On Sunday, April 27th, I spent the day with my business partners in The Catalan Food and Wine Company – Adelina Comas-Herrera and Eva Ontiveros – at London Borough Market’s St George’s Day Celebrations. Spending time with good friends is always a cure for homesickness, but little did I know that bringing the best Catalan food to London’s Borough Market (and London’s substantial Catalan community) would help to cure my own homesickness.
Here’s what happened. Stayed up late the night before deciding which products to take to market, price labelling them, packing. Work up early (you know, going to market early) to pack the car, with the help of Eva’s very good-natured and laid-back husband. Off to market, set up, all day on our feet, no lunch, lots of chit chat, Catalan music plays in the background, the day whizzes by, quick pack up, off we go.
That’s the sequence of events. And that’s what going to market is like. Hectic. Goes by in a flash.
While we were selling Fuet, Xoriç Pican, Secallona, Allioli, Romesco sauce, Olives Arbequines, Neulets, Torrósaw and much more at a mad pace, I noticed two things.
First, I saw couples sipping cava. At noon. And reminisced about the days before the two small ones joined my life. Don’t get me wrong, they are very welcome constraints, but in some circumstances (for example, the sipping-cava-at-noon-on-a-Sunday circumstance, they’re a bit of a constraint). There are other wonderful things they fill our time with, of course.
Second, and here’s the thing. Here’s why spending the day amongst people who, like me, aren’t from England, on their special day, is a cure for homesickness. Have you ever seen the look on someone’s face when they spot something they haven’t seen, heard or tasted in a long time that reminds them of home? In fact, that is from home? Something they hear, taste, smell or see that takes them right back to the family, friends and places they miss? It’s priceless. And rather than making me feel more homesick or, worse, sorry for myself, seeing the faces of happy and excited Catalans, made me smile. It made me laugh.
So despite all the hustle of a market day, it was a very happy day. For a fun overview of the whole celebrations, here we are on Catalan TV!
And we did manage a sip or two of cava while packing up.
I am now 40. I always looked forward to it – maybe because I like celebrating and marking an occasion. Maybe because it’s a fantastic excuse for nice day of pampering. But, really, what I love is hanging out with my good friends, enjoying delicious food, good wine and effortless conversation. Bread and wine. Life around the table. Having dinner for four hours with glasses clinking and plenty of laughter.
I have amazing friends who genuinely feel like family to me. We have each other’s house keys and drop in on each other without notice. We cook and serve up seriously delicious food like home made curry, salads made entirely from garden vegetables, Catalan food (yum!) and lots of times, meals made up entirely from what we picked up at The Goods Shed, our local farmer’s market (more on that later). And sometimes we make tea and serve beans on toast, or whatever is in the cupboards. Good friends.
Even though I live far away from my family (in the United States) and my two dear friends, Catherine (in Australia) and Yseult (in France), I am in the perfect city for an evening around the table with good food and wine. And pampering.
The afternoon started with a manicure at Nails, Inc in Fenwicks thanks to a friend (awesome gift, right!?!).
Then a haircut and highlights at Toni and Guy. I know, I know. For those of you Americans, it’s starting to sound like prom day. There was a bit of reality thrown in for half an hour – rush home, greet babysitter, love on the children, refresh make up, change (yes, half an hour. good, right?) – and on my way to the perfect birthday evening.
My shin dig started with a Wine Table put on by master of wine, Clive Barlow (Press Wine Services). Not a wine tasting – although he does those, too. This is more informal. Clive is incredibly sought after and of course seriously knowledgeable about wine. He also strikes the perfect balance – imparting great wisdom about wine and yet joining in the laughter and celebrations. Laid back isn’t quite the right word. Maybe perfectly relaxed.
There were 10 of us sitting around a table in The Goods Shed, which is a converted Victorian railway building which houses a general store, cheesemaker, fine wine shop, charcuterie, fish monger (only 6 miles from the sea), butchery, bakery, bottle shop, sandwich shop, specialist foods and the famous fruit and vegetable stall. Can you believe it!?! (Since I have stopped commuting full time to London, I am thoroughly taking advantage of this treasure.)
During the day, The Goods Shed is a bustling farmers’ market. When we arrived, the stalls had mostly closed. It felt like we were sneaking in. On the east side, the vendors were packing up (although, The Bottle Shop remained open with people enjoying Kentish ale on the front steps). On the west side, the over 10 feet tall windows let in the evening summer sun. We were catching the transition from bustling market to gourmet wine and food experience.
We started with bubbles: a Catalan Cava from Quimet (Privat Opus Evolutium Gran Reserve) and an English sparkling (Nyetimber).
We tried Kentish, Hungarian, French, Mallorcan and more Catalan wine with nibbles along the way from Patrick’s Kitchen, including his famous sausage rolls. We didn’t quite make it to our dinner reservation on time …
But when we did, it was an utterly delicious meal at the Goods Shed Restaurant, run by Rafael Lopez (my friend has started a blog about his style of cooking – but beware, this blog will make you hungry!).
Our meal was ten kinds of delicious! And the atmosphere so romantic. Although two of my good friends who live on two different continents couldn’t be there, the table represented the breadth and depth of my first 40 years with friends from the US, Singapore, Catalonia, New Zealand … and a few Brits.
Rafael uses local, seasonal ingredients and to create a scrumptious Spanish-English fusion. My main dish was lamb with couscous and carrots, topped with caramelised garlic. And the pudding was both beautiful and delicious – Rafael’s version of four traditional puddings.
Have I mentioned that this wasn’t my actual birthDAY? This was the grown-up party which had to be a week before because of everyone’s diaries (and, in retrospect, because milking the 40th for two weeks was kinda cool).
So, my actual birthday a week later went on all day, starting with breakfast at one of my favourite cafes in Canterbury – Refectory Kitchen – with my husband and daughter (my son was already in school, but joined the celebrations later.). Sweet, precious time.
Then it was a “normal” day until 5pm. We had promised the children they could “come to my party”, and because I had the grown-up version the week before, I was happy about this plan. So from about 5, several friends and their children started arriving. We kept it simple on the food front – pizza. And after the children wore themselves out in the garden, we turned on the electronic babysitter.
On the drinks front, the fridge was packed with beer of which I had none! Because …
And this was after we enjoyed a lovely bottle of champagne left on my doorstep by some other good friends.
And then there was cake. Creamy and chocolaty. One of those too beautiful to cut kind of cakes. But we did. And the children joined in. It was perfectly delicious and perfectly messy. In a happy way.
So the children enjoyed playing, watching, lighting sparklers, and heading home / to bed while I enjoyed a bit of silliness.
Well, a lot of silliness, laughter and great fun with great friends.
And the morning after …
Turning 40 was fun.