I was reading The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett at the weekend and it got me thinking about the first dinner party I’d hosted with my husband in our very first house. There were six of us, two sets of neighbours, squashed together around a small drop-leaf table in the cramped dining room. I can’t remember what I served, possibly a lamb stew, or even roasted ratatouille with some sort of meat, but I know it wouldn’t have been a fish pie like Eve serves in the novel for her first dinner party. I was scared of cooking with fish back then. Even in a fish pie. And, despite my love of cooking and even bigger love of feeding people, I’m not a natural dinner party hostess. It just seems too grown up. I envied Eve’s ability to be so relaxed despite no help from her husband, Jim, and I envied Eve’s ability to make a fish pie.
The Versions of Us is an unusual love story in that it gives us three possible versions of Eve and Jim’s future. Beginning in Cambridge, 1958, when their lives first cross, or almost cross depending on whether it’s version one, two or three, we follow their lives as they progress through love, marriage, children, careers, travel, life’s ups and downs, divorces and grandchildren.
Slightly sceptical initially, after all, how was I going to keep up with the different narratives and characters in three versions, my scepticism evaporated as I was drawn into the seamless way in which Laura Barnett structured the story. It is one of those books that just grips you. Clutches at your heart so you feel breathless; coming up for air into the reality of your own life where you question which version you are living in at the moment. Is it one, two or three?
My emotions were all over the place. Do I like Jim? Am I frustrated with Eve, or do I admire her? But not only were my emotions all over the place within the context of the story, it made me think about my own life. When you’re given a complete overview of a life, you see where characters miss opportunities, where their own weaknesses have let them down. It gives you perspective. A desire not to miss opportunities in my own life story.
So I’ve stopped being scared of cooking fish and made a fish pie. It’s only a small thing. But hopefully all the small things will become big things so that if I were to be given an overview of my life, I’d think, yes, I tried hard, I didn’t squander the opportunities and I did good.
Fish Pie Recipe
This is my no-fuss, no anxiety, recipe for fish pie. The only fish I had in the freezer was salmon fillets so I used those, but don’t be afraid to use any fish, including smoked, or adding a handful of prawns.
Saucepan, potato masher, baking dish (a hob to oven dish would be perfect).
- 1kg potatoes, peeled and halved
- 2 tsp butter
- 1 leek
- 1 spring onion
- two tablespoons flour
- 250ml milk
- 1 tsp English mustard
- 400-500g boneless fish of your choice, skinned and diced into 2cm square (aprox) pieces
- a few handfuls of sweetcorn or peas (or both)
- 2 hard boiled eggs, quartered
- salt and pepper
- Begin by placing the potatoes on to boil. When soft, drain and mash with butter, a little milk and salt and pepper.
- Pre-heat oven to 160 fan.
- While the potatoes are cooking gently fry the leek and spring onion in the butter for a few minutes.
- Add the flour and stir.
- Using a whisk add the milk a little at a time.
- Bring to a gentle boil until thickened, stirring all the time.
- Stir in the mustard then turn off the heat.
- Scatter over the fish, sweetcorn, peas and hard boiled eggs.
- Scoop the mashed potato onto the top and spread out with a fork.
- Place into the oven for 30 minutes.