This week I’ve been thinking again about the city / country thing. I grew up in the country, but lived in London for a few years before returning to a smallish town up north. Having visited this trendy champagne bar in Manchester this week, where the manager wore a flat cap and waistcoat (maybe I’m not in the know, but it kinda looked cool) and also this Mexican street food place, with really good quality, contemporary Mexican food, I started wondering, again, whether I miss city life, but specifically London.
There was so much space, with so many opportunities. I loved the feeling that there were people from all over the world going about their business, and I was just one of millions. I began to love the place itself, the buildings, the history, the river… The river was one of my favourite places to sit, walk, think. In such a manic busy environment, you could find a patch of river even right in the centre to stop and look out at the boats, the birds, the bottle collectors, and those yellow duck tour things.
There’s something about London, with all it’s crammed tubes and aggressiveness, that gets under your skin. It was great once I started to really get to know the place. I realised you could walk from Vauxhall to Oxford Street, along and across the river, past all the official government buildings, through the tourist-packed Trafalgar Square, getting lost through Soho and then out onto the street, once again packed with tourists. Of course I took the tube and the buses, but I saw so many things whilst walking from one thing to another, and got a feel for how the city is laid out.
It’s funny though, because after a few years, I began to stay in my flat more in my free time. I didn’t want to be faced with a barrage of people, noise, traffic, fumes and anger. For me, the atmosphere changed from feeling exhilarating to exhausting. I realised that rather than racing round galleries at the weekend, I was actually enjoying quiet walks along the river and a pub lunch. The rent was enormous, my commute was over an hour and I just wanted more time to be outside. Actually, just more time generally.
So here we are now, living semi-rurally, or so it seems to me after London. We’ve got all the convenience and culture of the town and a walk to work, with the Lakes and the beach not so far away. And I love it, I really do, but those bright lights still flicker, and occasionally I feel I’m missing out.
I’m certainly missing out on Lebanese food. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a distinct lack of such cuisine up here. I adore houmous, so here’s yet another houmous recipe…but I quite enjoy reading lots of different versions of a recipe and mixing them up – which is exactly how I came up with this. It is influenced by the great Ottolenghi’s insistence not to add olive oil to the houmous except as drizzling garnish at the end.
(serves 6 as a starter)
2 tins cooked chickpeas, drained with the cooking liquid of one tin reserved
1 fat clove garlic (but experiment – I sometimes use 2)
2 tablespoons tahini
juice from 2 juicy lemons (again this is to taste- you might like to add more at the end)
1/2 teaspoon salt
to serve – good quality olive oil and pitta bread
1. Blitz the chickpeas, garlic, tahini and salt in a food processor and blend for a good few minutes until smooth. If it lumps together too much, add a splash of the chickpea cooking liquid.
2. Once blended, slowly add the lemon juice, and then the water until the houmous is the consistency you like.
3. Serve with warmed pitta bread and a drizzle of olive oil.