Soup for Miracles
Saturday, 31 October 2009
My cousin Angus was a pyromaniac before he could walk. Not an arsonist, let's just get that straight. He loved, respected and was enraptured by fire. Not just the flames, but the whole religious ritual. Before the NS's abdication, we lived in Cumbria in a house on a cliff with a fireplace that all the children could stand up in together. Every Christmas Eve, the dads bundled us overexcited kids into wellies and waterproofs and marched us through the gloaming over the field with the Roman remains, scrambled us down the brows and onto the beach to womble* for the Christmas Log.
This huge lump of tree was then hauled back up the cliff using old rope, chains and as much bot-power as social services would let them get away with. Whining was verboten, especially with Santa's Fairies on constant lookout for places to leave the apocryphal lump of coal. The Northern Socialist would then channel his inner Thoreau and build the fire using the Guardian, twigs, the scantest bit of coal and finally, the Christmas Log. This would then burn for about three days, sparking and whistling. Strange colours would flame out of it, whooshing among the crannies and no doubt getting us kids all well off our tits on chemical fumes. No matter. While the grown ups were in another room shrieking to Morcambe and Wise, we would lie in the dark, rapt on the hearthrug, Christmas lights twinkling, and make last-minute bargains with Santa.
Angus always came the closest to getting a coal-stuffed stocking. He hated leaving the fire, and would push Santa's fairies to the limits of patience dragging his feet in protest at the unfairness of leaving his place of worship by the hearth. In the morning, he was always first downstairs, loudly lisping tales of still-burning miracles to bedrooms flurried with wrapping paper and spent stockings.
When I was at University, he came to stay with me for a night in my terraced hovel. I assumed at fifteen, he'd be keen to enjoy cheap unsupervised booze. Instead, I went to the pub and he stayed behind, cleaned out the chimney in my dank little room and built me a crackling, beautiful fire.
Seven long years ago, he married a wonderful girl. They waited to have a baby. And waited. Through all the cousins' babies, he kept the fires burning. He taught my son and nephews how to use a chainsaw and took them on tractor rides and always smiled. It must have been very hard for them - I cannot think of two people more suited to parenthood. Last month, at long last, they had a son. Many tears of joy were shed, many glasses raised, many fires lit.
Today they came for lunch and I met a bonny happy baby. His parents beamed non-stop. While Angus inspected the chimneys, I made them a firey soup.
Fry onions and garlic in the time-honoured way. Add a teaspoon each of cumin and smoked paprika. Chuck in several handfuls of red lentils, add two cartons of tomato passata and top up with (sorry Antonio) vegetable stock. Simmer while you hoist a month-old baby onto your shoulder and breathe in the smell of skin and wonder. When the lentils are tender (about 40 minutes) serve with rustic bread and eat with one hand, patting the sleeping baby with the other. Feeds vegetarians and carnivores alike.
*"..making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind.." For more of this click here.