Comfort Us with Matzo: A visit to Mishkins

tumblr_m007ndMIxr1qjcl1qWhen I arrived, I ended up waiting for him about 15 minutes. I had wanted to try Mishkins since it opened but the anticipation for the meal was also met with trepidation as a meeting with my ex is never the easiest thing. We are not, however, here to thrash anything out. We are the poster children of divorces.  We are amicable towards each other, our new partners are amicable towards each other and amicable to the other respective ex, it’s just all very amicable, amicable, amicable.

Up until the point of meeting I’m truly looking forward to catching up. We were together for 8 years so when we split up, it was not only losing a partner, but a friend as well. As I sat waiting, and the apprehension began to carve its way into my mind, I scrolled through the menu for some distraction: pastrami sandwiches, meatballs, matzo ball soup, beigels with lox, various other options described with words like ‘schmaltzed’ and ‘schmear’ thrown in for a bit of Yiddish authenticity. I realise that this is the perfect place for us to eat. The food being served here has tradition behind it. A tradition with the power to heal as well has to comfort. The only thing it lacked was an authentic spraying of Jewish guilt, but being that it was a meeting between to people who used to be in love, there was plenty of guilt anyway.

He finally arrived, a bit awkward as he always is at the beginning when we see each other.  We exchanged pleasantries and sat down at our table. I always find it strange when we are together now that we were ever together then. We are such different people. Or maybe our differences weren’t so glaringly obvious when we were together. I don’t know. But it is testament to our (attempts at) maturity and our mutual respect for each other that we try to continue a relationship of sorts, despite the painful memories that are so intertwined in the dissolution of a marriage.

We order. He has a Reuben with a Half and Half (half onion rings and half French fries); I ask for matzo ball soup and meatloaf and mash. We talk about our respective current relationships. His seems good. He worries sometimes, but generally, he is happy. I am happy too. Extremely happy. I downplay it to some extent because I don’t want him to feel bad. We gossip about our friends and their latest dramas.

Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / food begins to arrive. The Reuben is a dream; it is juicy, meaty, served on lightly toasted rye. The sauerkraut that comes on it is perfectly spiced too. It is a marriage made in heaven. My matzo ball soup arrives too. It is a rich chicken broth, with one matzo ball and lots of shredded chicken and carrots and celery sitting at the bottom. As I eat it, I can almost feel myself being hugged by a Jewish grandmother (not my own sadly), who pats my head and says “There, there, everything will be fine, eat this.”

Next comes the meatloaf and mash. The meatloaf comes in its own individual mini-loaf tin, and is complete with a soft-boiled egg nestled within it; it’s yolk runny and golden. The mashed potatoes are creamy, buttery, smooth. I could have licked the bowl.  We both agree it is delicious. I reminisce to him about the one time I made meatloaf for him and he didn’t like it. He says, “Well, it didn’t taste like this.”

We move on to other topics. We order more wine, and puddings. I have a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream and he orders the special chocolate bread and butter pudding.  He comments on how hot the waitress is. We talk about work.

I am going through a career crisis of sorts, whilst he continues to rise up the corporate ladder. He says I’m brave for changing gears but I am not sure how much I believe him. I can almost hear his sensible brain saying, are you crazy? You’re considering giving up a well-paid job to write? About food? But he knows from previous history that I am not afraid to take risks, and I know he is supportive.

The puddings arrive. We are too full to finish them but we keep powering through. I eat half my cookie, which does no more and no less than what it is supposed to. It is a great chocolate chip cookie, and the vanilla ice cream is pretty good, but that is all. It won’t win any awards, and it doesn’t expect to. His bread and butter pudding arrives. It is wonderful, but heavy, and after a meal like the one we’ve just had, we are able to eat only half of it.

The bill arrives and it is time to head home. We’ve managed to rack up a rather pricey bill for a mid-week dinner, but it was worth it. I feel nourished, not overly full, just happily satisfied, which considering the peaks and troughs of the previous couple hours, is not too bad.

We part ways and I am left to walk to the Tube to ponder the night. I am thoughtful but hopeful in the knowledge that we are slowly rebuilding a friendship where there was only hurt and anger. I arrive home to the warm arms of my other half and I am content and comforted.

photography by Paul Winch-Furness

Intellectual Foodieism

tumblr_lneyvuu5XU1qjcl1qBocca by Jacob Kenedy 

Last Thursday, I had the luxury of attending a talk at the V&A Reading Rooms in South Kensington featuring the charming Jacob Kenedy, Chef Patron of Bocca di Lupo in Soho. He was there to read from his new cookbook, Bocca, and give us a little insight into his healthy obsession with food, whilst graciously answering our questions.

This cookbook is beautiful in every way. It is weighty but if anything, this is thrilling because I know it will be comprehensive, and most importantly, true to the different regional Italian tastes from Venice to Naples.  This appeals to me as opposed to something like the Silver Spoon, which as many foodies know is the lexicon of Italian cooking (the Larousse for Italy, really), which I shamefully admit to you that I’ve never cooked from. Its so epic and to be honest, it doesn’t have pretty pictures and this does nothing for the salivary reaction that the home cook craves when choosing what to make next. In Bocca, the photography (by Howard Sooley) beautifully captures the food but also the Italian culture and countryside.  However, what is different about this cookbook is that Jacob’s writing is wonderfully descriptive, imaginative, and most importantly, gives me warm fuzzies when it comes to the food. Even the raw food.

Jacob himself is warm and open about his love of food and as my friend said to me after, in his own way, hearing people talk about food in a way that speaks to me confirms that my obsession with good food and good eating is not really all that crazy. He has no favourite foods, he loves what’s been put in front of him and he’s completely unapologetic about being ever so slightly greedy when it comes to eating.  To him, feeding people is about more than just food, it is about showing the people you care about that you love them. This I get. I am a feeder… I normally don’t get complaints from friends and family about my desire to feed them, but I do get the fear that when I am a ripe old age and still cooking for people I will begin to channel my Italian grandmother’s lovely skill of forcing more food on people than they really need.  But hey, we love you, its what we feeders do.

I will leave you with this: when I asked Jacob about my pasta maker sitting on my shelf collecting dust, I expressed my concern over my inability to make a small amount of pasta and therefore leaving strands of hardening pasta over chairs and drying racks. He gave me this tip – 1 egg (preferably Italian; something to do with the egg yolks being really yellow) to 100g of ‘00’ flour is the ratio. If the pasta over chairs is too much, stick to this and you can make as much or as little as you need. Amazing. Nonna would be so proud.


 Fire and Knives Food Quarterly

This week I got my first issue of the Fire and Knives Food Quarterly.  This is no throw away food magazine; this thing is a work of art. The Quarterly, founded by Tim Hayward, gives writers, both established and novice, the opportunity to write about food in a literary arena. Food as literature. I love it.

I’m only about a third of the way through but so far, I’ve read a brilliant article by Tom Parker-Bowles about the joys of that oh-so-English delicacy, the Savory, plus another great diatribe by David J Constable about the Scotch Egg.  I had no idea reading about a Scotch Egg could be so brilliant! I wouldn’t touch them when I first moved here but had the change of heart when getting a taste at the Hinds Head in Bray (Heston Blumenthal’s pub).  I have since learned that a quail’s egg wrapped in handmade sausagemeat and then covered in Panko is not standard… pity…

However, the best quote from this article is in the final paragraph:

“This spherical delight, then – like a model assembly of the sun – beautifully designed and crafted and ooohhhh, that memorable meaty aroma to treasure, as if God were to fart. It’s a winner, always has been. A masterpiece returned.”

What I love about the Fire and Knives Quarterly is that writing about food has suddenly become clever, erudite, and less about feeding oneself, but more about treating it as if it something to be thought about in the same way as painting perhaps, or even design…food considered in an intellectual manner…even if Constable did mention God farting, I’m sold…