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The Travelling Lady’s Cookbook: a Grand Tour in Twenty Recipes (contd)

(see preceding blogs for the rest)

VII
A Fishy Stir-Fry

The trains in continental Europe (so much cheaper than those back home) are the main reason for standardised time and, more significantly perhaps, the availability of wonderful, fresh seafood, in small markets at a considerable distance from the coast. Epifanea always tried to get ingredients in season and minimise her ‘food miles’ by buying local, even if she then used them in dishes native to other lands. But as far as she was concerned, if a small market town many leagues from Barcelona, Marseilles or the Amalfi Coast boasted a fine fish stall, the prawns, squid and monkfish on that stall were all in play.
xxxAnd if her host’s kitchen was also graced with a Chinese wok, what could a girl do but a stir-fry? No recipe to guide her; this is inspiration and improvisation.
xxxAnd hope.

xxxSurely anyone who loves to eat and loves to cook also loves to wander round a market. Even in provincial England, where the choices are fewer and the vegetables more apologetic, the atmosphere is relaxed but exciting — well, at least scintillating. Cheery traders chat cheekily with customers or call out flirtatiously to attract passers-by. Early in the day stalls groaned under the weight of freshly-piled produce, while the evening air is filled with shouted offers to clear the unsold stock at rock-bottom prices.
xxxAt a quiet time between the two, dreamy Epifanea Tredwell sauntered slowly round the stalls. The lush green of the coriander caught her eye, and led it to the paler tones of the limes that lay beyond. Courgettes played another variation on the chromatic theme, while the almost crimson tomatoes offered a complementary contrast, leading the eye to the rich tones of a red onion, and the pungent grace notes of creamy white heads of garlic.
xxxHe once told her about an old movie called If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.
xxxShe told him that it was originally the caption to a New Yorker cartoon.
xxxHe hated being outdone.
xxxShe loved doing it.

xxxBut she’d taken the point. To get some rest, to take it easy, was important. Even to get to know some places in more depth. She’d booked two nights here; and though she’d probably wander round the same market again tomorrow, and sit on the same high stool at the same counter for one more coffee and one more pastry, it made sense to stock up for tomorrow’s supper at this visit.  Some olives, cucumber, chicory, an orange, baguettes …
xxxNo; no baguettes. Or …
xxx‘Baguettes — I’ve had a few’, she sang, earning herself strange looks from a Lebanese stall holder, while she wondered if she could think of a third baguette-punning song. Nonetheless he was happy to chat with her, safely behind his table, and to sell her tiny cheese pasties called sambusak, and lightly spiced kibbeh.  She loved kibbeh: fingers of lamb and cracked wheat paste, stuffed with more lamb, sultanas and pine nuts, fragrant with cumin and coriander seed.
xxxHeaven.

xxxThe wine shop had a rather nice-looking white Burgundy in the cooler. It also had blocks of foie gras.
xxx‘Go on’, she thought. ‘Just this once. If he thinks a day of rest is good for me, he can’t disapprove of me making it luxurious and indulgent.’
xxxHe didn’t.

xxx“Lucky man.”
xxx“Pardon?”
xxx“You are English? your accent …” The young vintner shrugged.
xxx“Ah yes, c’est vraie. I am English. But who is …?”
xxx“Your shopping. The wine, the paté … some guy is on for a treat, I think.”
xxxAbout to say no, she was a alone, being indulgent, shopping for two days, not two people, she checked herself just in time. All over the world, men, in her experience, could take an admission of solitude as an invitation to accompany, pester or even worse.
xxx“Ah, oui,” she said instead. “Very lucky man. I like to think so.”
xxx“Well, I hope he appreciates it.”
xxxAnd, as she left the shop, she shrugged too.

She seldom exposed her body to the eager gaze of men; never completely and only at moments of sexual fervour, allowing hands and lips access, pulling open a button or two to let a mouth envelop an aching nipple, or guiding a hand beneath her panties to cup a buttock or caress her clitoris. Even on the beach, her costumes were miniscule but somehow modest.
xxx
Though old-established feelings of guilt added spice to her passionate near-abandonment, she had never permitted herself to complete the adultery. And while her would-be lover both cursed and respected her restraint, he regretted still more her unwillingness to share her nakedness as freely and casually as he displayed himself to her in the privacy of his apartment. 

xxx“Stupid girl,” said Eppy out loud, laying down the book and taking up the bottle of Montrachet. “What soft-porn nonsense.”
xxxThe words of John Donne drifted into her mind:

To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

xxxIt was ever thus, in every age, in every land: poor men would try anything just for a glimpse of a bare breast.
xxxShe shrugged again. She smiled. She drank.
xxxShe cooked.