This is the top of the cherry tree next to the kitchen balcony, which we usually refer to as Ted’s balcony because he spends so much time out there on his chair. The cherry tree is tethered to the railing with nylon string from a shopping bag. When we realised the cherries were getting nice and red, I hung onto Joel while he leaned over the balcony with a pair of barbecue tongs and grabbed one of the top branches. He heaved it towards the balcony and moored it. We’re nibbling our way down two branches for now, and when we’ve finished them, we can haul in others like a sort of tug’o’war with nature.
The satisfaction of cherry-picking from your own home is pretty smug-making, but the cherries aren’t anywhere near as delicious as the huge shiny ones in the market. Our restaurant is right in the middle of the Libération market, in Place Charles de Gaulle. There’s another more famous though smaller market in Nice, but it’s always swarming with tourists taking pictures. I’m usually the only person taking pictures in our market, that I can see. The mounds of cherries have followed mounds of artichokes, one of the first things that really struck me when we first arrived and which, I think, will always be a reminder that another year has passed.
One of the many good things about having a restaurant at hand (there are bad things, too, believe me…) is having someone to do jobs I can’t. One of my cooking staples is boned chicken thighs – perfect for quick curries. In London you find them in every supermarket, but not here. French people must either use them bone-in, or else sprang from the womb with the required knife-wielding skills. I don’t mind taking the bone out, it’s just that I can’t do it with any… er… panache. Having witnessed and eaten my early attempts, Joel now, without comment, puts any chicken thighs he finds in the fridge into his knapsack and takes them to the restaurant, where the chef makes short work of them. Well, he’s got the right knives, doesn’t he? They reappear back in the fridge, ready to go.
The kitchen also has the right pots and pans. I love boiled artichoke stems. The ones in the market are usually sold tied up in bunches, like gruesome flowers. I can cut the stems up, of course, and cook them in our smaller pots until they’re just right. But the kitchen has huge pots and lots of burners, and the texture of the artichokes is so much nicer if they’re cooked in one piece. What’s one more pot bubbling away while they’re doing the prep?
I find it slightly mortifying to have everyone know my kitchen skills are lacking, but I don’t struggle anymore. Elie the chef loves, in true chef fashion, to feed people. Unfortunately he also loves to explain exactly – exactly – how he made something, in minute detail. And then to repeat it, to make sure it’s exactly – exactly – clear. He’s great at packing up leftovers and stamping them with his date stamp. Joel is always coming home with plastic containers filled with, say, two last portions of lentils and ham hocks, or a small supply of daube, the local beef stew. Sometimes Joel even comes home with a half-carafe of chilled rosé covered in cling film and stuck in the side pocket of his knapsack, but that’s a special order…
Joel has asked me to print this year’s menu for the fête des meres – mother’s day. I don’t know why it surprised me so much to find last year’s version on the computer. It feels like so much has changed, and yet look, somehow nothing has. It reminds me that I really should get on with revising The Novel before other changes get underway. Yes, The Novel! Remember that? It’s making a comeback. If only I could send it down to the kitchen and have it returned to me neatly butchered and ready to cook.