Sunday, 13 May 2018

I'm just mad about saffron

Ah, the power of words. Sometimes they can precipitate us into quite existential conundrums (or should that be conundra? I must check). Sometimes they just distract from the task in hand.

Take the great meal Danielle cooked for us. A biryani. Nothing simpler and more commonplace, you say? Not at all. This was a true New Delhi recipe – actually, I may have misheard – it may have been an Indian Deli recipe – and it contained almond paste, onion paste, garlic paste, crushed cardamom, crushed cinnamon, crushed saffron – all producing a flavour – actually a bouquet of flavours – that combined richness with delicacy, delightful mixing with intoxicating variety, a bite of sharpness with a lick of gentleness.

A quite extraordinary dish. Like nothing I’d tried before. A taste of paradise without even having to live virtuously to earn it.

Danielle even did most of the washing up as she went, leaving me little to deal with at the end. One thing, however, threw me. A pan containing liquid a discreet gold in colour. What was to be done with it, I wondered?

‘It’s saffron milk,’ Danielle called from the garden.

Saffron, eh? I felt I needed to be doubly careful. Eating saffron is rather like eating silver, though it tastes better. At least, I assume it tastes better – I’ve never tasted silver. It’s inconceivable, however, that it could possibly taste as good, however precious it might be.

Actually, saffron is more expensive. Weight for weight, it costs rather over twice as much as silver. Clearly, the sauce before me was no ordinary kitchen product. This was a substance to treat with respect and consideration.

So there arose the problem of where to put it. In a small bowl covered with cling film? In its own Tupperware container? In some other recipient?

This is where I hit the existential – or possibly linguistic – problem. After all, the sauce was in a saucepan. 
More precious than gold. Or at any rate silver
Doesn’t that sound exactly like the right place for a sauce to be? How could I possibly move it to anywhere else and hope to have improved matters? When somethings right, shouldnt one leave well alone?

Odd that I could practically hear the sigh from the garden. I mean, I hadn’t said any of that stuff out loud. Does she just know me so well after 37 years?

‘Just pour it down the sink and wash the pan,’ came the admonition from the garden.

Pour it away?

‘It contains saffron.’

Again that sigh.

‘OK, OK, I’ll pour it away.’

It was almost liberating to do it. The kind of feeling I suppose a wealthy man gets by lighting a cigar with a £50 note. As though I was booking my place among the big spenders by merely discarding all that saffron.

A definitely existential act.

I could have sworn that Danielle said something under her breath, but I couldn’t be sure just what. It sounded a bit like ‘You and your existential experiences. It’s just some washing up, for pity’s sake.’

‘What was that?’ I asked.

‘Nothing,’ she replied, ‘just finish the job without making it some kind of metaphor.’

Oh, well. Maybe she’s right. It was maybe time de-dramatise, I decided, and finished the washing up.

After all, what was the point of fixating on saffron? It was only one of the rich tapestry of spices that had produced an outstanding dish. Perhaps I could just focus on what a great meal I had, instead of obsessing over a mere detail.

A lesson it might be useful to learn for life generally, as it happens.

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