melon cauliflower. Get it? Life is but a melancholy flower. I used to sing this as a round in the days before iPhones and laptops. Before all the screens. We would sit in a circle in the garden and sing. That’s how we got our kicks. Singing songs and then cooking porridge if it all got too much.
Most of the songs were Elizabethan, and almost all were sad; someone was dead, or they refused to marry you, or you were trying to persuade the ferryman to ferry you over to the place you’d rather be, or there was a rose you knew who would remain forever a spinster. We would often begin in the spirit of silliness and jocularity and steadily it would overcome us, the words sung in strange counterpoint, soaring and dying; My poor bird wing thy flight, far above the sorrows of this sad night. And before we knew it, we were gone, transported to this other place of words sung and soaring.
I learnt the songs predominantly from a girl called Helen who I met in Rome when I was on my academic year abroad, and who then moved to London around the same time I did. She had a French girlfriend called Valerie and at that time it was trickier being gay in Rome than in London, and better all round for work, so they moved. It was her garden in north London that we sang in and occasionally she would accompany the rounds with her recorder. I don’t know what it is about the recorder but Helen stamped on any snickering which only led to more, and us having to begin again. It was better without.
I have no idea where Helen is, because this was before social media, and I lost her phone number many address books ago. She is lost to me. I don’t even remember her surname. We laughed a lot in Rome, where we helped out at an international school and managed the outings for the children (three months of panini and prosciutto, always warm and wet from the heat of the bus, and an orange). There was a lot of snorting and inappropriateness, looking back. We would never have been allowed if the time was now.
Those summer evenings in Helen’s garden got me through the London roughness after Italy, and I lazily lost touch because at that age I thought the world was full of Helens. I still can’t look at a cauliflower and not think of her. And I don’t know many people these days whose idea of bliss is to sit in long grass and sing for hours on end and then get up and make salty porridge.
I sometimes wonder what she’s up to, but I never worry. My grandmother would have said ‘she doesn’t make enough of herself’ because she wore no make up and scraped her wild blonde hair into a bun, but we were all tomboys and wore the same clothes day in day out, and nobody seemed to mind.
And actually, life is butter. Not sure about melons, though they’re perfectly nice. And cauliflower – well, let’s see. They are so much in abundance in the farmers’ markets here in LA (see how I did that? Got on a plane, crossed the Atlantic and before you know it…) and appear in a variety of colours and sizes: purple, popcorn-yellow, small as apples, big as bazookas. I chose one that looked as if it had been smoking Gauloises its whole life, roasted it with some anchovies and garlic and a few glugs of olive oil. The anchovies disintegrate into a salty tacky juice which works very well. It’s really brown salt. For Helen.
Roasted cauliflower with anchovies and garlic
Adapted from table366
Head of cauliflower, chopped
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Tin or jar of anchovies
4-5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Oven Proof Dish (8×8 or 9×11 is a good size) lined with parchment
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Spread the cauliflower out evenly in the dish in one layer (otherwise it won’t cook as well). Drop the anchovies round and about; remember they are very salty, so the more you use, the saltier the dish will be. Pour over a few glugs of olive oil; you want to wet the cauli but not completely drown it – say 4 tablespoons. Salt (very lightly if at all) add the garlic and give everything a good toss with your hands. Roast for 20-25 minutes until the cauliflower is slightly caramelized and the anchovies have melted. Stir and then grate over some parmesan or whatever hard cheese you like as long as it’s the melting kind – you can leave it out entirely and it will still taste lovely. Roast for another 5-10 minutes so the cheese has a chance to thoroughly melt. Let it sit for a little bit so it doesn’t burn your mouth or serve at room temperature.