As I look out the window today from the kitchen table where I sit and type these posts, I see only the naked branches of the trees and a washed out winter sky. I can see the beauty in it on an intellectual level, but viscerally? It leaves me cold. Tomato-y pasta with little nubs of meat flecked with vividly green pistachios helps, but not much.
I do understand that I’m lucky to have a window, have a view, lucky even to have a kitchen table to sit and write at but still, the scene fills me with melancholy. Clearly some essential Japanese-ness is missing from me that I can’t truly appreciate the four seasons, because I am a girl who could spend her entire life in summer: give me a slip of a dress and bare feet, crunchy salads and sky so bright it hurts your eyes to look at it. A bead of sweat rolling down to the small of my back and the smell of the ocean. Singing and jostling in the back of the car on the way back from the beach, everyone salty and the sky still light. Peaches. Cherries. Pohutukawas. A gin and tonic, beaded already with moisture.
Bundling up in a jacket and scarf doesn’t make me feel jolly and cosy the way it seems to most people, it merely reminds me that the moment I step out, I will be assaulted by a cold that never seems to let up. Odd, because the day I was born was the day the snow started in Sapporo, the northern city where I was born, where temperatures frequently drop to minus ten degrees celsius. Or perhaps it’s not; perhaps the ferocious cold left some faint imprint on me that sprouted into this fear that winter is a monster with a gaping maw that devours everything in its path and one year, spring won’t come and the landscape will remain forever barren, its features made anonymous by snow.
I meant today to talk about my poppa who passed away peacefully this week. He was a man who told stories and lived by the sea. He ran a farm and did milk runs when he was left to head the family at age fifteen when his father died of a heart attack. He loved my grandmother well during the long and eventful years of their marriage; he saw days when a telegram was the fastest way to get news across the world and the advent of email. He pottered in his shed like the most Kiwi of blokes and sang along to Sinatra in his Irish voice with a look of bliss that made him momentarily forget the world.
He ran pubs eventually, and a better publican I can’t imagine – his way with staff and customers who became friends made him a well-loved man. It was from him I inherited my love of the printed word; he was as fond of a quiet hour with a book as he was of talking to the varied characters who took a seat at his bar.
I wasn’t sure where I was going with this when I started writing but coming in sideways seems to have led me to him, to where I wanted to be. Next week I’ll be at home, breathing the warm, salty air I dream of. I’ll be thinking of him, happily though, because he lived exactly the life he wanted – I know it because he always said so, how good life was, how fortunate he felt. He was in many ways an ordinary man but if “we can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures” then he lived like one of the most extraordinary. I hope I too, get better at cultivating gratitude and who knows, maybe next time I’ll be honestly grateful for winter, even if just for its ability to throw the joys of summer into sharp relief.
What’s your favourite season?
Strozzapreti with Veal, Tomato and Pistachio
It’s the texture that makes this dish special – use good quality pasta made in a bronze die if you’re going to bother going to the expense of buying raw pistachios; this is not an everyday dish. Strozzapreti, also known as Filej remains chewy when cooked and is the perfect foil for the voluptuous sauce and surprise that is the pistachios between your teeth. Feeds two.
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
150 grams veal or pork mince
500 grams passata
125 ml (1/2 cup) cream
30 grams (2 or so tablespoons) raw, shelled pistachios, chopped to about clove size
250 grams strozzapreti
Bring 2 and 1/2 litres of water to the rolling boil in a large pot.
Meanwhile, saute the garlic over medium heat in a large saucepan in the oil. Do not brown.
Turn up the heat to high and add the veal mince and break up so the pieces are in little lumps about the size of cough drops. Allow the pieces to brown.
Now would be a good time to cook the pasta.
Add the tomato passata and lower the heat to medium. Simmer until the sauce is reduced by about a third.
Add the cream, bring back up to heat and season well.
Toss the drained pasta through the sauce, transfer to bowls and sprinkle with the nuts.