It wasn’t a nice weekend, just now.
Adrian died and also another friend, Tessa.
Tessa was a little older than Adrian, she has grown-up children. I am so sad not to see them both again. I am so sad for their families.
When you are not family and not very very close friends, but still friends, it’s hard to know what to do when someone dies.
You do not want to inundate the family with sentimental tosh; they are close to tears at all times, just barely holding it together, you don’t want to Greek chorus them into the third sob of the day. Neither do you want to put them in a position where they have to bloody comfort you. And you do not want to nag them to give you a role, to give you a task so you can “help”. That’s just annoying.
The kicker, post-mortem, is always the stupendous amount of administration left to the bereaved. The decisions! This form and that form, registering the death. Funeral? Where? Close family and then a memorial later, or what? What on the gravestone? Made of? Positioned…? And then there’s all the clothes, the stuff, the things, just the admin. You do not, as a friend, want to be the extra admin.
My husband is often critical of my occasionally stone-cold front. I don’t really cry much. He values crying quite highly. And shouting. Crying and shouting = emotion.
Do you know what I think equals emotion? Cooking. Putting down what I am doing and getting my damn apron on is how I show I care.
And I think the most useful thing you can do for a grieving family is take them stacks of food. One person in the house will not be hungry or feel like cooking – but others will. And takeaways are only interesting for so long.
This has the added bonus of making you, the satellite griever, feel useful – and the act of cooking will take your mind off the whole thing.
This is a very simple, seasonally-appropriate and highly delicious lamb stew, which I have been making for my family and others. I recommend it to you.
for 4 people
3 x lamb neck fillets, diced (try not to think too hard about it. I’ve really gone off meat recently)
2 medium carrots
2 sticks celery (not essential)
3 big handfuls of barley
1.5 pints stock – from a cube or whatever
1 glass leftover red wine (if you have it)
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 150C
1 Brown the meat in a casserole, which has a lid, in peanut oil or goose fat – not olive oil please. Just turn it all over until brown, then remove to a plate or a dish.
2 Chop up your veg and then cook in the casserole dish on a medium heat for about three minutes, turning so it doesn’t catch. Turn all this out onto a dish with the lamb
3 Pour the red wine into the casserole and cook it over a high heat, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan until it has reduced and thickened. If you haven’t got wine, a glug of water from the kettle will do – you just want to get all the brown sticky stuff off the bottom of the casserole.
4 Now put the lamb and veg back into the dish, pour over the stock, a large pinch of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder. Sprinkle over the barley.
5 Cook on the hob until the whole thing starts to simmer and then put in the oven for about 1.5hrs. Check half way through cooking that it doesn’t need a top-up of stock. Barley grains aren’t half thirsty little bastards.
Portion off into those foil takeaway containers (you can get them on Ocado), seal well (do not overfill) and write on top what it is. Put in a bag for delivery and try not to burst into tears, even though you said you’re not a crier.