whipped cream & duffel bags

My mother refused to buy cans of whipped cream. She wasn't worried about whippits. I was a little sheltered for that sort of thing. I was also only about 9 years old. The thought of using whipped cream to get a buzz other than a sugar rush was alien. Besides, I was hyper enough. No, her rationale was that she could whip better cream than came from a can. She was right. What she didn't realise was that cans of whipped cream were fun. Junk food and a toy, all in one. That was the killer for me, that was why I complained, why I folded my arms in 9-year-old indignation.

My mother refused to fold to my indignation. Much like the cereal wars, this was a battle never to be won. All was not lost though. Instead of buying me cans of whipped cream she taught me to make my own. It wasn't hard. Good double cream or whipping cream, sugar, a big bowl and a whisk. Playing with a whisk beat fiddling with a can any day. In retrospect, it was the first food I ever really made. Frozen pizzas in the toaster oven and milk over cereal didn't really count. Too much sugar and it was inedible, too little and it was sickly. Over-whipping lead to a churned, butter-like mass. Over-whipping happened a lot. I loved making it. I didn't need to be hungry, or even wanting dessert. It didn't matter. It was mine - if it came out right, it was because of me, if it was ruined, well, that was my fault too.

Cooking the other night I pondered my whipped cream days. The gravy bubbled and reduced (a touch more stock and a hefty splash of red wine for good measure). The smell of caramelised onions and roast tomatoes with garlic permeated the kitchen.

I've not made whipped cream in years. I've not thought about it in years either. Its resurfacing is a bit of a mystery. There's no terrible whipped cream tragedy that blocked it from my consciousness. It's just one of those things that lies buried in the bottom of an old duffel bag. I was just rummaging through some old memories and out it popped.

Speaking of old duffel bags (this is a link), I have one that sits in a corner between my standing wardrobe and the door to my room. It's old military issue - army or marines - a sort of desert tan canvas. At one point it fit in everything I could possibly need for a summer. At the time, I think it could fit me in it as well. I was twelve. Somewhere along the way it went missing, transferred from London to Florida. Later on, years later, I found it again and brought it back to the UK. An old address is stenciled onto its canvas. It's beaten and battered but still strong. I found myself rummaging through it for a jumper yesterday.

Summer's retreated. It's time to empty the duffel of my jumpers, scarves and gloves and fill it again with shorts, flip-flops and linen shirts. Stew on the stove, simmering for hours on end - pots of tea brewed strong and my woolen hats pulled snug over my ears.

The cold's come back. Proper cold, the sort that defies the sun, that joins with the damp to chill the bones.