an effort to avoid insanity born of loneliness and a fractured identity and the flailing lack of direction that comes with the losing of direction and maps, why not food?
Mashed potato with butter and salt. Soul Food.
Words. Food for the Soul. Always.
Can I – then – not expect the marriage of the two to be a happy one?
The effort will prove challenging on two fronts.
I am not naturally an aspirant Domestic Goddess (despite eternal admiration of those who are) and the Outpost does not lend itself easily to domestic divinity.
You can’t get mascarpone cream here.
So I shall need to improvise.
To muddle along.
Which I have grown good at. I muddle a lot in the Outpost.
But I don’t need to muddle the tomatoes for I know, now, how to concasser.
Carrot, Tomato and Date Salad.
A handful of carrots, a couple of tomatoes and a few fat dates – I am not one to follow recipes closely, I have a greedy family: if a chocolate cake recipe suggests it’ll feed 8, it won’t, not in my house, so I manipulate measurements as much as I am forced to ingredients.
And a good slug of olive oil, a similar amount of vinegar, a pinch of salt, some black pepper generously ground and a few sprigs of basil (which grows – in my case – in the hollowed out bowl of a discarded canoe which I salvaged from the shores of the dam and which is valiantly battling the drought).
Grate the carrots, concasser the tomatoes, separate and save the seeds, chop the dates. Bung all that into a bowl. Then tip the seeds, the oil and vinegar, the salt and pepper and some shredded basil (never chop it, always shred it with your fingers, though I do not know why) into a small saucepan and stick all that on a low flame and bring to a slow simmer.
The kitchen will be filled with the delicate scent of basil and your eyes with well as they are stung by the piquancy of the vinegar. When it’s reduced a little, tip it through a sieve to get rid of the flotsam and jetsam and then pour the resultant dressing, which should be honeyed pink, onto your salad so that it can marinade in the warmth and the sharpness of the vinegar be slowly mellowed by the sweetness of dates.
Pop it in the fridge until supper time when it’ll be prettily glazed with the chill and striking for the psychedelic combination of never-wear-together red and orange of tomatoes and carrots, and bedecked with ebony shards of date.
We ate it with fillet steak and big floury boiled in their jacket potatoes. Hat and husband were very kind, which means they will get it again which mightn’t have been what they meant.
And I made a dent in my longlonelyoutpost day and felt a mild sense of something like achievement, a small, warm glow of happy satisfaction.
Shirley Conran, who wrote Superwoman in 1975 claimed ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’.
But then she didnt’ live in the Outpost where stuffing a mushroom or for that matter, concassering a tomato might be all that stands between you and the madness wrought of isolation and redudancy.
I wonder if I can find one here …