The Tripartite Tri-Pie-Tart

Garden­ers, writers and artists have always under­stood the value of the num­ber three: less bor­ingly sym­met­ric­al than two, more com­plex than one. Where would Flaubert, Chek­hov or Con­stance Spry be without it?  And scriptwriter Steven Mof­fat, whom I admire hugely, clearly loves it; he named one of his Doc­tor Who epis­odes ‘The Power of Three’ and one of his Sher­lock Holmes epis­odes ‘The Sign of Three’.

I’ve been afflic­ted by insom­nia again this week. Count­ing the hours until morn­ing is, apart from being exhaust­ing, extremely bor­ing. At times like these, the BBC World Ser­vice and Radio 4 are vital com­pan­ions. But when I even­tu­ally fall asleep and wake again, after what feels like only minutes, I find I’ve acquired very odd scraps of inform­a­tion from half-heard radio pro­grammes. (I woke recently with the crazy idea that there was a dead cow out­side, only to dis­cov­er that it wasn’t the leg­acy of a weird middle-of-the-night radio drama, but was in fact true. But that’s a story I’ll tell anoth­er time.)

One morn­ing this week I awoke with a com­pletely unfa­mil­i­ar word rack­et­ing around my brain. All I can remem­ber is hav­ing the radio on for most of the night and hear­ing someone, some­where say­ing ‘sizzi-jee’ and spelling it out very care­fully — ‘s-y-z-y-g-y’ — just as I finally dozed off. A three-syl­lable word com­pletely lack­ing in vow­els is worth look­ing up in the dic­tion­ary, if only for its Scrabble poten­tial.

  • Syzygy: a straight-line con­fig­ur­a­tion of three celes­ti­al bod­ies, such as the Sun, Earth and Moon, in a grav­it­a­tion­al sys­tem.

And, as so often, a frag­ment­ary idea, in this case about three celes­ti­al bod­ies, led me towards some­thing to cook. I’ve wanted to write about my tri­part­ite tri-pie-tart for a while, mainly because the name makes me laugh. The tri­part­ite tri-pie-tart is a pie that I thought-up dur­ing anoth­er bout of insom­nia. But I had to wait until the Eng­lish asparagus sea­son before I could make it. And now, of course, I can.

The tri-pie-tart is a three-part pie that com­bines my son’s, my daughter’s and my favour­ite tart ingredi­ents. My son prefers asparagus, my daugh­ter likes leeks and I love spin­ach. So this is the tri-pie-tart that com­bines them all. And, as with syzygy, if you line up three celes­ti­al ingredi­ents — in this case, asparagus, spin­ach and leeks — you’ll find there’s a grav­it­a­tion­al pull towards the kit­chen table.

THE TRIPARTITE TRI-PIE-TART

For the pastry:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 125g but­ter
  • 2 eggs yolks
  • 25cm loose-bot­tomed pie tin

Wrestle with it by hand if you prefer, but I use a mix­er. Cut the cold but­ter into cubes and com­bine with the flour and a pinch of salt. Mix until you have a dry, crumbly tex­ture. Add three table­spoons of cold water to the egg yolks and whisk with a fork until com­bined. Pour half the egg mix­ture into the flour and con­tin­ue to add until the pastry forms a ball. Try to do this as quickly as pos­sible and don’t feel the need to use all of the eggs, if it doesn’t need it. Remove the ball, wrap in cling-film, flat­ten it down with the palm of your hand (it’s easi­er to roll later if it doesn’t emerge from the fridge as a massive, chilly globe) and place in the fridge for at least an hour. By the way, I’ve tried rolling pastry out straight­away, without rest­ing it, just to see what hap­pens. I ended up with a soft, string-vest of a thing that would no-more hold a pie filling than a sieve would. So now you know.

After at least an hour, roll the pastry out thinly. This is a nifty tip, if you dread man-hand­ling your pastry into the tin. Roll it out onto the same piece of cling-film you used to wrap it in. That way, you won’t have to flour the sur­face on which you roll it which only adds a whole load of extra flour to the pastry which you don’t need or want. The added bene­fit of the cling-film meth­od is that you can then pick up the cling-film, with its pastry disc attached and then just turn it upside down into the pie tin. None of that wrap­ping it round the rolling-pin and then unrolling it over the tin, which always sounds so much easi­er than it really is. Press the pastry into the edges of the tin and care­fully peel away the cling-film.

Place a circle of tin-foil over the pastry in the tin, fill with bak­ing beans, and bake in the oven at 200 degrees C for ten minutes. Remove the beans and foil and bake for a fur­ther sev­en minutes until the pastry case is golden in col­our and dry in tex­ture. If, when it emerges, there are any cracks, paint a little beaten egg over the cracks while the pastry is still hot and it will seal them. Lower the oven tem­per­at­ure to 140 degrees C.

FOR THE FILLING:

  • 200g spin­ach
  • 2 leeks
  • 250g slim-ish asparagus
  • 2 eggs and an extra 3 yolks
  • 125g Mas­car­pone
  • 150ml double cream
  • 125g Par­mi­gi­ano-Reg­gia­no, grated. It doesn’t need to be that fine — you’re not aim­ing for cheese dust here

Cut the leeks finely, dis­card­ing the tough­er dark green ends. Cook gently in a little but­ter for five minutes or so, until soft but not browned. Tip into a bowl, and, using the same pan, wilt the spin­ach briefly, adding a little more but­ter if neces­sary. Put the spin­ach in a second bowl. Finally, blanch the asparagus so that it is just, only just, cooked. Remove from the pan and run cold water over the asparagus to stop it cook­ing. All three of your celes­ti­al ingredi­ents should still be a bright green hue, rather than sid­ling off into the khaki or olive-green end of the paint­box.

Mix togeth­er the mas­car­pone, cream and eggs, whisk­ing in plenty of air. Spoon a quarter of the mix­ture over the tart base and spread it around. Lay­er on a quarter of the grated parmes­an, fol­lowed by all the spin­ach, anoth­er lay­er of eggs and cream, a second lay­er of cheese, all the leeks, a third lay­er of eggs and cream, a third lay­er of cheese, the asparagus in a sun-burst effect and a final lay­er of eggs and cream. Bake in the oven, which should now be at 140 degrees C, for around twenty-five minutes, until the tri-pie-tart is a rich golden brown. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with extra Parmes­an and a fine trickle of olive oil to give it some shine. Cast over some chive flowers if you like and eat the tri-pie-tart hot,cold or luke-warm. The syzygy is in the eat­ing.

 

If You are con­cerned in pur­chas­ing medic­a­ments online, now may be the sea­son to do so. So the next ques­tion is where can you find inform­a­tion that is reli­able. You can get such info fast and con­veni­ently by going online. There are many ill­nesses such as schizo­phrenia which have no cure. One of the most pop phys­ic is Via­gra. What about com­par­is­on between Cial­is versus Levitra and ? Nearly every adult knows about . Oth­er ques­tion we have to is . The symp­toms of sexu­al dis­orders in men turn on lack of sexu­al fantas­ies. Not­with­stand­ing sex is not vital for good health, it’s cer­tainly good for any­one. So if you are exper­i­en­cing erectile prob­lems, it is essen­tial to see a cer­ti­fied phys­i­cian instantly for a com­plete medi­cin­al test­ing. Cer­tainly, online phar­macy can hands-down help you for solv­ing your all per­son­al dif­fi­culties.

The Alumnae’s Lunch

Eat­ing with a book is one of the great pleas­ures. Eat­ing while talk­ing about books is anoth­er, and second to that comes talk­ing about books that have eat­ing in them. I once gave a lec­ture at Newn­ham Col­lege, Cam­bridge about Vir­gin­ia Woolf. Newn­ham was the ven­ue for Woolf’s talks about women and fic­tion which formed the basis for A Room of One’s Own. In it, she con­trasts the grim, gravy soup that stu­dents at women’s col­leges sur­vived on and the plump part­ridge and sole that fuelled the men.

The lunch at Newn­ham on the day of my lec­ture bore no rela­tion to Woolf’s brown broth. I’d half-expec­ted the kit­chen staff to tip a know­ing wink at A Room of One’s Own and give me a bowl of gravy. (I admit that I was in para­noid mood that day, hav­ing just been to the launch party for a new knit­ting book and been giv­en blue-dyed spa­ghetti with bread-stick ‘needles’ poked in.) But the meal was as plen­ti­ful as it was deli­cious and I couldn’t help think­ing how pleased Vir­gin­ia Woolf would have been that the status of women, as meas­ured by our lunches at least, had soared.

I thought of Woolf, Newn­ham and brown soup today as I sat down to lunch with three female friends with whom I share a par­tic­u­lar bond. All four of us star­ted PhDs at the same time. Between us, we pro­duced doc­tor­al theses on Con­rad, Shakespeare, Vic­tori­an fem­in­ist poetry and con­tem­por­ary fic­tion. (One of the enter­tain­ments when doing a PhD is to mar­vel at the appar­ent insan­ity of every­one else’s choice of sub­ject; my favour­ite is still ‘the motif of decay­ing flesh in the works of J. M. Coet­zee.’) If there’d been a med­ic­al emer­gency in the res­taur­ant and someone had shouted out “Is there a doc­tor in the house?” we could have yelled back “Yes, four”.

Our lunch was a mil­lion miles from the parsi­mo­ni­ous meals of Vir­gin­ia Woolf’s exper­i­ence; the food wasn’t par­tic­u­larly spe­cial but we had more laughs than I’ve had all year. Laughter is a vital com­pon­ent of the PhD exper­i­ence, giv­en that so much of it is gruelling, sol­it­ary, hard-dentistry and that it goes on for so, so long. Per­haps it was a lack of laughs that added to Woolf’s misery about her soup. Much as I love Woolf, her work is as thin on com­edy as her Cam­bridge meal was thin on part­ridge. If she’d had three good com­pan­ions to share her grue­some gravy with, she might not have noticed the food at all.

 

 

If You are engaged in pur­chas­ing medic­a­ments online, now may be the when to do so. So the next ques­tion is where can you find data that is reli­able. You can get such inform­a­tion fast and con­veni­ently by going online. There are many ill­nesses such as schizo­phrenia which have no cure. One of the most pops phys­ic is Via­gra. What about com­par­is­on between Cial­is versus Levitra and ? Nearly every adult knows about . Oth­er ques­tion we have to is . The symp­toms of sexu­al dis­orders in men turn on lack of sexu­al fantas­ies. Not­with­stand­ing sex is not vital for good sound­ness, it’s cer­tainly good for any­one. So if you are exper­i­en­cing erectile prob­lems, it is essen­tial to see a cer­ti­fied doc imme­di­ately for a com­plete medi­cin­al test­ing. Cer­tainly, online phar­macy can hands-down help you for solv­ing your all per­son­al dif­fi­culties.

Permutations, Swapping Chairs and Beetroot

 

 It can be use­ful to sit in someone else’s chair every now and again, if only to scuttle back with relief to your own.

I’ve been sit­ting in B. S. Johnson’s seat this week, ima­gin­ing his frus­tra­tion at hav­ing his exper­i­ment­al nov­els widely praised but rarely bought. Johnson’s finest work, The Unfor­tu­nates, pub­lished in 1969,  involves per­muta­tions — so many of them, in fact, that it took me a whole after­noon to work out the num­ber.

The Unfor­tu­nates has only twenty-sev­en short chapters, one of them a mere para­graph long. And yet it’s impossible to read the full ver­sion in a life­time, how­ever pre­co­ciously early you start. The reas­on is that, apart from the first and the last chapters, the oth­er twenty-five can be read in any order. This loose-leaved exper­i­ment was Johnson’s attempt to escape the lin­ear restric­tions of the con­ven­tion­al nov­el. Instead of being trapped inside a glued-on cov­er, The Unfor­tu­nates comes heaped-up in a box, with the disin­genu­ous instruc­tion that ‘if read­ers prefer not to accept the ran­dom order in which they receive the nov­el, then they may re-arrange the sec­tions into any oth­er ran­dom order before read­ing’. I’ve cal­cu­lated all the pos­sible per­muta­tions of those twenty five inter­change­able chapters and the num­ber I’m left with is:

15,511,210,043,330,985,984,000,000

which is oth­er­wise known as fif­teen sep­til­lion, five hun­dred and elev­en sex­til­lion, two hun­dred and ten quin­til­lion, forty three quad­ril­lion, three hun­dred and thirty tril­lion, nine hun­dred and eighty five bil­lion, nine hun­dred and eighty four mil­lion dif­fer­ent pos­sib­il­it­ies. You can nev­er hope to read them all and it’s pos­sible that the ver­sion you do read will be unique.

Johnson’s attempt to look at things from a dif­fer­ent angle stemmed from his belief that we should try to ‘under­stand without gen­er­al­isa­tion, to see each piece of received truth, or gen­er­al­isa­tion, as true only if is true for me’. To gen­er­al­ise, he argued, is ‘to tell lies’. So, newly enthu­si­ast­ic about avoid­ing gen­er­al­isa­tions while embra­cing the extraordin­ary pos­sib­il­it­ies thrown up by per­muta­tions, I planned my lunch.

My Great Auntie Susie ate exactly the same thing for lunch every single day of the week: pickled beet­root in vin­eg­ar, crumbly Lan­cashire cheese, a slice of brown bread spread with but­ter so thick that she could take an impres­sion of her teeth from the indent­a­tions they left, and a mug of tea the col­our of an old penny. By cal­cu­lat­ing the per­muta­tions, I made a beet­root salad for lunch today that is both spe­cific­ally Great Auntie Susie’s, but is also a vari­ation on her theme.

BEETROOT, GOAT’S CURD AND WALNUT SALAD WITH MAPLE DRESSING

  • Bunch of smallish raw beet­root (big­ger than snook­er, smal­ler than hockey), leaves still attached — around one per per­son
  • Goat’s curd or very young goat’s cheese
  • Small salad leaves
  • Chopped chives
  • Hand­ful of wal­nuts
  • Extra vir­gin olive oil
  • Lem­on juice
  • Maple syr­up

Cut the leaves and roots off the beet­root. Save the leaves for later. Wash the beet­root, but don’t peel them. Wrap them in a tight sil­ver-foil par­cel and bake in the oven at 170 F for around two hours. When they’re tender, take them out and peel them. Slice the beet­root and arrange on a plate with spoon­fuls of goat’s curd. Wash and dry the raw beet­root leaves and scat­ter them on a plate, along with some oth­er small salad leaves, the wal­nuts and a scat­ter­ing of chives. Make a dress­ing from the olive oil, lem­on juice and maple syr­up — four parts oil, two parts lem­on, one part syr­up. Sea­son to taste and trickle over the salad.

Eat the salad out­side, sit­ting in someone’s else’s seat and star­ing at someone else’s view.

I ima­gine that B. S. John­son would have been a good lunch com­pan­ion. Sadly, he lost heart,  gave up on his ignored exper­i­ments and com­mit­ted sui­cide at the age of forty. I would like to have told him that not only did I buy his book, but that I treas­ure it too.

 

 

If You are inter­ested in pur­chas­ing medic­a­ments online, now may be the time to do so. So the next ques­tion is where can you find info that is reli­able. You can get such info fast and con­veni­ently by going online. There are many ill­nesses such as schizo­phrenia which have no cure. One of the most pop phys­ic is Via­gra. What about com­par­is­on between Cial­is versus Levitra and ? Nearly every adult knows about . Oth­er ques­tion we have to is . The symp­toms of sexu­al dis­orders in men include lack of sexu­al fantas­ies. Not­with­stand­ing sex is not vital for good health, it’s cer­tainly good for any­one. So if you are exper­i­en­cing erectile prob­lems, it is essen­tial to see a cer­ti­fied doc­tor imme­di­ately for a com­plete med­ic test­ing. Cer­tainly, online phar­macy can hands-down help you for solv­ing your all per­son­al dif­fi­culties.