Some say the most complicated skill is to be simple.
It's easy to get misled by complicated things that suggest we need more - more complicated, exotic, expensive ingredients in our lives and cupboards that, once combined in some magical alchemy, makes perfection.
Emily Dickinson writes of the stone whose simplicity is the key to a happy existance:
How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn’t care about careers,
And exigencies never fears;
Whose coat of elemental brown
A passing universe put on;
And independent as the sun,
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute decree
In casual simplicity.
This suggests that rather than being burdened by “care[s]” and “fears,” we should enjoy what we are blessed with, and be contented with what surrounds us.
My father always used to steal fruit from trees out walking. Steal might not be the right word - but imagine you're passing an orchard on a long walk, and there's no one around, and you jump the fence and grab a fresh apple that sends juice flying with every bite. Or there's passionfruits overhanging a fence ripe for the picking. Or maybe a plum just within arm's reach. He would wax lyrical about how you'll NEVER get anything as tasty as fruit picked straight from the tree on a warm day. Ever. I think of that every time I pick an apple from my own trees and bite into it's crunchy sweetness, feeling the warm sunshine on my face. Simple perfection. Less is more.
Simple perfection is also Autumn to me - the way the light changes and catches cobwebs at just the right angle so they catch jewelled drops of dew, rainbows in afternoon showers that come after a hot dry summer, the colours of leaves. Simple, beautiful perfection. Stuff to wax lyrical about.
It's one of the reasons I love to garden. I love the simplicity of walking into the garden and choosing food that you can bring in and make into a simple meal that tastes fresh and uncomplicated. I haven't had to spend a lot of money. I haven't been brainwashed by supermarket advertisements telling me I need this ingredient or that. I'm not following long lists of ingredients in fancy recipe books with embossed covers. I'm just throwing a handful of nourishing things together in a pot or a frying pan and within a short time, voila! A simple, uncomplicated meal.
The other cliche about 'less is more' is that the height of sophistication is often simplicity. Whilst sophistication might mean, by definition, a complex system with hidden meanings and made with great skill, we also know that sophistication often looks simple and elegant - a little black dress, for example, or the clean lines of modernist architecture. And it works for food too - some of the most apparently sophisticated meals - vine ripened tomatoes on sourdough ciabatta with a drizzle of olive oil, torn basil, goats cheese and cracked black pepper are absolutely simple, having their origins in traditions of seasonal availability, local food production, and traditional recipes with less than three ingredients.
If I pick up a loaf of sourdough bread at my supermarket, for example, I can read far more than 3 ingredients (my own bread is flour, water and salt - that's it!). I was taught to read labels and it's a source of endless frustration when my husband brings home something which contains an additive or an ingredient we can't, or shouldn't, eat. He's since learnt, of course, that where food comes from matters - palm oil, for example, can raise an ethical dilemma, or a certain list of numbers is known to be NOT GOOD FOR US.
And so, this is a long winded way to say I made the first soup of the season this year. The weather is getting decidely cooler, and being on holidays, we seem to have even less time to cook, covered in dirt, engine oil or salt water from the various projects and hobbies we're playing with and finding ourselves hungry. Soup is simple - a few on hand ingredients tossed together, and we have a simple, but delightful, lunch - and quite likely dinner, too. To me, it's simple yet amazingly tasty - less is indeed more. Stomachs full, hearts warm, especially in this Victorian Autumnal weather.
It's also been a simple delight to harvest fennel seeds from the garden - the bulbs having given way to long fragrant stalks alive with yellow flowers and bees, and then to delicious seeds which are famous as a digestive (try tea with them!) and give an aniseedy taste which suits the celery well. I've also made this soup WITH fennel bulbs and stalks, which is also amazing.
Celery Soup with Fennel & Sunflower Seeds
3 spring onions
Last night's leftover roast garlic
Butter or vegan alternative
Saute spring onions and celery in olive oil. Add potatoes and water to cover, a sprig of parsley, stock to taste, roast garlic. Simmer until soft.
Meanwhile dry roast a big handful of fennel seeds and sunflower seeds in a pan until fragrant and browned. Add a little salt if you fancy.
When vegetables are done, blend with a generous spoonful or two of butter.
Ladle into bowls and top with seed mix and optionally, extra parsley. I love lots of toppings on simple soups as it adds more nutritional value.
What is your favourite 'simple' meal?
What's your favourite simple, perfect delight?
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