My boyfriend is in Ohio all week for work. Although we’ve had a fair amount of time apart in the last six months, it’s the first time in a long while that I’ve been at home while he’s been away for more than a day or two at a time.
After he left early on Sunday morning, I was trying to remeber what my life felt like before we met. Given that we’ve been together now for over five years, and living together for four of those, I think it’s almost inevitable that the “before” has faded in my memory, replaced by the relevance of the life that we have built together. I thought that I would feel unsettled without him here; that I’d end up drifting around without any sense of purpose, unused to the quiet and the solitude.
Actually, it took about 10 minutes for me to slip very happily back into my single-lady ways. My iPad and a stack of food magazines have taken up residence in his side of the bed. I’m back to sleeping with the TV on, a habit that I got into when I was younger which I’ve never really shaken off. Now that I don’t have to co-ordinate with anyone else’s bathoom habits, getting ready for work takes me half the time it usually does.
One thing that definitely hasn’t changed is that what I consider a fairly low-effort dinner when there’s two of us, feels like an indulgence when I’m cooking for one. I wouldn’t say that we tend to eat extravagently, particularly during the week. Like a lot of people, our meals tend to be a slightly eclectic mix of staple recipes, picking and choosing from different cuisines – enchiladas one night, thai green curry the next. On nights when I’m feeling uninspired, we’ll often have a risotto made out of whatever happens to be lurking in the fridge. But when it’s just me, even the prospect of chopping an onion seems like too much of a bother.
I remember during my final year of auditing in the pre-boyfriend days, working long hours at a client out of London. At the weekend, I would make a big apple crumble and that would form the basis of my dinner for the rest of the week; a bowlful heated in the microwave for a couple of minutes and eaten in front of the TV.
Now that I’m older and wiser, I realise that a bowl of crumble does not form a partuclarly well-balanced dinner, particularly when working long hours as I have been recently, so I’ve been trying to make sure that I don’t regress to my solo eating habits. I’ve been eaking out whatever is left of the pasta e fagilio that I made at the weekend from Ashley’s brilliant book, Date Night In, and ensured that there are enough greens and vegetables in my fridge to shame me into not ordering pizza when I feel like I can’t be bothered to cook. All of which is really just a way for a slightly more sensible me to justify having a bowl of crumble every night.
Crumble is relatively forgiving - you can generally use less or more of any of the ingredients and you're still end up with something crumble-like. That said, this is the ratio that I generally use and it tastes just like my grandmother used to make (albeit, she never would have thought to use millet flakes). If I'm making this just for us, we generally get 6 portions out of it. If I was serving to guests, I'd probably only get 4. Forced rhubarb is just coming into season here in the UK; it's more delicate (and pink!) than the rhubarb you get during the Spring/Summer and you need a lighter hand with the sugar.
- 450g (about 4 stalks) rhubarb
- 1 - 2 tablespoons sugar
- 160g (1 1/2 cups) millet flakes
- 90g (a little under 1/2 cup) demerara sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 115g (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 25g (1/4 cup) flaked almonds, plus more for scattering on top
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F (fan). To start, prepare the rhubarb by washing and removing any leaves and the woody bit at the bottom. Chop the rubarb into 1-inch chunks and place in the bottom of a 9-inch round baking dish (or equivalent). Sprinkle with a spoonful of sugar; a little more if you have a particular sweet tooth or are using particularly tart rhubarb.
- Make the crumble topping by placing the millet flakes, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingers until you have something that resembles large breadcrumbs. Add the flaked almond and fold through with your hands.
- Scatter the crumble topping over the rhubarb and add a few more flaked almonds to the top for decoration. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the rhubarb is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm with cream and/or ice cream.
In the UK, millet flakes are available from Holland & Barrett. They're smaller than oats and tend to crumble a little more so what you end up with is a mixture of flakes and flour which adds a nice texture to the topping.