I count myself fortunate to have many good friends. Friends from school, from university, from various workplaces, from choirs, family that I think of as friends too. I also have lots of friends online, a fact that I know some people still consider a little strange. My first foray into an internet forum was when I was just becoming a fan of the great Nigella, and stumbled upon the 'chat forum' on her website. I remember posting a question about muffins - and was amazed and delighted when several people replied to me! The more I popped into the forum, the more questions I asked, the more help I received, and gradually I realised that friendships were developing as we discussed everything from fashion to families. Things moved on, Nigella's forum closed down, and many of us moved to other fora, but the friendships remained.
Three years on I feel like I'm part of an amazing community, almost like a family. In recent months we have shared the excitements of travels (often mine) and births (not mine!), and lots of laughter - as well as plenty of recipes and food photos over which we drool. I have met several people in person, both in Canada and the UK - something I always find quite funny because we know so much about eachother that when we meet for the first time we're already old friends! Much of my cooking is inspired by members of the forum, both by food discussed on the forum boards, and the blogs that several people write.
As with any family however, there are ups and downs, and the last few weeks have been one of those downs. The saying that 'things happen in threes' seemed to come true, as 3 members of the forum found themselves in hospital undergoing surgery. Thankfully 2 of them are now recovering well, but tragically Lorraine - more usually known online as Pistachio, or Pi - passed away earlier this week.
Pi was someone I've known for a long time. She was one of the first people to welcome me onto the Nigella forum, and someone who had often taken an active role in 'running the show' online, always ready with answers to questions, technical or foodie. She was clearly a strong character whose opinions were stated clearly - her no-nonsense attitude could sometimes offend - but ultimately she said what she thought, stood up for what was right and didn't suffer fools gladly. I often thought she should be a bit more tactful, but once I had got to know her a little better I found that hers was a voice I could appreciate - if not always agree with - and I generally respected her opinions (though I'm not budging on the gingham question!). Looking back at some of her posts, I found myself smiling, particularly when she replied to a query of mine with a brusque "Get a grip Norm, love"..! Still, sometimes we all need telling that!
Pi was a keen blogger, and her blog, Pistachio en la Cocina, is a celebration of her life and her love of food. I'm sure that many of us will be returning to it time and again, both to read about her life in Ibiza, and to refer to the large bank of recipes that she had taken the time to post.
Earlier this week I had caught an episode of Jamie at Home on TV, and was inspired by watching him make a delicious recipe from his book - Grilled Lamb Kofta Kebabs with Pistachios. I decided to have a go at making them for supper the following night. Searching for a suitable side-dish I found in my Lebanese Cookbook a recipe for Rice and Pistachio Salad - perfect I thought, as I would be buying pistachios anyway.
I was at that point in my planning when I heard the news that Pi had passed away. Suddenly my menu seemed entirely appropriate - how better to remember someone who loved food than with a meal cooked whilst thinking of them?
The kebabs were delicious, infused with the middle eastern flavour of Za'atar, which I used instead of the sumac (za'atar is a spice blend which often includes sumac), and with the interest in texture provided by the pistachio nuts. I couldn't find shelled pistachios, so shelled my own (unsalted) nuts - which is a tedious but simple job.
The salad was divine! The pistachios and the pomegranate seeds were like jewels in the rice, and the lemon juice and olive oil dressing gave it just the right 'tang' to complement the richness of the meat.
The dessert choice was simple. Pistachio Macaroons, from my favourite Nigella book, How to be a Domestic Goddess. Several bloggers have written about this recipe - an example here - so the recipe is easily available if you don't have the book. I have made these several times and have always loved them. I often pipe them, but was certain that Pi wouldn't be offended if I went for the 'blobbing' method with a spoon! Who cares though? They tasted divine, no matter what they looked like.
So this was a meal made with Pi in mind, but also all my other forum friends. You don't know how much you have inspired me, amused me, informed me and supported me, over the last few years. Your friendships mean more to me than I could ever say.