There is a German word that I love which has no equivalent in the English language. Gemütlich is an adjective describing a feeling or atmosphere of friendliness and comfort. See? They’ve got one word for an idea that just took me nine to describe to you. We’ve got cosy, which is close but not quite right—cosy captures warm and snug, but is missing anything social. Gemütlich is Christmas at your grandmother’s house (with no family feuds), or lying on a blanket in your garden with your very best friends. It is laughing over a drink after work in the sunshine, watching the bustle of London’s South Bank from the picnic table you managed to score despite the crowds, or sitting on a canal lock at 2am, holding hands with the person you want to marry.
When I first arrived in the UK, I was a lost soul. I had recently quit my teaching job in South Korea but wasn’t ready to go back to the States. After months of travelling vaguely west from Asia, I found myself in London, standing outside of Embankment Station in a classic red phone booth, calling an old family friend from Atlanta who had been living in the UK for the past 25 years. I hadn’t seen her since I was about eight years old, and I couldn’t even really remember her. But I was tired of drifting, and I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
Arriving at Robbie’s was like a dream. She lives in a tiny 2-pub village in the English countryside, in the most perfectly formed house I have ever seen in my life. A writer and publisher, her house is a fairy tale for a bookworm like me, with novels and cookbooks and magazines nestled into every available nook and cranny. Each bedroom is silent and private, with lavender-scented linen sheets on fluffy down bedding, and soft floor-length bathrobes hanging on the back of every door. Nothing disturbed me there. The only sound that would enter my sleep was a soft tap on the door at 10am, and Robbie’s husband Matt stepping in quietly to place a hot cup of tea on the bedside table before padding back downstairs to lay out croissants and his homemade jam for breakfast. They let me stay off and on for weeks, while I tried to decide where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing.
I have grown my own roots over the past six years, but I always look forward to visiting Robbie and Matt for the weekend. Dinner invariably consists of some seasonal gem they’ve grown in their garden or gathered from the hedgerows, skilfully incorporated by Matt into a three course meal of pure comfort food. I love the dishes he makes: spicy fresh radishes dipped in sea salt, juicy belly pork with crisp crackling, roasted chicken in a pot with white wine and fresh herbs, apple crumble in the winter, and summer berries with fresh cream. What I admire about his cooking style is the sheer simplicity of everything he does—made with the best ingredients, never overdone, never fussy, always delicious.
Last weekend Matt served the most amazing soup of gentle early summer flavours: peas, lettuce, and spring onions simmered in a butter and cream broth. I’m not sure if I’ve ever tasted more pea-like peas. Who would have thought that boiling three green vegetables in water would be the start of a dish worth salivating over? It doesn’t sound like much, but I urge you to give it a try. Just be sure to get really fresh organic ingredients, and you’ll feel like you’re eating the very best the Earth has to offer right now. I encourage you to drink plenty of wine with this, and to eat it with people who always make you laugh, or tell you something you didn’t already know, or introduce you to interesting people you would have never met otherwise. How gemütlich…
Pea, Lettuce, and Spring Onion Soup
2 heads baby gem lettuce
1 cup shelled fresh peas
4 spring onions
3 cups water
50 g/ 3 T butter
1 cup cream
salt and pepper
pea shoots to garnish
Start by cutting the lettuces in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into thirds, also lengthwise. Try to keep a bit of the root intact on each piece, so the leaves hold together. Cut the spring onions into 1/2 inch long pieces.
Put the lettuce, peas, and onions into a saucepan, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with the water, add the butter and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the peas and lettuce are completely tender. You don’t really want any crunch left in the veggies for this soup.
Strain the vegetables from the broth, reserving both. Divide the vegetables equally among four bowls. Mix the cream into the broth and then ladle into the bowls. Garnish with pea shoots and serve.