“She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.”
There are times, even when life is all well and good, when I wish I was somewhere else. Right now, as the streets of London ache with cold, is one of those times.
My office is cold. The radiator is bust. We sit at our computers huddled in coats and clutching hot drinks and willing the heat to come on. Or willing the day to end so we can be elsewhere. Probably somewhere with central heating. It’s as I will the day to end and will the heat to come on that my mind wanders, and my head goes off into the stars and imagines everywhere else I might want to be.
I like the cold. I just do not like to be trapped in it. If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose a lodge, maybe somewhere in the snowy Scottish Highlands. There would be whole wooden cupboards full of blankets, and a tiny little fireplace, and bookshelves full of young adult fiction. And access to the internet. In the lodge, it is ok for me to be by myself when I want to. It is ok for me to go outside and stare at the mountains, and play in the snow, and build a snowman, and come back inside all ruddy-cheeked to warm up with deep mugs of hot chocolate and pink marshmallows.
If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose a city. Not London. I would choose somewhere I have never been before – Krakow, maybe, or Berlin, where beer is cheap – and I would have someone with me to hold my hand as we run around exploring, taking in tall buildings and art we don’t understand and brand new sights. We would toast with strangers in beer halls and kiss in the moonlight in the main square.
If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose to be on the beach. Not in the scorching heat, but when it is warm enough to only wear a t-shirt. It would be the good kind of beach, with proper sand for sculpture. I would feel confident enough in my own skin to wear shorts and to let ice cream drip down my chin. I would bring friends, and we would throw a frisbee to each other and bury someone up to their neck. We would wade in the shallow tide and collect shells, and we would do it all without any sense of crippling self-consciousness.
If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would pick a swimming pool, with knotted hair scraped back from my face and warm water gently supporting me as I lift an arm, and pull, the other arm up, and pull, and kick kick kick. I would lie on my back and drift through the water, and put my ears down under the surface and enjoy the strange, muffled sound of everything around me.
Sometimes, you cannot be where you would choose. I can’t. I need to come to work, and earn money, and all of those real person things. And so, to make the cold bearable, I made a soup. In it, I put those little pasta stars, so that when I stare into the soup (clutched between my icy white hands), it feels a bit special. The stars, surrounded by all the different colours of vegetables, remind me that there is a whole world outside the window. But for now there is soup, and it is warming, and filling, and a little bit special.
“Adventures are all very well in their place, but there’s a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.”
- A knob of butter
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 3 sticks celery
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar
- 5 fat cloves of garlic
- A few shakes of chilli powder, if liked
- A tin of chopped tomatoes (400g)
- Water - enough to fill the tin 2 and a half times
- 2 chicken stock cubes*
- 3/4 cup pasta stars (or any other small pasta)
- A tin of cannellini beans (400g)
- A few handfuls of spinach, roughly chopped
- First, make a soffrito. Chop up the carrot, the onion and the celery - as chunky or as fine as you like, depending on how chunky or fine you like your soup to be.
- Over a medium heat, melt the butter in a big saucepan. When it's melted, add the carrot, onion and celery - your soffrito - and let cook for a few minutes until the onion starts to go a little clear. Keep it moving so the butter coats the soffrito and the vegetables start to shine like little gems.
- Mince your garlic. Add the crushed fennel seeds and garlic to the pan and leave to cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic gets a bit fragrant.
- Add your tin of tomatoes to the pan, then the water. Just re-fill the can from the tap, put it in the pan, repeat, repeat again but with a half full can. You can use more or less depending how thick you like a soup.
- Crush in the stock cubes, add some chilli and maybe a few grinds of black pepper.Give it a stir to blend in the stock cubes. Bring to the boil.
- Add in the beans and the cup of pasta. Leave on the heat for about 10-15 minutes, until the pasta has cooked through.
- Add the spinach, stir, and cook for 2 minutes or so until just wilted.
- Serve, or put in tupperware in the fridge ready to be taken to work and held close for warmth.
- *you could use vegetable stock to make this recipe vegetarian