Like many of you I'm sure, I've been browsing through my old photographs and getting a bit maudlin about times past and none to look forward to. Various photographs strike me for all sorts of different reasons, but the above two struck me - not because they are particularly good photographs - they're not really - but because they both demonstrate simple perfection.
The one on the left is the antipasti we were served in the most beautiful village just over the border in Italy. It's called Apricale and if you ever get the chance to go there do. There is also the most wonderful B&B there called Apricus Locanda. It's in the hills behind Ventimiglia - a mere half hour or so from the coast. Below is the café in the square and the view from it. yes that's a village on the top of the opposite hill.
The point of all of this though is to show how to produce a perfect moment simply. Well obviously we cannot reproduce a mountain top Italian village which is just travel porn really, but we have our own beauty spots here in Melbourne, even in our own neighbourhoods and even in the less desirable neighbourhoods of the city. Maybe even in your garden. Melbourne is good with green spaces, and even if there is not one very close, you never have to travel very far to find one. The food on offer in Apricale was also very, very simple. Well I don't know who made the terrine - whether it was the café itself or whether it was bought in from some artisan craftsman, but it's a very easy thing to source something wonderful like that terrine - or even slightly less wonderful here in Melbourne. Even your local supermarket has options. You can make it yourself if you like too - and it's not that difficult because really it's just a meatloaf. Serve it with some fresh salad greens and some perfect sun-dried tomatoes and voilà - the perfect entrée. The setting and the moment is up to you. And I think even I could manage to make it look good on a plate.
That particular antipasto, fulfilled all of the very wise things that Elizabeth David has to say about this course of a meal, as expressed in French Provincial Cooking.
"So far from appearing contrived, or zealously worked on, each dish looks as if it had been freshly imagined, prepared for the first time, especially for you. ...
"the main object of an hors-d'oeuvre is to provide something beautifully fresh-looking which will at the same time arouse your appetite and put you in good spirits. ...
"One needs imagination and taste and a sense of moderation; one must be able to resist the temptation to overdo it and unbalance the whole meal by offering such a spread that the dishes to follow don't stand a chance." Elizabeth David
And I, for one, certainly have a tendency to do that last thing.
The other dish at the top of the page is also extremely simple in that it is a gorgeous French apple tart bought from the local patisserie for our dinner at one of the houses we rented with friends in the French countryside. You might have to look further afield for such a treat here. If you live in one of the trendy suburbs it won't be a problem, but elsewhere you may have to search a bit. Although now that I think of it, Eltham, anyway, has a few options for buying hand-made tarts and cakes and so on that at least look pretty impressive. To be honest I cannot remember how that particular tart tasted, but it certainly looks magnificent.
Why am I pondering on this? Well two reasons really. The first is that last night we ate the meal we cooked with the grandchildren. It was not a difficult dish, but had quite a few spices and other elements to it and a Mexican kind of taste. And frankly, I didn't like it all that much. It looked good, but I didn't like the taste so much - maybe I put in too much cumin? Maybe it needed some lemon juice as well? Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. But it has made me yearn for something simple and soothing - a simple creamy pasta perhaps, or some old-fashioned English dish, asparagus soup ... Not today though, I'm fasting.
And the other thing is the relevance of such treats to the picnic. Because soon we shall all be picnicking. We can now meet with one other group, up to ten people in all, outside, and I'm sure that a lot of people will be picnicking and barbecuing in the park as a result. Alas, our entire family cannot meet - too many people and too many groups, but we can meet in sections. I'm willing to bet that the food industry will be pushing picnic wares, and sausages and steaks as a result. Not to mention the prawns for the barbie of course. Maybe we should organise a small picnic in our garden somewhere. That would be even simpler than a picnic in the park as we wouldn't have to pack everything up and then find we had forgotten something crucial.
Maybe I'll make a terrine. I haven't done one for a very long time.