The sun has just dipped down behind our rooftop, and there is a golden patch of light hitting the back of my leg. I can’t work out where it’s coming from and look around me as I listen to Bryan as he tells me how he’s doing. It’s a phone call I’ve been waiting for; am relieved for.
A couple of months before this moment, Bryan had come down on the train from Dunbar, visiting for the weekend. We’d decided to make the most of a whole day together, so met for breakfast in Bethnal Green. We took it in turns to lay out all of the things we’d been saving to say to each other, trying not to use them all up in the first hour. Cooked breakfast, coffee, more coffee.
We walked around the Museum of London without breaking from our stream of news; books, Netflix, dinners, cats, and husbands. People we knew from years ago. We stopped to examine a Roman skull that had a walnut-sized hole through the temple, and Bryan motioned to a scar. We wandered – not far – to the corner of a pub hidden away in a Medieval alleyway, deserted in the quiet hour of Friday afternoon when workers await the deserting hour.
In the midst of relaying plans for future lives, there was news. A hospital visit was on the horizon, but not here yet. Not just yet. A year, perhaps. At this moment, there were only discussions; nothing to worry about. Our stream of ideas resumed, wine was poured, stories enjoyed. The talk flowed from historical trivia to what we were cooking. We inspected the idea of making meals with everything thrown together, and how that might be the way to not worry about getting it wrong. Like many, Bryan’s dislike of recipes is real.
Six weeks later, a pub by the harbour, another glass of wine. It was my birthday, and I was conscious that me and Bryan had missed each other’s phone calls during the week. My phone on the table flashed up with a voicemail; I had missed him again. Without listening to the message, I called straight back. We talked about the things you talk about on birthdays, and he asked if I’d listened to the message, knowing I hadn’t.
The time had come, sooner than expected. It would be tomorrow. And somehow, I’m pretty sure all I asked was when he could eat dinner. Have you eaten? Do you have to get up early? I hope I asked how he was feeling, but my own thoughts were clamouring too much to think about what I was saying. I might have said something about sending good thoughts up the coast on seagull wings – or I might just have been thinking it. There wouldn’t be contact for a little while. It would be fine.
But of course, there was fear at the table, flickering like the candlelight that lent the pub its pirates tales.
The following day, walking across an open landscape of salt marsh and distant sea, I looked repeatedly to the grey sky for reassurance. Hoping for those hours to pass without danger. Please let him be ok. Let him be strong. Willing clouds and wings to take this message.
Bryan will attest to my lack of religion. We often talk of how we understand why people have faith in something, but not of actually having it ourselves. Waking up the next morning to the sound of gulls hopping and shouting by the skylight of our cottage, I eagerly checked my phone for news. It had gone well. There was even a photo, Bryan and Graeme smiling. But at some point during that morning with the sun beating down, there was something. I don’t know what. Walking the perimeter of a Medieval church, I was compelled to go in, look around. I felt myself drifting in the direction of candles. Lighting a taper. Knowing full well I was hijacking someone else’s belief, but asking for an ear nonetheless. I can’t explain it.
There had been a setback. A time to wait.
Four weeks later, the air is still warm at 7.30 and I’m watching birds and planes cross the early-evening sky. Bryan is telling me about his week so far, and listening to me talk about some work I’ve been doing. The stream has resumed along its path. I realise, and have to stop my voice from cracking, that we are in fact talking. And it is golden.
Bryan’s One-Pot Pasta with White Wine and Samphire
If you’re like Bryan and love pasta – but not necessarily cooking – you might want to give this recipe a go. A fan of seafood pasta, I’ve tried to emulate the summer seaside flavours of Bryan’s favourite food, while keeping it vegan. White wine provides a delicious base for the cooking sauce, and carries with it garlic, fresh lemon, parsley and a little chilli. The samphire adds a sea-salty touch.
But the best thing? It’s ready in 20 minutes and you only need one pot. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Bryan’s One-Pot Pasta with White Wine & Samphire
Recipe Type: Main
Cuisine: 30 minutes or less, Vegan
This one-pot pasta is unbelievably quick and easy to make, and delivers a deliciously summery bowl of intense flavour.
- 140g wholewheat pasta
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 chilli (or less, depending on your taste)
- 175ml white wine*
- 500ml boiling water + 1/2 tsp each cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, oregano, salt, black pepper OR 1 veg stock cube)
- 1 lemon
- 200g tenderstem broccoli
- 175g asparagus
- 12 small vine tomatoes
- 50g samphire
- 20g fresh parsley
- To serve: black pepper, extra lemon, nutritional yeast (or something cheese-like)
- Heat the oil in a large pot on a medium setting. Slice the garlic and chilli and add these to the oil.
- While the garlic is gently browning, make the stock (your own or a ready-made cube) in the boiling water and slice the broccoli and asparagus into 2cm pieces. Chop the parsley.
- Pour the wine and water with stock into the pot and squeeze in the lemon juice.
- When the water is boiling in the pot, add the pasta. Cook for 6 minutes.
- Next, add the broccoli, asparagus and vine tomatoes. Cook for a further 6 minutes – the pasta should be done by now, but have a taste to check. If ready, stir in the samphire and parsley.
- Serve in bowls with as much of the cooking sauce as you want. Season with black pepper, extra lemon juice and nutritional yeast.
*Non-alcoholic white wine, or an extra splash of lemon + 1 tsp white wine vinegar would also work.