Notice the new and beautiful.
For me, this means travel. I have a scratch map on my wall, on which I am slowly exposing the colours, staring tormented at the great expanse of Russia. Several weekends in new cities, guided by old friends, have been the perfect relaxation this year. Being prompted to look up and around. To take photos of spiralling gold gateways or peace-and-love graffiti. (So far, Paris still has that charm for me, though I need reminding.) An excuse to visit extra art museums or to wander around the zoo and laugh at pelicans.
School exchange in Strasbourg had exactly the same elements: discovery, beauty, fun, all slightly out of the comfort zone. Just fourteen, I stammered through family meals in pathetic French. One thrilling evening we escaped la famille and found ourselves in an underground tavern with illicit jugs of beer. Rounds and rounds of tarte flambée, familiar and yet different Alsatian pizza, were casually passed around like frisbees.
We came home with photos not to be shown to the parents, more gossip about boys, second-hand clothes sold by the kilo. And a recipe for tarte flambée. Not even a recipe – the idea of creme fraiche liberally sprinkled with bacon and onions and baked crisp. Most cultures have their own version of bread or pancakes, cheap peasant food elevated by a few salty toppings.
A good ten years later (a painful thought) I am just home from Prague. I can’t say I am particularly inspired to make breaded and fried cheese hermelin. But I have a stash of memories – from the double dutch difficulty of Czech to the sound of a makeshift jazz band on the old bridge. The scribbled biro drawings I can’t wait to recreate on a tablet. Three days of looking UP and AROUND is an amazing tonic.
serves 6 elves or 3 actual hungry people
1 packet instant yeast
250ml luke-warm water
45ml olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
250ml creme fraiche
1 red onion, diced roughly
250g (at least) bacon, chopped or lardons
salt and pepper
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast and salt. Test the water with your hand: it should be tepid, just luke-warm. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the water and oil. Roughly mix it together with a blunt knife until it starts to form a sticky blob. Now use your hands: push the dough together, scraping up the last bits of flour.
Start to knead the dough, flouring your hands as you go. It will be sticky at first but will soon become smooth and stretchy. To knead: fold the ball of dough in half and push down with the ball of your hand. Turn the dough a quarter-turn and fold in half again. Keep going for about 5 minutes. You will end up with a smooth ball. Cover the bowl with cling-film and leave in a warm place (not too hot) for at least an hour, preferably until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 225. When the dough has grown sufficiently, gently scrape it out of the bowl onto a floured worktop and cut into six even blobs. Shape them in balls and leave them to rest for at least 10 minutes. Roll out each ball as thin as you can without making holes in the dough. To make an even round, lift it up and use gravity to stretch it out.
Spread each round with a generous dollop of creme fraiche, a sprinkle of onions and lots of chopped bacons. Season with a little salt and pepper.
Bake in the hot oven for 12 minutes, more or less, depending on the oven strength. The edges should be a crisp deep brown, the bacon sizzling and the creme fraiche bubbling. Eat immediately.
Any leftover dough (as if!) can be baked in balls to make soft white bread, perhaps sprinkled with seeds.