No-one who knows me would ever accuse me of being a “domestic goddess” – in fact, the mere idea would probably reduce my nearest and dearest to paroxysms of giggles – but I do have “moments” where the spirit of Vesta (Roman goddess of hearth and home) is prominent. I enjoy good food and wine, so I do try to produce edible meals for myself (and others on occasion) but though I can cook if I have to, I regard cooking and baking as a necessity rather than a hobby.
It’s only fair to admit that I also sometimes fail miserably, presumably in those moments when Vesta has wandered off to investigate what’s happening in the kitchen next door. The Vestal Virgins guarded her sacred flame, so I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised at burnt offerings. My granddaughters are convinced that I can only cook fish fingers – a prejudice left over from their childhood. Certainly no hankering for Granny’s cooking and baking there!
Today was one of my good days, and I’m rather sad that I had nobody here to share my delicious meal and allow me to show off my prowess. Will I be able to reproduce it? Who knows! It was a very simple recipe. I had some fat and juices left over from a roast chicken last Thursday, that had been stuffed with butter, onion and a whole clove of garlic, so this was already a very tasty base for my gravy. This time, I just had some chicken breasts to cook.
I seasoned them with herbes de Provence, paprika and salt, seared them in the fat, added the juices and some red wine, covered the pan and left it to simmer for half an hour or so – it might have been 40 minutes, since a friend called me in the middle of the cooking. Time isn’t so important with this kind of coq au vin. Then, just before serving I added a good dollop of crème fraiche to the jus. It was accompanied by a mixture of courgette, sweet red pepper and tomato sautéed in olive oil, also seasoned with herbes de Provence, and I had just one glass of the red wine left (a merlot from Ticino) to wash it all down.
I did invite the friend who called to come over and share it with me, as there would have been plenty for two, but she had already had her lunch. I confess not only to licking the spoon, but also the plate in the confines of my kitchen: none of that delicious gravy was going to waste today! The rest is in the freezer.
I’m not quite sure what has happened to me over the last seven or eight days: Vesta must have moved in, I think! I started last Monday by daring to go out shopping for the first time, clad in mask and gloves, and bought groceries to last me for the week. So domesticity was on my mind. Maybe Vesta slipped in then? Or do I have an orderly guardian angel?
On Tuesday, my apartment struck me as being messy so I tidied up and moved a cupboard from my living room into the hall, replacing it with a small round table that had been standing in the corner. That freed up a mirror that had been hidden behind it. It isn’t a large cupboard but the living room suddenly looked quite a lot bigger without it.
Once it was in the hall, however, I needed to change some pictures and ornaments around … and so it went on. The cupboard displaced a set of leather suitcases containing hats, scarves, gloves etc. and these went into my bedroom. Moving furniture disturbed the spiders and revealed dusty cobwebs, so of course that meant vacuuming and dusting, so the whole living room got spring cleaned and I collapsed exhausted.
On Wednesday, I did a thorough job on kitchen and bathroom, did three lots of washing and cleaned all the windows.
Thursday saw me busy with the hall, and thence to the bedroom, with a little more furniture changing places and more cobwebs leaping forth. Two easels and several blank canvases emerged from behind the curtains, so another incentive to get my paints out. The most time-consuming task was really to sort and tidy up all the stuff that just gets put down temporarily and becomes piles.
One wall is bookshelves, which were also crammed with stuff that had no business there, including 5 decades of correspondence and even some exercise books from my schooldays.
These have now been archived in the basement (that’s another story!) but of course I was side tracked into reading some of the old letters and seeing myself as a thirteen-year-old reflected in the school books. Yuck!
By Friday, the bedroom was finished and I rewarded myself with a nice salmon steak and spinach for lunch – in spite of another friend informing me that “you’ll never find a good restaurant putting spinach with salmon”. Really? I think they go well together.
On Saturday, I tackled the last chore, which was sorting my jewellery out. I don’t have anything of great value, but it was mostly in little boxes so I just forget what’s where and end up wearing the same all the time. I also need a good place to keep it. Now it’s neatly arranged in “caskets” where I can see everything at a glance and my necklaces are visible, strung up on my bedside lamp. Pieces I’ll never wear again are ready to be handed over to the charity shop or to my great-granddaughters to dress up in.
After my efforts I felt justified in relaxing on Sunday, feeling very happy and comfortable in my neat-as-a-pin home, and grateful to the Lord for motivating me and giving me all the energy I needed. Perhaps I should also add: thank you, Vesta, for helping me become a real Swiss housewife!