Comfort Food 1 – London
The trip on the subway was long. Greenwich to Wimbledon. London East to London West, changing trains in Westminster. Almost one hour in the tube, but it was worth it. I needed the comfort, the hugs and somebody to talk to in a city where I was always lonely and a bit lost. My friend Leni also cooked a very particular Shepherd’s pie, with unusual ingredients that might have something to do with the magic power of making me feel loved.
The traditional recipe is a mix of ground lamb, carrots, mushrooms, onions and peas, covered by a crust of mashed potatoes. But Leni made it with a twist: a mountain of parsley and a bunch of olives.
“Olives??? Are you crazy? You can’t put them on shepherd’s pie!” her horrified English husband used to say.
She didn’t care and added also the unthinkable: a dash of white wine to spice up the Worcestershire sauce when browning the meat.
From the tube station I had to walk 10 minutes to her place. Even if we were in opposite sides of London, her neighborhood looked a lot like mine: lines of quiet and orderly Georgian and Victorian houses with brown exposed bricks, lawns, daffodils. Leni lived in an old grey Victorian, all restored by herself, with professional architectural talent and very little money. It was warm, unpretentious and full of surprises, like mirrors in Alice in Wonderland. Very different from our rented flat, nomad-style, sparsely furnished with IKEA pieces. We were always in the imminence of moving somewhere else. She had been established there long enough with an English husband, his relatives and a job. I had landed in London with a toddler, a husband who worked too much and no friends. If I wanted to chat on those pre-smart phone times I had to make an international call. When a common acquaintance introduced me to Leni a year later, my British life started to take shape.
Every couple of weeks we had lunch in her royal blue dining room with tall bay windows that overlooked a small garden. The hot meat filling and the golden crust had the power to make me come back home with a lighter soul, enjoying the colorful people in the subway, while I put aside the ideas of packing my bags and run away. Sometimes, the pie worked as a meditation: Take a bite. You are here. Another bite. You are safe. You’ll be fine. Eat. One day at a time.