A hundred years would be too many, but I must admit that I look forward to seven days of solitude, bicycling in the Carpathian basin from Kecskemet to Belgrade. Just yesterday I was engaged, with my partner, in manufacturing cucumber sandwiches for thirty guests at a summer music party in Prague, as well as two kinds of chicken, baked salmon, Elin’s beetroot and apple salad, roast squash, Caprese, beans, and so on (see Outcooking Julie).
The host insisted on a proper English tea, with chocolate éclairs, lemon cake, Victoria sponge and shortbread biscuits, as well as mounds of cucumber sandwiches, though he rather spoiled things by offering champagne as well as three teapots of Marks & Spencer’s Gold Blend.
As it happens, I’d never before made that insipid classic of the British tea table, and though I consulted widely on the web, I don’t think that my first attempt was perfect. Everything needs to come together – salted, drained and finely sliced cucumber, firm white bread, and butter soft enough to spread and seal. I added a dusting of mint and provided a separate plate of cucumber sandwiches with Marmite, to amuse the British. I kept them waiting – the sandwiches, I mean – for no longer than an hour. But they were all gone in forty-five minutes, so I must have got something right, even if they were structurally insecure and wouldn’t have passed muster at the Ritz.
And whilst the guests were entertained by the distinguished pianist, Jordana Palovicova and the distinguished baritone, Jiri Polacek (regaling the guests with Schubert, Beethoven, Chopin, Sibelius, Debussy and Rogers & Hammerstein), the tea had to be swept noiselessly away to be replaced by a savoury first course, and then during another forty minutes of classical music, by a heap of desserts. The party began at four, but it took the host’s oboe playing to drive the guests to their beds. The last left at ten, but the host insisted on clearing and tidying before bed, so I had only four hours sleep before waking to catch the 7.52 to Budapest from Prague.
Of course, it’s not quite solitude. I carry my phone and PC and will be in touch by voice, text and email with all my worlds, but bowling along those splendidly flat roads across the puszta, with the wind at my back, and no risk of drizzle, I shall feel free.
I reached the market town of Kecskemet (named after a goat) at about eight this evening, by train. It’s a lovely town, but a stroll and dinner on a terrace do it justice.
Admire the Town Hall by Odon Lechner, Hungary’s most famous Romantic Nationalist architect.
Tomorrow, Szeged (capital of paprika), via Csongrad.