Lunch always used to be a hurried affair. Most days I would wander out of the office and head down to the butcher or fishmonger (unless it was a Monday when both were closed) and see what looked tempting but I would never be more than ten minutes out of the office before I was once again sat in my swivel chair. And I don’t think this is unusual in any way. I know of no-one who takes a full hour, or even half an hour unless they have an ‘excuse’, like having a tooth extraction or undergoing hip replacement surgery. In the UK, at least, the lunch break is something of a misnomer.
Pity the poor French who still have the sacred lunch hour entrenched into their statute books. I expect it is hewn into solid rock, or at least written in indelible ink alongside the one that ensures a thirty-five hour week and instant capitulation in the event of invasion.
Those in Mediterranean Europe don’t fare much worse. Granted, it is rather hot during the midday hours, but there is no doubt in my mind that having a siesta after a lazy lunch is a better way to pass an hour or two than nibbling a sandwich al desko. They may work longer into the night but sacrifices have to be made to enjoy a more sedate pace of life.
So, now that I am no longer shackled to a desk and the sun has returned, lunch time has become a glorious window in the middle of the day. It shifts, tide-like, between the hours of about midday and half past two and often encompasses something from the vegetable patch.
This morning saw me tackling some of the more laborious tasks in the garden. We had neglected it somewhat recently and as a result there was a significant amount of work to do. The pea plants, having been decimated by three nefarious and hungry pigeons, had to be removed. They’d furnished us with no more than a token number of pods which, although sweet and tasty, it won’t be enough to grant them a place in our garden in the future.
In their place I planted some coriander and more beetroot, kale, spring onions and purple broccoli which has also been annihilated by the same pigeons that put paid to the peas. The grass was getting a little out of hand as well so I took the mower to it before heading into the kitchen with an armful of produce from the more productive of the two vegetable patches.
Sitting proudly at the centre of the nest of leaves on the kitchen counter were two shiny courgettes, dark green and still warm from the sun. Food as gloriously fresh as this should be eaten as unadulterated as possible and allowed to sing its own song, not lost amidst a choir of other ingredients and flavours.
Whilst I boiled some pasta, I sweated off half a red onion and some garlic in a generous glug of olive oil. After five minutes, in went the courgette, now roughly diced, and some quarters of cherry tomato. By the time the pasta was cooked al dente, the veg was ready. It was finished off with a few leaves of Greek basil, whose small leaves are packed with the unmistakable taste of basil, a little more chopped garlic and a handful of grated cheese.
I ate it lying on the freshly cut lawn, a fork in one hand and a book in the other, with the sun gently warming the backs of my legs; a world away from a pre-packaged sandwich hastily chewed down in front of a computer screen.