The natural rhythm
There’s this park that has become a piece of my history. I can’t say that it’s anything spectacular, unusual or impressive and neither do I harbour much residual excitement for it or even love. But it’s there. Not here.
As a child it was the making of a special day out. The reason to gather cousins and friends, balls and bats and eat ice cream and thepla (spicy fenugreek chapatti because no picnic was ever complete without them). It was a reason to run fast and free, get wet and exhausted. The park felt enormous, an oasis in a city beating with samosa and cheese. It was a proper day out, from pet’s corner, café, boat riding to walking along the oriental bridge.
As teenagers my best friend and I, whom I met when we were just four, would take walks of distraction through the park. It felt much smaller now, as we walked fast to burn off those empty calories we had consumed during exam preparation with the drizzle on our faces. We would laugh and crack ridiculous jokes to ease the pressures and discharge the studious tones of the day. We would normally end up in the café, which looked like it had frozen in time a few decades ago. The counter revealed tray bakes with hundreds and thousands on them and sloppy icing. We giggled.
In our late teens my friends and I bonded on the bench that overlooked the boating lake. We had a hidden spot, or so we thought. I had overheard my mum and her friends talk about one of their colleagues who had an affair with a bloke and they would secretly meet on the same bench.
So we talked and shared. The more we shared the closer we felt and this was important at that age. Aspirations, family life, crushes, university, where we would like to live. Possibilities, opportunities, prospects and potentials; it was all open and we chattered about all the reactions surrounding this openness. Except now we weren’t beaming when squirrels came to greet us because we were busy scowling at glaring teenage boys and eventually we stopped frequenting that spot when we saw enormous rats scuffle along the trees behind the bench. Had they always been there?
In our early twenties, my now husband and I would find space in the park. Space to hold hands, to talk or to have it out about our frustrations. I had graduated but was in a London-Leicester limbo and he was working and missing me. We didn’t have a home of our own and when everyone else’s talking or eyes descended, we averted by walking in the park.
We took my boy and my niece to the park the other day when I was visiting the family. I could see the factories beyond the walls and hear the busses and cars swooshing past. My boy wanted to run free and fast. The kiddies held hands as we showed them the ducks and the bridge looked small. The café wasn’t heaving with squeals or smiles but still sold sloppy looking tray bakes and chips with cheese on them. The faces were unfamiliar and there were fewer flowers. The rabbits were sleepy and fat. Had my rhythm changed, or is the past just the past.
It was good to be home. The house looked cleaner than I remembered leaving it and I wanted something to revive me from the fatigue and sleepy memories. Tomatoes are more intense and deep coloured when roasted, with more sweetness and that’s what got me started. There is no pairing like tomatoes and basil and a curry cajoles me into my natural rhythm, always. It was meant to be. This curry is unusual, but you know it will work, don’t you.
Ingredients to serve 3-4ss
250g paneer cut into 2cm cubes
6 deep red tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp. cumin seeds
¼ tsp. mustard seeds
1 small stick of cinnamon
75g basil, very finely chopped (I used a food processor)
1 tsp. paprika
¾ tsp. paprika
Salt to taste
4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
2 green chillies, slit and halved
½ tsp. turmeric
2 tbsp. oil for the curry and 1 tbsp. for shallow frying the paneer
- Cut the tomatoes and in half and drizzle them with oil. Sit them on some baking paper with the cut side upwards and roast them in the oven at 150degrees until they look lightly brown and intense. Whilst the tomatoes are roasting, mid-way add 4 cloves of garlic in their shell and let them roast too.
- Heat a non-stick pan and add 1 tbsp. oil to shallow fry the paneer until it is lightly golden. Remove onto some kitchen paper and drain off the excess oil.
- Once the tomatoes and garlic are roasted, lightly blitz them together so that you have a chunky sauce.
- Heat 2 tbsp. in the non-stick pan add the cumin seeds, turmeric, chillies, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon and allow the seeds to sizzle before stirring in the onions and salt. Sauté for a couple of minutes.
- Pour in the tomato and garlic sauce and bring the mixture to a simmer before sprinkling in the paprika and garam masala and then the paneer with water.
- Simmer for 7-8 minutes before mixing in the basil and then simmer for a further two minutes.
- Serve hot with chapatti or rice.