That Elusive Spice

Any day I am able to listen to National Public Radio’s “Thistle and Shamrock” program is a good day, and when I am cooking whilst doing so the experience is made even sweeter. Listening to Fiona Ritchie talk about the highlands in her thick Scottish accent distracts me from the reality that my ice cream is more cream than ice (and it will be hours before I’ll know if it will freeze up appropriately), and that my tarte tatin is a bit watery.

As my best friend always said, my cooking is so good because it’s spiced with insecurity. The first time he said that to me I did not take offense; I laughed instead, because he’s nearly always right and in this case, I whole-heartedly agreed.

On the program Saturday: lots of the Old Blind Dogs — my very favorite since I saw them play at Sebastopol’s inaugural Celtic Festival back in high school — and lovely cello interspersed with factual tidbits about England, Ireland, Scotland and Spain (the Basque region, which I learned in college when a Spanish friend of mine, surprisingly, played bagpipes, is also considered land of the Celts). I have written here about Scotland before, but it is true I will never be tired of thinking, or talking, about that wonderful place. I spent my 25th birthday at the edge of the world there, and will never forget the sunset of the night before; perched on a wind-blown cliff high above the sea, cool green hills at my back, the next year seemed infinite and ripe with possibility.

When I lived in Washington, “Thistle” was on Sunday evenings at 5 p.m. which was the perfect time to listen because it was often when I’d start cooking dinner. I dreamily stirred many pots of risotto to the strains of a quiet harp, minced countless cloves of garlic against a backdrop of a jaunty reel. Saturday afternoons are a bit trickier because if the weather is nice I have to be outside. This week, because of my dinner party plans, I was happily inside fretting over the almost too-juicy pears for my winter-y dessert.

But of course, as (almost) always, all was eventually well. I layered the 1/2-lb. of (fresh local) halibut with finely sliced lemons from my Sebastopol neighbor’s tree, and took a chance by substituting soy milk for cow’s milk in the gratin. The ice cream was not as successful as I’d hoped, but the tatin was appropriately buttery and sweet. It all did turn out, yes, rather fabulously — washed down with icy-cold champagne to celebrate, belatedly, the new year.

So shall we say a little insecurity never hurt anyone?

nicole spiridakis © copyright 2023