Shortly after disconnecting from social media, online publishing and email for a trip to Saint Andrew's and days of haggis, Scotch and stout I was feeling my earthy self again but still in need of spicing things up. After years of watching chefs Jamie Oliver, Nigella, Gordon Ramsay and finding BBC Recipes, it dawned on me to just pick a recipe each day. I starting finding all the ingredients I was looking for and making spice mixes with abandon. A flash in the pan was quite literally warming into something more substantial. What was a fantasy was becoming edible.
I took a one-day cooking class on "How to use cast-iron." I grew up learning from my mother about my great grandmother's frying pan and my grandfather's pancake pan and always knew about their durability but not their versatility. I had to see the elements of my rooted past in a different light.
Enter "Chef of the Court of Naples" Erny Lombardo. He came to show and sell Le Creuset cast iron cookware at the Milan cooking supply store. Ms Fornaro, the daughter of the store owner, invited me to class after I had perused the store in what must have seemed to her fastidiously and forever. She was determined to sell me something and she could see my weakness for something new and different.
It was life-changing. The chef talked about how the first pots and pans were cast iron, how cast iron heats quickly and stays hot for a longer time than steel, how cooking has evolved from basically meat, sugar and flour to infinite varieties of food combinations, and how the tagine requires very little water due to the condensation effect of the cone-shaped top. He then proceeded to make six dishes for 18 people using only a medium-sized tagine and an oval casserole.
After that I had to have than pan. I found a Le Creuset 27 cm sunburst tagine online. Feeling rather self-indulgent in my purchase at Christmastime, a bit guilty that I hadn't bought it from Ms Fornaro and for having spent too much time online, again, I set off immediately to redeem myself by cooking for my family.
I atoned for my impunity and impatience by completing recipes that said "marinate for three hours and let cook for 3-5 hours." I was rewarded with two items on my wish list "mmmmm, that's good" and time, hours of it, undisturbed, without having to interpret, format, re-direct, or think too much.
Peace on earth and good will towards men has come in a conical cap of a different sort this year and much praise can be said for its slow fire renderings.