Sunday, 27 April 2008

Supper # 8 - Asthall, Oxfordshire

A gentle rumble along the back lanes from Beckley to Asthall, via Witney and Waitrose...a sunny, wistful, poignant Oxfordshire afternoon - and reminiscent of one of my favourite poems, Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.

Village greens and St Georges flags still blowing. Idly flapping really. Bucket-like valleys containing a jumble of 1950s houses, Cotswold stone cottages, hay bales and farm machinery. I stop at every opportunity to stagger down ditches and into bluebell woods. I want to lie down amongst them and have a lazy time...but I have to be in Witney to meet Annie from the school bus and then on to the magic of Asthall Manor.

THE SET UP: Rosie and her daughters Annie and Dora moved here from Green Island, Jamaica 10 years ago. The house used to belong to the Mitfords and 'Love in a Cold Climate' was written here. It's the kind of place you could imagine writing a book. I say this all the time, I realise, but there is something soft and enveloping about being within those ancient, besieged walls. The rest of the world could fall away, clearing the path for the mind to run wild.

We cooked together around the enormous block of a table in the cavernous kitchen. Rosie threw together a vegetable risotto with bright green pea puree while I pottered about looking for implements to make the chocolate mousse. I found myself surrounded by bottles of liquor - rums and brandies, Pimms and gin...and a dazzling bullet of creme de Cassis. Rosie pounced on it and quickly paired it up with some chilled prosecco - great glugs of this dark and delicious syrup went into each glass and the result had something of the Prohibition era about it. Special.

WHO CAME: Rosie, Annie and moi.

WHAT WE ATE: Glossy tomato salad sprinkled with oregano from the garden, frilly frisee salad, a pea risotto, studded with St. Augur cheese and baked Seabass with lemon - the perfect (almost) summer supper.

THE PUD: I wanted to make something non-dairy because Annie doesn't get on so well with it. This recipe jumped out at me when I was in Waitrose: ginger chocolate mousse I often pick up those cards in the store but never make them. This mousse is good but not sensational. I prefer my mousse to have lots of whipped cream in and, no offense to G&B, next time I'll use a really decent chocolate and add pounded stem ginger separately. The raspberries looked pretty but really didn't taste of much (Waitrose again) and I still struggle with the old fruit + chocolate issue....unless it's banana or orange.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: Annie went to bed pretty early. She's under the thumb of her A-levels and so, for once it was great to have a proper ole one-to-one: Rosie's sculpture exhibition in the garden, Jamaican-English marriages, quite a lot of personal stuff, confessions, admissions, laughter and tears. A friend of hers turned up with a crashing bore from Hungary, but it didn't matter because she was riveting! We all sat agog as she recounted the tale of the goalie for the Punjabi football team who she chased across India and who has just showed up in England, years later. I tell her I want to meet a miner on my travels and she immediately pulls one out of the bag. Roll on Middlesborough!

MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: I could have spent the entire rest of my trip in there working my way through the bookshelves.

No comments: