05 October 2012

Warning: This recipe may blow up in your face, or, How Not to Make Lancashire Hotpot

Quick & Easy Lancashire Hotpot
  1. Slice the potatoes to about the thickness of a magazine (half a cm). Cook in boiling water for 8-10 mins until tender. Meanwhile, heat an ovenproof frying pan or shallow casserole on a high heat. Dry-fry the lamb for 5 mins until browned, letting the meat release itself from the base before you turn it. Heat the grill to medium.
  2. Tip the onion and most of the rosemary into the pan and fry for 3 mins until the onion is slightly softened and takes on some of the colour from the lamb. Stir in the gravy, then season with black pepper.
  3. Drain the potato slices and lay over the meat, each one overlapping slightly, then grill for about 5 mins, until the potatoes are golden.

This recipe promised me ease and convenience. Just what I needed on a day when I was feeling less than brilliant. The two-day-a-week commute to London, teaching keen American undergraduates, had finally taken its toll. Venturing out in the world, unprotected without my annual flu jab, I had succumb to the first cold of the season.

Things always (and always) seem worse when you have a cold. Damp weather seems wetter, the wind, windier, and melancholy moods, moodier. Feeling sorry for myself -- and wanting to prove to myself that at least my domestic prowess had not waned -- I drag myself from off the settee, and shuffled to the kitchen with the goal of preparing a Lancashire Hotpot for my Darling English Boy. 

Truth be told, I was feeling guilty. The poor DEB has done double duty in the kitchen these days, what with my traveling back and forth to London, and now being poorly/ill. I needed to reclaim my territory. So, armed with my favourite pyrex casserole dish, I set about this simple three-step recipe. How hard could it be? A cheat, really. A doddle, really, even with feeling under the weather. 

Famous last words... 

I got half way through Step #2, added the onion, began to stir, and BAM! And explosion of seared lamb, roasted onion and blackened glass. I stood there for a moment in shock. What had just happened? I stepped back and realised, to my surprise, that I was okay. There was glass everywhere. 

Clearing up the mess, I thought: How could something so simple have gone so wrong. As I stared at the shattered bits and pieces, I realised that the same may be said of my new life in Britain. How could something so seemingly simple have gone so wrong? Or, at least, not quite as well as it should have?

The past four years have been full of great joy and a great deal of struggle. And I know I am not alone in feeling that I am not exactly living to my fullest potential. I know that these are hard times, all round. Millions are struggling to secure and stay in full time work in Britain, not just me. Redundancies are common place. Why should it not happen to me? Receiving my 'walking papers' this week from the popular, regional magazine that has hosted my monthly column for over 2 years was a real blow. The new editor was kind and gracious, she acknowledged the popularity my column has enjoyed, and her reasons were the buzzwords of the day: cuts, budgets and costs. I, of course, understood. But not without feelings of hurt and resentment.

The hardest part about this is that my column, although it never paid me much, gave me joy and real sense of purpose, drive, hope, direction and definition. It was a monthly challenge, that gave me a real sense of achievement. An identity (beyond that of Wife) that I could cling to and amble about in socially. In essence, it gave me everything that had seemed all but lost for me. In the midst of a sea of (endless) rejection letters from colleges and universities up and down this country, my column was my anchor. It held me fast whenever I felt I just might drift away in a wave of depression or anxiety. And now that anchor is gone. I'll have to start again.

What are you meant to do when you have tried every trick you can think of, every thing that you know how to do to succeed? How do you 'give up' when giving up isn't really an option? Am I discovering that there is only a superficial openness here, and the Britain is in fact a deeply closed society? 

This was the first moment in four years when I seriously doubted my decision to move here. And, the first time I ever seriously considered wanting to leave. (Taking the DEB with me, of course!) But where we would be go? What would we do? Who would we be?

And how much would we be leaving behind? I know I wax lyrical about our beloved Barford, but it truly is a special place. We have family near by, and good friends now, who feel as close as family. 

Just as I begun to doubt this place and this choice, this place once again revealed itself to be 'right'. Over the past four sick days I have been shown such loving tenderness. Friends and neighbours stopping by to drop off 'sick day supplies' (boxes of tissues, magazines and chocolate); or home remedies ("My mother picked these elderflowers this summer, make two cups of tea and drink it daily. I swear by it with my boys."). My sweet friend, Kate, who insisted on foregoing her well-deserved day off lay-in to drive me to the doctor's, sat with me in the surgery (doctor's office) and treating me to a hot chocolate after; cheering phone calls from my brother-in-law; and a warming plate of dinner delivered straight from the Harvest Supper in the Village Hall.

These are the things that matter, these are the things that round out our lives. The rest are merely incidentals. That is what I have to remember, whenever I feel the urge to weep, to wail, to give up, or just plain run away.

Few things in life that are truly worthwhile are hardly ever "quick" and are certainly rarely "easy". Next time I attempt Lancashire Hotpot, I shall opt for a different recipe. One that may require a bit more effort and more time, but one that will hopefully give better results. I've learned one thing though: when, even after all your very best efforts, things blow up in your face, all you can do is clear it up and start again.


Anonymous said...

Chin up fellow yank. Britain can seem very closed off and hard to crack at times, but I'm glad you can also see the warmth of those around. Gutted for you about the column, but you'll land on top, you'll see. You have been through so much and I'm rooting for you!!!

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