summer

when july was summer

Gin and tonics in our backyard last July.

Gin and tonics in our backyard last July.

Last July, it was summer, not winter.

Our one-way tickets to Australia were booked.

London wasn’t home any more. It’s a hard feeling to describe, when life is carrying on as much as it always has, but now there is no point buying plants for the garden, or that piece of furniture, for you know now there is an end date, and soon you will leave this corner of the earth. The house you live in and love will soon be someone else’s. You will disappear. It will be as if you had never been there at all.

Here is something I wrote at the time. Just some little observations. Things I wanted to remember.

Tom and I walking up to the street fair, July 2018

Tom and I walking up to the street fair, July 2018

8 July 2018

The third weekend in a row of high temperatures, the sun beating down, unfiltered by cloud. My shoulders tanned brown. Tom and I walk up to the village Green, where there’s a street fair. They’ve closed the road by the train station so the usually car-choked streets are filled with donkey rides, Enfield for Europe protestors, gin and tonic stands, a Mini convertible we know no one will win. The smells are intoxicating - Caribbean food, curries, kebabs, Vietnamese tofu grilled on hot coals, halloumi fries piled with pomegranate seeds.

enfield-for-europe-july-2018-philippa-moore

England are playing Sweden in the World Cup in a few hours so giant television screens are set up on the green, the air full of expectation. By the time we walk home with food for lunch, the streets will have emptied significantly. A few hours later, roars, screams and cheers will signal that England have triumphed. 

I linger at the plant stall, my favourite, full of varieties of sage and mint - apple, peppermint, pineapple. Heartsease, its purple flowers shaped like little hearts. House leeks, to ward off bad spirits. Thai basil, which I’m longing to cook with having been watching Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. All the plants I would buy if we weren’t leaving. But it’s going to pain me to part with the ones I already have. I keep my coins in my purse and move on. 

plant-stall-london-philippa-moore

For weeks now we have lived on salads, veggie burgers, dips and raw vegetables, grains that can be cooked with water from the kettle. I can’t remember the last time I made pasta, soup or a curry. We have a little rain for the first time in nearly four weeks and my thirsty plants gulp it down.

The hard cantaloupe melon we bought yesterday, barely giving off a fragrance, is already ripe and begins to perfume the house. It is beginning to dip into a smell that is less perfume and more compost heap. I suspect we must eat it today.

melon-philippa-moore

The smell of over-ripe melon will always make think of that last summer in London.

PS: The reason for the photos with captions on them is because a few days later, on 13 July - bizarrely, coinciding with Trump’s visit to London - my phone died and I hadn’t backed up any photos since May. The only way I could access these pics was through Instagram stories!




summer couscous salad

couscous-salad

You know how you go through phases of not eating something for years - perhaps a decade - and have written it off in your mind as a bit boring, but then you rediscover it and think "why did I ever stop eating this?!" That is the story of me and couscous.

Twenty years ago, when I first tried couscous, I thought it was the best thing ever. My uncle made a lovely dish with it, lightly spiced, full of fresh herbs and studded with dried apricots. My favourite dish at a local trendy restaurant - Rockefellers, I think it was called - was their roast vegetable couscous salad. Every time I cooked it myself at home, I pretended I wasn't a bored 17-year-old living at home with three rowdy younger siblings, but some sophisticated trainee journalist in her Sydney or London apartment (clearly I thought trainee journalists living in such places were loaded). But like so many things, I had it so often that I got couscous fatigue. After a few disasters where it ended up clumpy and gross rather than fluffy and perfectly cooked, I threw in the towel and hadn't bought couscous since. 

I'm on a mission to clean out my pantry at the moment, dragging all the packets that were flung to the back when they were hopefully bought in 2014 or 2015 (eek) out to finally fulfil their culinary destiny. I found a packet of couscous, amongst the packets of kombu and nori when I was going through my making seitan from scratch phase, and felt a pang of nostalgia. Why not, I thought. 

It has also been uncharacteristically hot here this past week or so. For the first time in my 11 years here, London is experiencing a proper summer. Not just one or two hot days and then cloudy grey skies for the rest of the season, but full on 29 degrees every day for well over a week now. It's a miracle. I'm loving it. 

So any meal that involves not having to turn the oven or stove on is a winner during a heatwave. But there's only so many baby gems and packets of rocket and watercress you can eat. So this is where couscous is a GODSEND. All you have to do is boil a kettle. 

And after eating this salad, it's safe to say couscous won't be off my menu any time soon. Couscous and I are friends again and I couldn't be happier! 

It's seriously sensational. You can make this for a barbecue, as part of a mezze where you serve several salads, or just have it on its own. Cook the whole packet so you can pick at it all week during the heatwave.

Summer couscous salad

Serves 10 if served as a side, makes 5 generous portions if served alone

500g couscous
4 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra if needed)
800ml vegetable stock made with boiling water and stock powder

Rocket, as much as you have/want
Watercress, as much as you have/want
2 large pieces of roasted red pepper (out of a jar), chopped
Cherry tomatoes, as much as you have/want, halved
Sugar snap peas, as much as you have/want, halved
3 tablespoons capers
200g feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small cubes
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 small bunch dill, chopped
Salt and pepper

Dressing:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons basil pesto

Place the couscous in a large bowl, preferably a clear glass one so you can see once all the liquid is absorbed. Add the oil to the top. Boil the kettle and make the stock. Pour the stock on top of the couscous and oil, stirring briefly to combine. Cover the top of the bowl with cling film and leave for 15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is cooked.

While you're waiting, prepare the salad vegetables, feta and dressing. Put the dressing ingredients in a clean empty jar, put the lid on and then shake until well combined. Set aside.

Once the couscous is cooked, stir it well with a fork to make it all lovely and fluffy and break up any lumps. If it's too dry, add a little more olive oil. Once you're happy with it, turn it all out into a large, shallow serving bowl.

Add all the salad vegetables, capers, herbs, feta, chilli, salt and pepper and stir well to make sure everything is mixed well together. Finally, dress with the dressing and give it one final toss. 

It will sit happily if you have other parts of your meal that you're waiting on, otherwise dig in! It also keeps brilliantly and makes a great portable lunch for the office.

couscous-salad-2

Seriously, I will happily make and eat this every day for the rest of the summer if it means we can have more weather like this. Alleluia. It only took 11 years but thank you weather gods for giving London a proper summer at last!