smoked pepper mackerel with raspberry relish; fennel and orange salad

26 Apr

The disaffected baker youth are getting restless, shifting in their spots at the back of the class.

One of them wants to be a barman now, thinks it might be a bit more street. They all recoil from the draconian rules: they don’t want to take off their caps, giant headphones, piercings. Me neither, to be honest. The military atmosphere, lining up two by two to walk up to the classroom (in silence!)  makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

It was supposed to be about the cakes. But first we have to sit through science, technology, commerce classes. It might be interesting if it wasn’t dictation. We copy, word for word. The rebellious ones read the newspaper.

Last week someone started a fire in the bathroom.

Pastry school turns out to have downsides. Not all sunshine and sugar roses. At school, I get the real French experience. Pointless rules, a man with a moustache to shout at us, to call us idiots. (He normally uses a much more vulgar word than that.) My favourite classmate calls it ‘character building.’ She’s quitting at the end of year, with a much tougher skin than before.

But all this gives me an ‘in’: I get to work in a proper patisserie, alternating with school weeks. I get to try my hand at creams and biscuits and mousses, most of which I am allowed to taste. I get a qualification, albeit GCSE level, with which I can enter the job market.

I’m lucky. I’m still doing what I want to do. I have to jump through some hoops to get it. It’s just that sometimes, at the end of my day in the classroom, I dream about setting fire to all my school books.

And so, not much energy for real cooked food recently. Evening suppers are for rice pudding, peas and bacon, quinoa salads (thank-you, charming flatmate) and crisps. I can’t think of anything worth sharing…

Except for one lunchtime after a morning in the school labs. We made little coffee religieuses, supposedly nun-shaped pastries. (Only in France, right? That and the bicolour “divorce” cream puff.) So I needed something sharp and savoury and quick, preferably made from all the lurkers in the fridge. Something with colour, to make me feel like a person again.

Smoked pepper mackerel with raspberry relish; fennel and orange salad

(this isn’t really a recipe, but please humour me)

Smash a whole mackerel, smoked with giant crumbs of pepper, onto some buttered rye bread, or seedy wholegrain crackers. Heat a handful of raspberries with a pinch of sugar in a small saucepan just until they wilt and get juicy. Dot the mackerel with the beautiful scarlet relish.

Thinly slice a fennel bulb. Supreme an orange, squeeze the juice from what’s left over onto the fennel. Mix with olive oil, more pepper and fancy salt and call it a salad.

Serve your colourful foods together.

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