York – Solving Problems, Being Domestic
It is cold, it is wet, it is windy. It is York. It is England. I need to buy warmer clothes. And a hat. And gloves. And shoes without holes. But first things first. We want a stress free place to park, and I think Michael found a solution to our dilemma. A parking garage on the Internet promises monthly in-and-out parking for £145. With optimism and four layers of clothing on my body, we leave the house, walking toward the Shambles, to make reservations.
Finding an attendant with no authority, who consults the same website for information that we left on our computer screen minutes ago, we are directed back to the Internet to solve our problem. Not letting a little thing like failure ruin our day, we walk toward lunch, stopping off at Marks & Spence to purchase a few necessities—a top sheet for Michael (he hates the down filled duvets that are our only bed coverings), and Maldon salt for me (I could go on and on and on about salt).
Sitting at Byron’s Proper Hamburger, a stone’s throw from where we now live, seems very un-English, but the food is good and the list of milk shakes available has me salivating. After eating every fry set before us, and sipping the last of my red wine, Michael heads for home to stash our purchases while I return to Mark & Spence to buy groceries for tomorrow’s dinner.
I can cook again—I feel like I have been delivered from calorie hell—eating more fried food in the last three weeks than I have in the last three years. Plus, after a three-and-a-half week hiatus of doing nothing really culinary-like in the kitchen other than fixing breakfast, I am ready. Telling Michael if I’m going to cook in England, I’m only going to cook recipes by English chef’s, I searched Nigella Lawson’s website last night for options. M&S is my mini Central Market. It appears to have everything and more that I could ever want or need for a month—except the mundane.
Walking the aisles in Marks & Spence I realize that this may not be as easy as I think. In the produce section, along with fresh thyme, celery, carrots and onions that I need, I am seduced by large ripe purple figs, teeny tiny new potatoes, and long slender leeks. I get to the meat section, looking for stewing beef. What I find is packages of cubed Casserole Beef. This must be what I want. I need a 1-1/2 kg, but the packages do not specify a weight that I can see. I buy two packages—it looks like enough for one meal with ample leftovers.
I throw in some prosciutto to go with the figs and salami because we like it. I pass by miniature, cocktail sized, pork meat pies. They find a place in my basket along with tiny profiteroles and crunchy English cheddar (that’s what the package says)—Nigella has a recipe for Cheddar Risotto for two, I think I have to try it.
Looking for the beef broth is less than easy. I walk up and down the aisles, scanning each section. After the second time through the staples section I stop at an end-cap studying each shelf. An Indian woman standing beside me, that is equally interested in the products before us, picks up some foreign looking item and tells me, “This is very good.” I feel guilty for not buying it and saying thank you. Instead I bend down to the bottom shelf and find a jar of beef stock paste as well as condensed jelled vegetable stock in tiny packages from Knorr. Both go in my basket. Michael appears beside me and I send him off to look for Marsala wine. We pay and journey home.
I pull up Nigella’s stew recipe on my phone. Reading that it will be better after sitting in the frig for a day, I start the prep. I follow the directions exactly, even though I can’t imagine not browning the beef. The recipe calls for two tablespoons of olive oil—not on my list because Michael already purchased some in Whitby. I take off the cap and find a spray bottle—a good idea I am sure unless you need to press down on the spray button 80 times to get even close to 2 tablespoons.
After I sauté the veg, stir in the meat till it loses its bloody appearance, add the seasonings, and pour in all of the liquids—beef broth, red wine, Marsala wine—the mixture in the large pot on the stove looks like unappetizing slop. But I have faith. I set the timer for three hours and go off to read my British food magazine, intermittently watching a plethora of English murder mystery series. One after another after another after another.
At 9 p.m. the stew smells heavenly and as I remove it from the oven and lift the lid, I smile. It doesn’t look like slop at all. It looks delicious. I sneak a taste.