I Have Heard the Mermaids Eating Mangoes

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Would you Adam&Eve it? The penultimate chapter (and a day early cos I is on a night train to That London tonight and back tomorrow) … come back next week for the thrilling — OK, charming finale of The Travelling Lady’s Cookbook.

XIX
Sticky rice and mango

I feel sick

Epifanea laughed. Typical of him to get nauseous watching a video, while she was fine filming it at 60 kilometres an hour and upside down.

I feel sexy
Better than picnics of passion any day

Funfairs of fucking  haha

Too white knuckle for me

More like soggy gusset for me

You’re weird
But I love you

You’re boring but I love you

 

Open minded, he was, to a satisfactory degree at least. And she could hardly deny that she wasn’t all that adventurous in certain areas herself, as Picnics was proving. But adrenaline junkie, he certainly was not. Were he here in the pleasure gardens, at least he’d hold her bag for her while she went on every ride she could afford, and pretend not to know her as she screamed the place down. And though he’d said he would accompany her on skiing holidays if she wanted, the thought of him sitting in the bar doing loads of moody au lieu de ski, would take the edge of plummeting down hillsides.

So what’s the dessert?

Mango and sticky rice, my style

Oh nice.
Now I am looking forward to you coming home
But that’s all you’re eating?

No I found a cool place to have a smørrebrød first

That’s easy for you to say
How do you get the fancy Os?

Hold the o down and options come up

Oh yeah forgot
So what’s smobrod

Open sandwiches
Herring, ham, stuff

Anyway. Best till last
On the demon next!

Crazy woman
Have fun
Love you

 

But Eppy had reached the head of the queue and was heading for the roller coaster like an excited child that’s been told ‘one more ride then we stop’.

And shop.
She knew she’d have to compromise. At home in the right season, she’d find a ripe mango and wrestle with it to get the stupidly-designed stone out and present it sliced in an aesthetic fan shape. Here, she’d settle for a small plastic tub of mango cubes.
She had also assumed she’d have to improvise a steamer for the khao nieaw, or sticky Thai rice she’d carried with her, along with the small tin of coconut milk, for nearly a week, but the kitchen boasted a tall pot with a removable cage, for sweetcorn or asparagus, and she was sure a small steamer bag with  a lot of holes punched in it could sit within, just clear of the boiling water.

She’d got up early, in her apartment near the harbour. The area itself was quaint but far too touristy for her tastes, but in the hundred or two metres walk from there to her flat, the crowds thinned out rapidly and the restaurants and bars became more ‘real’. And by dawn’s early light, it was indeed as picturesque as it wasn’t at peak tourist-trapping times.
The main reason for this early bird, however, was to catch an even more popular attraction at her peaceful best. Her friends had told her that the Little Mermaid was almost invisible for the teeming hordes, with their cameras and phones, that surrounded it from once the day got going, until sundown. After a stroll along the waterfront, past the National Theatre and the Port Authority Building, she found just one other tourist, a Chinese woman, sitting on a rock and taking a selfie with the tragic heroine. She wondered if her auroral companion knew the non-Disneyfied and downright gruesome original story behind the statue, but didn’t say any more than hi and beautiful. The Chinese girl echoed these sentiments but Epifanea, not being at her best in the early morning, didn’t feel like a longer conversation.
All commentators had warned her that the statue itself was disappointingly small, distant and unimpressive. It seemed like a mantra. So many times had she heard it, that she was expecting a miniature mermaid, less than a metre high, and fifty metres out into the water. So it was pleasantly surprising that the statue was the size of a small human being (after all, her name did include the word ‘little’), and only a few metres away from the rocks along the shore. But even though Eppy, lacking a selfie stick of her own, elicited the help of the Chinese woman to take a picture of herself just in front of the work, the fact that the sculptor had captured so well the melancholy air of a tragic heroine made her glad to get away to wander round the lakes and parks and back towards the town.
She found a hotel called Babette, with seating out on the pavement, which seemed a good place for a feast, or at least a pastry (when in Denmark …), opposite a supermarket which would no doubt be open by the time she finished her coffee.
And so it was that she returned to her apartment ready for a short nap, with cartons of orange and pineapple juice and other provisions.
For another of the contributions of Epifanea Tredwell to the repertoire of world cuisine was a special take on khao nieaw mamuang. Thai sticky rice needs to be soaked for a few hours, preferably overnight, before steaming. For the sweet dish with mango, it is then drenched in sweetened, heated coconut milk before serving with the fruit arranged around or beside it.
Eppy’s innovation, as she liked to call it and he liked to eat it, was to pre-soak the rice in fruit juices rather than water. Extensive experiments had led her to a fifty-fifty mix of orange and pineapple. This not only gave the rice a fruitier flavour, but also a pleasing orange appearance. For larger gatherings, she had even prepared half the rice the traditional way and used a bowl to mould a yin-yang pattern of white and orange in the centre of the serving dish.
Sod that this time, she said to herself. On her own in a strange kitchen, this was just about practicing the basics and enjoying the taste. She put the rice in a bowl, added the juices, drank a glass of the pineapple and got ready to go out for a light lunch and a long wander. And some thrilling rides.

I suppose I should be thinking of taking a few gifts back for family and friends — even something for him, though it would serve him right, she thought, if she took his oft-repeated insistence that “all I want is you” seriously. In a haze of post-exhilaration euphoria and post-modern irony, she bought a few tasteless souvenirs — Little Mermaid keyrings and snowglobes for friends and a Carlsberg keyring for him, because he considered himself far too sophisticated a drinker for mainstream lagers.
Back in the Inner City, resting from her afternoon of overstimulation, she found bookshops and cafés and one rather nice shop which combined the two functions, where she sat and drank coffee and looked through magazines (even though she understood no Danish, she had no desire to be seen to be reading Picnics of Passion in a sophisticated city bookstore).
Still plenty of time to kill, she thought. So who should I be killing?
Ah, you may not be here, but your old jokes I have always with me.

A boat trip was in order; once round the islands on the Saucy Svenskød, before the promised open sandwiches in a quaint and no doubt touristy traditional eatery she’d spotted earlier. Towns always look different from the water, and the commentary shed new light on the canals and the buildings of Christianshavn, the opera house, the naval ships, the distant Oresund Bridge and her melancholy old friend, the Little Mermaid, now with her attendant throng of admirers, many bodies deep, that more than justified her early start all those hours ago.

And so it was that some time later, satisfied by but not too full of chewy breads and fishy toppings, she returned to her flat to finish the day’s home cooking, the three part extravaganza that she would soon be recreating for her belovéd.
She drained the rice and tied it up in a piece of muslin, before putting it in the steaming vessel over simmering water for twenty minutes or so. While that cooked, she heated up half her coconut milk with some sugar, a little orange juice for colour, and a goodly pinch of salt, and cut up the chunks of ripe fruit, arranging them on a small plate as prettily as she could.
When the steaming time was nearly up, she stirred a little sugar and absolutely no salt into the rest of her coconut milk and put it over a low heat to blend. Then she untied her bag and dropped the pale orange rice into a bowl. She poured the first coconut concoction over it and stirred it in. While that cooled she started sending back home some less vertiginous photos of her day, enjoying his responses, both cheeky and envious.
Finally, she arranged the rice, swollen and oozing its sweetened juice, alongside the mangoes on the plate, and poured the sauce over the top. She sent one last picture of this, before she settled down to eat and read and rest.

Of course, you’ll be getting it on a banana leaf

Oo er missus
I wouldn’t have it any other way

 

 

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An Inconvenient Ruth

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We continue with the latest chapter of The Travelling Lady’s Cookbook: a Grand Tour in Twenty Recipes. Look back through the last 18 weeks to catch up with how we got here.

Only two more to go after this. Gotta decide what to scintillate you with when it’s all done. Oh dear.

XVIII
Tournedos Rossini

Who’s Ruth?

Who’s Rossini?

Composer

Oh, that Rossini. I know him
What’s he got to do with the weather?

Tournedos are cuts of fillet steak
You know that
Windup artist

We celebrated his 50th birthday with them

Don’t remember that
Surely he’s older than that

Yeah but no but born on Feb 29
Oh no, it was before you

Who with?

Who’s Ruth?
What’s she doing there?

Jealous?

Is that the idea?
Pathetic

Ruth from work. You know
And I’m being a bad host

Good practice for your single life

Oi. She’s here with Richard
Her boyf

Oh, Ruth as in Ruth is stranger than Richard

Yeah
Now they’re wondering why I just looked over at them and laughed
Thanks for dropping me in it

Serves you right

Still going to raise a glass to me with your meat and wine?

Might do

Well think of me with sympathy
I’m feeding a pair of bloody vegans!

Eppy laughed as she turned off the phone but still felt unsettled. She turned her attention to the food she’d just brought back from the supermarket. As she’d wandered round the islands and the waterfront, looked in museums and art galleries and even shelled out far too much for fillet steak and paté, her mood had been buoyant, a perfect blend of memories of her travels, enjoyment of the moment and anticipation of her return home to hearth (well, radiators) and loving arms. Living in the moment is all very well, but hopes and memories can enrich that experience too.
Nothing without our memories, pointless without our dreams.
And now, what she still felt was an intended trick to make her jealous or suspicious had taken the edge off the day, even if the price he was now having to pay brought its own dash of Schadenfreude by way of comic relief.

She rarely felt the need to tenderise her meats, especially good-quality fillet, but for some reason now she was glad to find a heavy-duty steak hammer hanging on the kitchen wall. Even though she resisted the passing desire to beat the innocent piece of ox to a pulp, the few blows she did administer (pulling her punches so as not to spread it out too far) did serve to alleviate her aggression.
That’s what I’m stuck with, I suppose. Only goes to show he needs reassurance too. A bit boorish but a good heart. What more can one expect? He has had to manage without me for a good while now. Home soon, and then we’ll see how it goes.
Preparation is everything in some dishes. Prep right, and the actual cooking can be a breeze.She laughed, as this reminded her that he had referred to this poor person’s version of the classic dish as a ‘stiff breeze Respighi’.
Not as uncultured as he likes to pretend.
She had parboiled her thick-cut chips and got a portion of frozen peas ready to boil at the last minute.
I wonder if I should do the real thing when I’m back? Foie gras and truffles? Too extravagant? Too controversial? We shall see about that too.
For now, she trimmed the steak and a fresh-cut slice of bread into the heartshape she’d planned all along, as far back as when she’d booked the last few apartments with their culinary facilities in mind; she wasn’t going to respond spitefully to his little games, even if ruder shapes were occurring to her. Anyway, the offcuts from both bread and steak were going to be flung onto the plate once the obligatory photograph had been taken and sent back to England. You can be romantic without being wasteful, she told herself, as she selected a symphony by Dvořák on her phone.
I may be cooking Rossini, but I don’t have to listen to him too.
She ran a quick inventory in her head: bread, steak, paté, mushrooms, stock, potatoes, peas — also butter, brandy, seasonings, truffle oil, shallot, matches. OK, let’s go.

She began by making duxelles. Chopping a couple of mushrooms and half the shallot very finely, she sweated them off over a low heat in some butter, before adding a splash of the red wine she’d already started to drink and some dried thyme. When it was cooked and the liquid almost evaporated, she stirred in a helping of the aromatic truffle oil (well aware that its artificial flavour owed nothing to the slightest acquaintance with a real truffle). She set the mix on one side in a small bowl and wiped the frying pan.
Into that pan she now put a little more butter and oil, to fry the bread to a golden hue and in another one started heating a slightly deeper pool of oil and butter for the sautéed potatoes. The kettle was boiling too, ready for the peas. The deciding factor was the steak.
She liked a good cut of meat pretty rare, though ideally a little charred on the outside too. Not as rare as he liked his; she was no longer embarrassed in steak restaurants (if only because they were too expensive for regular visits) by his instruction to ‘pull of its horns, wipe its arse, and put it on the plate’. So, as soon as she’d put the potatoes in their pan, she heated the small cast iron skillet to almost smoking. She added the steak, rubbed already with oil, fresh-ground black pepper and coarse salt; after less than a minute, she turned it (and its offcuts) over and the heat down. The coeur de croute was ready by this time, so that went onto the plate as the peas were dropped into their scalding bath. One last flip for the steak, before placing it atop its golden base to recover from its ordeal by fire and relax its fibres, while she shook and turned the potatoes and prepared the sauce.
The rest of the chopped shallot went into the steak pan, with another knob of butter (maybe I’ll just kill him with kindness and cholesterol). After a few moments softening, she got her extra-long matches ready, poured in a half glass of brandy and, after letting it warm up, applied a naked flame, causing a sheet of pretty fire to rise and subside.

And activate the smoke alarm.
Thank heaven it’s not a mains-connected one! Janey Gower might welcome the attentions of the Stockholm fire brigade, but I don’t want anything interrupting this damn meal.
A few moments’ frantic wafting of a tea tray stopped the awful screeching, which hadn’t apparently lasted long enough to cause worried neighbours to hammer on her door. She was glad she already had the windows open at least.
A dash of fine Burgundy wine (oh well, “if it’s not good enough to drink, it’s not good enough to cook with”, as they say) went into the sauce with some thyme and the usual seasoning suspects. While it reduced over a medium heat, she gave her attention to the final details.
She plastered a layer of paté onto the steak and then topped that with some of the duxelles, keeping the cordate cross-section as best she could. The fried potatoes were removed from their pan with a slotted spoon and drained of excess fat on kitchen paper, and the peas drained in a small conical sieve.
A knob of butter melting on the peas, a few aesthetically arranged pommes, and a neat drizzle of sauce made for a perfect photograph to send home and make him jealous in his turn (maybe a hunky fireman would have been a bonus after all).


Then all the spare bits of bread, meat, mushroom and quite a few more chips were piled on top and the plate went to table with a large glass of Gevrey Chambertin for company.

“I don’t know if you really deserve stuff like this, buster,” she said to his image on her phone, as she thought of him and his nut roast with his nutty guests, “but you’re getting it anyway, when I get back.”
“Because,” she added after a mouthful of succulent steak, “it’s fucking brilliant and I loves it.”

A Friendly Kakapo

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XVII
Friendly Kakapo

xxx“I’m deconstructing.”
xxx“I told you not to eat the mushrooms!”
xxx“Haha, no I’m having a three course Last Supper.”
xxx“But you’ve four nights to go yet, he said, not without impatience.”
xxx“That’s the point. Three capitals, three courses; a meal in instalments. Then a farewell finisher.”
xxx“You are completely and utterly bonkers, you do know that?”
xxx“Of course — that’s why you love me.”
xxx“I don’t suppose they’ll be typical dishes of Scandinavia?”
xxx“Not really, but they are rehearsals for what I’m going to cook for you on Tuesday.”
xxx“But you’re back on Saturday.”
xxx“I know. When you’re taking me out for a light supper on the way from the airport. After that you don’t think I’m letting you out of the bedroom for a day or two, do you?”
xxx“Well if you insist. So no meatballs till Tuesday.”
xxx“I had something more like a tornado in mind.”
xxx“So what’s the starter?”

xxxThe starter was to be her own invention, and the first problem with that was finding a ripe avocado. He  had wittily said he wondered if she’d be able to ‘af-fjord’ one, which made her think a gag would be a better sex aid than the ropes Jamie Gower was last seen experimenting with. Maybe this was a step too far for Epifanea’s tastes or maybe that one overwhelming orgasm had cleared her mind, blown away accumulating cobwebs. For whatever reason, the dire prose and banal attempts to represent feelings and sensations now overrode any hope of stimulation.
xxxWell, she’d achieved the avocado anyway, a nice black-skinned Hass just softening and now nestling in her rucksack, as she strolled through the park. Heavens, even Vigeland’s statuesque but chunky nudes had more sensuous passion than Ms Gabrielle’s turgid writing. She took a few carefully framed snaps to send him later.
xxxEpifanea Tredwell was always drawn to water. She took the tram back to the National Theatre and strolled leisurely to the pier, to sit alone with frites and beer, and watch the ferries come and go.
xxxShe placed her bag on the table, regarded her exorbitantly priced avocado and grapefruit. She’d have preferred a pomelo but dreaded to think what one would have cost. Still she’d enjoyed wondering around the vast Market Hall and picked up a few snacks, as an avocado, however attractively presented, would hardly satisfy. She’d checked that olive oil and black peppercorns were available in her host’s kitchen, and even spotted some blanched almonds.
xxxIn front of the copper clock tower a couple holding hands stared into one another’s eyes. She sent him a charming photo of time and love, and captioned it, Aah, memories. He was busy at work but found time to call her a romantic cynic.
Or was she a cynical romantic? He knew she wasn’t overly serious.

She’s getting on the ferry
So sweet

She’ll be back?

I think so, yeah
If she’s any sense

 

xxx“What is a kakapo?”
xxxEppy’s host for the night, Bodhild, was intrigued.
xxx“It’s a flightless parrot from New Zealand. Very endangered — wiped out by rats and stuff on the mainland, once humans brought them in. Very cute, like a green feathery teddy bear.”
xxxEppy found pictures online and showed them to Bodhild, who was also both moved and amused.
xxx“And now you eat one! Cruel!”
xxxThey both laughed. Eppy explained that she’d once found a ‘friendly dog’ in an American children’s cookbook, an arrangement of poached pear half head, prune ears, and raisin eyes and nose. This in turn inspired her to create her own amusing concoction.
xxx“First I cut the avocado in half and take out the stone. Then carefully remove the skin. I’ll sprinkle a little lemon juice on it to stop it going brown.”
She laid the pear-shaped halves in two shallow bowls. Near the narrow end of each, she made a small lengthwise slit.
xxx“Beak!” she said, pushing a blanched almond into place; “and eyes.”
xxxShe added two black peppercorns either side of the nuts.
xxx“Oh, how cute,” said Bodhild. “It has wings?”
xxx“Of course; and feet — that’s where the grapefruit comes in.”
xxxEppy took two segments of the fruit, removed the outer membrane, and cut two half-moons to make the wings, trimming a little off the sides of the avocado halves so they’d lie flat against them. A similar trim gave a flat base, against which she placed two smaller citrus feet.
xxx“At home I use a firmer fruit called a pomelo, if I can get it. For the wings anyway — it’s a bit greener too — and maybe tangerines or satsumas to provide nice orange feet. But all we need now is the dressing.”
xxxShe squeezed juice out of the remaining grapefruit and put it in an old yoghurt pot with a little sugar and salt, and as much olive oil as there was juice. She put the lid on and shook it violently, much to her host’s amusement, before pouring a little over each parrot.
xxx“A grind of black pepper over the top, and there they are — my friendly kakapos. Would you care to join me?”
xxx“Really? I would love it! You are sure?”
xxx“Of course. I was only practicing to make it for my boyfriend next week. If you were not here, I would eat them both. But they would be too much, to be honest. One is just right.”
xxx“He is a lucky man,” said Bodhild, as Epifanea took photos of her handiwork.
“I like to think so. And maybe I’m not so unfortunate, myself”
xxx“And then I will make something main course for us,” said Bodhild, giving her guest a spontaneous hug.
xxxEppy smiled and returned her new friend’s embrace. She couldn’t help thinking what this would lead to in the world of Janey Gower. She was happy that all it would lead to in her world was a friendly supper and a late but solitary night.

Breakfast of Champignons (see what I did there?)

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XVI
Breakfast of Champignons

As summer draws to an end all over Europe the coming of Autumn the shortening of the days and the season of mists heralds the beginning of the mushroom season. Varieties abound on groaning market stalls and intrepid travellers begin their post-orgasmic days with a wild fungus omelette.
xxxWell, at least one did.
xxxAnd back in the UK, even the supermarket, shed-grown, closed-cap, flavour-challenged button is viewed with trepidation by some.

You hung up on me
What were you up to?

Wanking

LOL
No, what really?

Really wanking

Wow. Book that good?

Nonono. Thinking of you

Tell me more. Skype

After brekky. Just warming pan

For?

Wild mushroom omelette

Shit. Be careful

Haha market bought not foraged!

Still, don’t poison yourself
Not before you tell me more about the wanking anyway

I’ll try not to. It’s a bloody nasty way to go
I prefer my morts petit

You what?

Tell you later. Small black fungi need frying

xxxButter foaming in the pan, Epifanea threw in the morels, mixed with a coarsely chopped porcini. Porcino, if there’s just the one? Whatever.
xxxShe tossed the mixture in the pan a couple of times, added a splash of lemon juice, a light sprinkling of dried mixed herbs and black pepper, before sliding them out onto a plate, keeping back as much of the fat as she could.
xxxWith the heat on high, she poured in the pair of eggs she’d previously beaten together, salted and peppered. Flicking down the lever that dropped two slices of sourdough into the toaster with one hand, she emptied the eggs into the pan with the other. Then she took up the spatula and started gathering the mixture to the centre, allowing the runny top layer to spread and cook at the periphery. While there was still a thin stratum of runny egg on top, she tipped the mushrooms onto one half and expertly folded the other over it.
xxxLetting this cook (on a slightly lower heat) gave her time to pour a little orange juice into a tall flute and top it up from the quarter bottle of sparkling wine she’d bought herself as a treat. A treat she’d intended to save for her last evening away, a farewell to the mainland or an anticipation of homecoming, but after the previous night, she felt she deserved an extra helping of self-pampering.
xxxWhat better way to start a day?
xxx
She flipped the omelette over as the toast popped up, as if begging to be buttered. She’d been delighted to find a heart-shaped pastry cutter in the drawer; she was now able to send him a most romantic photograph of an omelette in rich yellow, flanked by two hearts of golden toast oozing butter.
xxxAnd then to tip most unromantically the outer segments of each slice on top before tucking in.

xxxLe petit mort is what French people call an orgasm.”
xxx“Really? Always said they were weird.”
xxxIt was good seeing him again. She felt a lot more relaxed talking to him now.
xxx“That omelette was yummy!”
xxx“Looked it, apart from the fungus. And what’s that? Buck’s fizz?”
xxx“Buck’s fizz, mimosa, whatever. S’not real champers. Local sparkling brew. And carton juice. Not bad. We’ll have the real thing when I get back. How’s you?”
xxx“Not so bad. You had a good night then?”
xxx“Tee hee, yes, it was lovely.”
xxx“Thinking of me, were you?”
xxx“Absolutely. What else?”
xxx“Well, I thought maybe you were getting off on Swedish masseuses and voyeurism.”
xxx“Bloody hell, how did … ?”
xxx“Come on; you didn’t think I’d be able to resist finding a copy of Dinners of Desire, did you?”
xxxPicnics of Passion!”
xxx“Oh yeah. I actually have that one too, to be honest.”
xxx“Is that for real? Don’t tell me you have Lunches of Lust as well.”
xxxHe laughed. A lot. In fact she thought he’d doubled up with laughter, until he straightened up to show the three books he’d just picked up from the coffee table.
xxx“Bloody hell. I was making that up.”
xxx“That’s what you thought. There’s a whole series. There isn’t a Buffets of Bonking, you’ll be glad to hear.”
xxx“Thank fuck for that. So, what do you think of them?”
xxx“I’d be lying if I said they hadn’t had an effect, but even I think the writing’s crap.”
xxx“True. I didn’t think it was even affecting me, but I did find my gusset was getting soggy.”
xxx“Too much information alert.”
xxx“Oh dear, getting prudish are we? Women not allowed locker-room bants?”
xxx“No, only joking. Personally though I prefer visual stimulation. And yeah, I sort of feel getting your gusset soggy should be my job, not something I wish to subcontract to Sidonie Gabrielle.”
xxx“If that is her real name.”
xxx“Yeah, probably some bloke called Sid Gabriel.  So — what we gonna do now?”
xxxHe looked at her suggestively from the screen.
xxx“Well, I’m going to wash the breakfast things and get my stuff together. I have a coach to catch and then a ferry.”
xxxHe looked disappointed but said nothing.
xxx“Come on. I’ll be there in a few days, and believe me I’ll be ready for some red hot loving.”
xxx“Should I book a blonde masseuse?”
xxx“Bog off! You’re all the masseur I need, and chef, and stud, all rolled into one. I might just lock us in the flat and hide the key for a few days. That ‘picnic’ was just an appetiser.”
xxx“Now you’re talking. OK, go get that ferry, send pics of sea, sun, sights and food. I’ll wait for the real stuff when you’re back and live in person.”
xxx“You’re learning. Bye.”
xxx“Yeah, right. Cheers — Fuck me!
xxxEppy had whipped open her bathrobe a second before she ended the session.
xxx“Will do, sweetie,” she said. “Will do indeed.”

Clitoral Appropriation

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Can a male human write a 1st person pov, even in 3rd person narrative, dealing with such an intimate matter as female sexuality and masturbation?

Probably not, ethically or successfully (though I’ve always maintained that it’s unlikely any two people, whatever their sexes, genders, backgrounds, etc, will experience (or at least interpret) such things the same way anyway. Whatever, here in The Travelling Lady’s Cookbook: a Grand Tour in Twenty Recipes, we’re approaching as Joe Orton puts it, what our racier novelists term ‘the climax’, after a steaming bowl of Jambalaya, somewhere in Central or Eastern Europe —

XV
Jambalaya

 “Ain’t nothin’ spicier than Cajun cookin’ honey!”

xxxThere were precious few picnics in among the plentiful passion, Epifanea thought. Food was far from absent and even got involved messily in the action at times, but she wondered if the title was really justified by the plot.
xxxBut that Janey Gower had first encountered her latest playmates at a street stall run by an improbable Southern Belle in an even less likely Derbyshire village was inspiration enough for the evening’s food. As indeed their post-po’boy shenanigans would hopefully motivate her later.
xxxShe’d never been to New Orleans but Ms Tredwell knew how to make Cajun food as well as Ms Gower was learning to laisser les bon temps rouler. She also knew that the andouille sausages and tasso that went into a good jambalaya could be replaced with East European kielbasa and smoked ham, better than with any standard UK charcuterie. She gave thanks for a local market that could sell her small portions of each (enough ham to spare for a sandwich in a packed lunch for tomorrow’s long train ride), as well as a small chicken fillet and a couple of prawns.
xxxThis was a slightly slimmed-down jambalaya. The full deal could involve clams or even oysters, and be served at large gatherings with a separate creole sauce, which she did in three strengths — medium, hot and napalm — depending on the tolerance of each guest. Tonight she would make it pretty hot, pretty moist and pretty simple, though there would of necessity be enough to supply a quick breakfast, which she could enjoy cold without the accompaniment of his sarcastic gagging and expressions of disgust.
xxxWhen she got in from the shops, she sat by the window, looking out towards the mountains, and picked up Picnics. It’s all in the blend, the intrusive author had commented on the chemistry between the foursome that now started to remove each other’s clothing in a slow, sensuous ballet, though that was all the book told her, leaving her imagination free to fill in the details. This may have been a mistake, as the phrase conjured up for Eppy a farcical scene involving tutus and bulging tights.
xxxWas it the writing or her own cynicism — or perhaps, she had to consider, her own inhibitions — that prevented her suspending her disbelief and subduing her smiles?
xxxOr her obsession with food? Was that a substitute, a sublimation for suppressed desires? Yea or nay, the idea of the perfect blend certainly made her think how important that also was in Louisiana cuisine. The herb and spice blend: thyme, oregano, bayleaf, cayenne, black and white pepper; and the holy trinity, as Cajuns call the mix of green pepper, celery and onions that form the basis of almost every dish. She’d even been able to convince a greengrocer to sell her a single stick of celery, something she couldn’t do in her local supermarket. There’d be no need to make a vat of celery soup this time.
xxxBefore all the participants were naked and all their various bits and pieces had been described to her in the purplest prose, Eppy, though slightly stirred, was also distracted by these thoughts of culinary preparation. So a saucer of spices and a bowl of veg were soon sitting by the hob, the chicken and charcuterie were chopped and a clove of garlic crushed. Oh, and the prawns peeled and the easy-cook rice rinsed.

I shall arise and go now and walk down by the stream.
And a can of lager with me I will take and sit
and watch the sun go down, and dream.

xxxThe thought of spicy food and even spicier reading caused Epifanea to wax lyrical. It amused more than embarrassed her now to think that she was looking forward to reading crap writing, rather than missing the euphonies of a Woolf, Wolfe or even Wolff, not to mention anticipating the effect it would have on her. Maybe the phrase ‘to use pornography’ wasn’t so inaccurate; then again did she simply ‘use’ food to assuage hunger? Maybe the terminology was itself used to deprecate, and, she said to herself,  her masturbation laughed at deprecation.
xxxHer walk, thanks to all these anticipations which now slid towards impatience, was a short one. She was soon back at home with a pan of stock heating on one ring, while the copper-bottomed pan contained cubes of ham and slices of sausage sizzling in a little lard.
xxxOnce the latter were crisped up enough, she turned the heat to medium and added a crushed clove of garlic and the members of the trinity, to soften. Then, giving the base of the pan a good scrape, she turned the heat up once more and added the chicken, letting that cook for three more minutes, while stirring and scraping away.
xxxHalf a tin of chopped tomatoes in juice went in and the heat was reduced a little, letting the chicken cook through and occasionally stirring, scraping to infuse the flavours that caramelised on the metal. Then the stock was stirred in, topped up with some more of the tomatoes and brought to the boil. She tasted the sauce, gasped, took a swig of lager and added a couple of chopped spring onions. She gave the mix a good stir before and after adding the prawns and the rice, placed the tight-fitting lid over the pan and turned the gas down low. The recipe she used said to put the lot in a moderate oven for twenty minutes but she didn’t even bother to do that at home. A low heat and a couple of stirs did the trick every time, and easier to check when the rice hit that perfect al dente state.
xxxAfter twenty minutes and a little more Passion, Janey Gower was ready for more than just a massage and Epifanea Tredwell was beginning to envy her — but the jambalaya was ready to turn out onto a plate as a spicy appetiser. A smaller portion than usual perhaps. She could always have a little more before she finally turned in, but she didn’t want to feel bloated, not when she hit the sack tonight.
xxxThis, she said to herself is hot stuff! Thank heaven for crusty bread and cold lager.

xxxAt first still shy and somewhat embarrassed by the watching couple, she had turned her gaze away, directing it to the full breasts with their proud nipples, the slim waist and smooth pubis of the Swede. But this meant confronting the fact that she was enjoying — and oh, how she was enjoying it — the attention of another woman. Closing her eyes removed the hard-to-process visions but focused all her attention on the actions of her assailant’s hands, causing the waves of pleasure rippling through her whole body to intensify.
xxxAnd suddenly the thought of Samantha and Johann watching her became even more exciting than the novelty of those Sapphic embraces.

xxx‘Sapphic embraces’?! Bloody hell. Oh well…

xxxSo she opened her eyes once more, to return their gaze. Though his hand was round Sam’s shoulder, cupping one of her girlish breasts, his attention was entirely fixed on the activity on the chaise longue. As was Samantha’s, though her left hand was tantalizing his engorged member, fingers flickering up and down it like butterfly wings, causing it to twitch and, combined with the stimulation of the tableau vivant, make his breath laboured and uneven, punctuated as it was with low moans, to which her own increasing ululations added an ever-louder descant …

xxxUlulations?
xxxThe language mattered not, the images were everything, the effect tantalizing. Was it her own fingers or his fingers or even Ulrike’s fingers that now caressed now flicked now rubbed her soaking clitoris? Was it the idea of enacting such a scene, of him watching an expert masseuse, a beautiful woman, bring her closer and closer to the height of pleasure? She hardly knew and cared not a jot. She could read no more of the overwritten prose, could no longer hold the book in fact, but the narrative had done its job.
xxxFantasy, supplied or conjured up, was no longer needed. Images blurred and mingled together and became an abstract sequence of colours behind her closed eyes. Her whole body tingled and ached, her back arched and relaxed as her buttocks and thighs twitched uncontrollably. After what seemed both like ages and no time at all, the feelings rushed together, centring on her loins, then spread out again into her whole being like a torrent, as her vagina pulsed and she gasped and squealed. Pressing tightly on her clitoris, she prolonged the feeling for as long as she could, letting it gradually subside. She sank three fingers into herself and let them slide sensuously in and out a few times, before withdrawing them, wiping them on the sheet and letting herself relax in the warm afterglow for a long while.
xxxAs she headed for the shower, thinking she’d have to put that bedsheet through the washer and tumble dryer before she left, her phone warbled its messenger alert.
xxxWithout much thought, she turned it off, and threw it back onto the bed.

 

 

 

By the way, if you want to read from the start, it’ll be easier if I give you a link to

chapter one

Perverts please note, this is the only chapter with anything explicitly sexual in it, so don’t waste your valuable time; food fanatics, there are loads of recipes, and folks interested in human romantic relationships, there’s that kind of stuff ever-present under the surface.

Bledside Manner

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Dear reader, we are approaching what our racier novelists call the ‘climax’, but not quite yet. Which means I’d better get writing, ready for next week’s spiciness…

XIV
Gaeng Panang Pla

Colours of the world!
Spice up your life!

xxxNo, no, no; not a Spice Girls earworm!

น้ำพริกแกงพะแนง

xxxEppy couldn’t read the Thai script, any more than she could the Cyrillic under it, so thank heaven for stickers which covered the other necessary bases. The sachet of paste was just what she wanted. Panang curries had a touch more sweetness and less spice than other red curries, and peanuts gave them a fullness that placed them high among her favourite Thai sauces.
xxxSo she sat by the lake, hoping that concentrating on ingredients needed might drive songs unwanted from her mind, and also stop her from asking herself why, why, why she hadn’t shared.
xxxAh, damn it.
xxxWhy hadn’t she simply joked frankly and freely about last night’s onanismus interruptus with him, ‘come clean about not coming clean’? Why had she parried his suggestive comments by insisting her breathlessness was simply due to running across the apartment to the phone?
xxxOnions, garlic, a pepper.
xxxIt’s not as if it was a taboo subject or even a source of embarrassment between them. They watched each other from time to time, and he had made a number of almost witty references to them ‘keeping their hands to themselves’ while they were apart.
xxxFinding a small tin of coconut milk had been the original inspiration. She’d manage without naam pla – fish sauce – a pinch of salt and a splash of light soy would do for that — and a squeeze of lime of course; don’t need it all for gin and tonics.
xxxBefore she left home, they agreed they probably – he certainly – would amuse themselves from time to time. Referencing Citizen Kane, he’d joked, “My dear, your only co-respondent will be toss-spot.com.” He assumed she’d be less active — that is, until he saw the reading matter her friend had pressed on her. And although she was still confident he’d be way ahead of her, she was quite happy to admit it would be likely with or without the assistance of steamy ‘literature’. She’d even said, with a completely straight face, that it was more likely to be anticipation of their passionate reunion sex that drove her to self-satisfaction, rather than any of Janey Gower’s amorous adventures.
xxxRice she had, and beer, supplied in the apartment with a printed price list in various languages, and an honesty box by the fridge. Though at home she might add a kaffir lime leaf or an inch of lemon grass, not to mention a few pea aubergines and a chili pepper, all the essential flavourings were no doubt present and correct in the paste itself.
xxxSo she sat on the terrace with her list nestling between the pages of the offending volume (if offending was the right word), contemplating the views of the 52-metre tower on the island church, the cuboid slab of calories beside her coffee cup, and the question of why she couldn’t just tell him he’d interrupted her self-gratification.
xxxOh well, she thought, as she detached a forkful of the kremšnita from the block and transported it dreamily to her mouth; maybe it was just that she feared the likely awkwardness, him trying to cajole her into resuming, and on camera too. Sometimes a woman just wants to fly solo. And the mood had been well and truly broken. Nonetheless she’d decided to postpone, until she was safely in the privacy of her apartment, reading any more about the group sex that Samantha and Janey were about to launch themselves into with the young Swedish couple and for all she knew, a few more passers-by.
xxxCakes on vacation contain no calories, she assured herself, as she took another forkful of the Chantilly- and custard-topped pastry. Nonetheless she could tell that she wouldn’t be eating her curry too early in the evening.
xxxEpifanea sat by the lake and listened to the water lapping under the terrace. She took a few photos of the view and a selfie with the last piece of ‘Schnitte‘ on its way to her cream-flecked lips. Idly she weighed up the possibility of coming clean (if that wasn’t an unfortunate turn of phrase) when she communicated with him that night. Blissfully, she wasn’t even conscious that Spice Up Your Life had ceased to loop in her brain.

The apartment was pretty basic, but clean and tidy. All the normal facilities were present and the bed wasn’t as uncomfortable as it first appeared. There were no views of the picturesque locale, which was a pity, though not surprising at the price. Most importantly for a travelling gourmet like Eppy, the kitchen was compact and functional, and even boasted a rice cooker. This was less surprising than it might have been when she noted that the owner’s name was more Chinese than Slovenian. She hadn’t met Mr Shen directly, the key being obtained from the paper shop below, but the presence of woks, chans and cleavers confirmed her suspicions, and told her she would be fine with one small wok on the two ring stove.
xxxAll this for a novel way of preparing the fish for which the lake was so famed. When she’d first googled the area and found many images of anglers beamingly cradling carp the size of small submarines, she’d been concerned. She certainly wasn’t intending to buy a whole monster weighing thirty kilos just to make one serving of fish curry, however typical of the location it (the monster, not the dish) might be. Nor was she about to invite a streetful of strangers to Mr Shen’s sleeps-three apartment to share it, even if she could find a pot big enough and a sufficient supply of coconut milk. But all was well. As she’d suspected all along, the supermarket on the edge of town had a superb fish counter, and her phone’s translation app soon located conveniently-sized portions of what she wanted.
And made him burst into coffee-spraying laughter at the label, for which the linguistic technology was all but redundant.

Krap fileti?!
Love it

Thought it might amuse

So we both have a krap supper to look forward to

That’s your choice, mate.
You’re not a bad cook when you put
 your mind to it

xxxUnlike the meat curries she most often made at home, with a fishy version the flesh went in last. Chicken or pork would be added as soon as the curry paste had been mixed into the coconut milk in the warming wok. For pla she added the chopped garlic, onion and green pepper first, and ensured the rice was ready too, as the whole thing would take only about ten minutes.
xxxThat limesqueeze, soysplash and saltsprinkle would do the umami job of fish sauce. That it was a fish curry anyway meant the imposters would not bring dissatisfaction to the table; and European basil and coriander would stand in nicely for their Asian cousins too.
xxxWith seafood, she reminded herself, she would usually use Thai ‘holy basil’. So she made the sign of the cross over the mixture and intoned introibo ad altare Dei. “Little things …” would doubtless be his response, and she could hardly demur.
xxxAs the stew simmered and the flavours infused, she checked again on the rice in the steamer. Another compromise, the basic long grain for the fragrant jasmine, but, as he would say in his refined way, ‘add enough chili and who gives a shit?’
xxxAll else being in readiness, she turned up the heat beneath the curry and added the fish fillets, cut into the usual bite-size pieces. After five minutes in the fragrant mixture she declared them cooked to perfection. She placed the rice in a bowl, spooned the velvety concoction over the top and ate it with sensuous pleasure, washing it down with a light local lager. Spicy food anticipating spicy reading. She laughed at the realisation that she was now looking forward to her next poorly-crafted picnic of passion, the chapter that promised group gropings, if not a mass orgy, and the heroine’s first experience of lesbian sex.
xxxBut this was bedtime reading. A pleasure deferred is a pleasure heightened, as one of Janey’s earlier sexual mentors helpfully informed her. First, a late evening stroll by the lake, breathing the fresh air, looking at the moonlight on the water and smiling at the couples walking and talking lightly, hand in hand, served to heighten the romantic mood and lessen the feeling that the events to unfold were somehow all rather sordid.
xxxWell, if not sordid, a bit naff. Sordid in itself wasn’t all bad.
xxxBack in the apartment, she stripped, she showered, she sat back in the bed and began to read. And as Janey Gower started to lose her clothes and some more of her remaining inhibitions with the enticing Swedish chef and masseur, the phone rang.
xxx“Oh, hello, Mum.”
xxxShe laid the book aside with a sigh.
xxx“Yes, that’s right — It’s beautiful here — A Thai curry I made with some of the lake carp — Delicious — Ha ha, well, you know me: when in Rome, do as the Vietnamese do — Oh, nothing; having an early night, reading — Er, Thomas Hardy — That is light holiday reading, to me — Escapism? I’m sitting by a lake in amazing scenery, with great food and no one to hassle me; what do I need to escape from? — Oh, he’s fine, I think — Yes, we both miss each other, we text or skype most nights — No, not at all tempted; really Mother! — No, I don’t think so; anyway he knows I’d find out if he had and cut his goolies off — No, I can do that on my own, thank you — Look, if you just give him a chance, you’d find he really is a nice guy – as men go. Better than the men that already went, at least — no, I don’t think I could ‘do better’ – and no, I don’t mean that how it sounds; I mean he’s a damn good catch for anyone. Or he will be, with a bit more training — Don’t worry about it, I know it’s because you care, but I’m not a little girl anymore, OK? — Yeah, good night, Mum. Miss you too — Yeah, won’t be long now. Kiss, kiss.”
xxxWell, that’s killed that mood. Quick text home …

Turning off phone, turning off light
Going to sleep, my love, good night

xxxAnd good night, children, everywhere.

In a Pickle

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XIII
Kimchi Bokum

In Spring, the poet tells us, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. Said fancy does not take kindly to being tricked into thoughts of pickled cabbage.

How would I know?

You could google it

If I gave a fuck I guess I could

OK OK don’t worry about it

I won’t. No worries

Just wondered if you knew

xxxThe question that had shifted the conversation away from his sexual frustration and sordid references to masturbation was, when do you reckon people first pickled cabbage?
xxxAs Tristram Shandy’s father so famously asked, “Did ever woman, since the creation of the world, interrupt a man with such a silly question?”
xxxBut it seemed a natural thing to ask, and not just as a diversionary tactic. After travelling through Central and Eastern Europe, where sauerkraut, with its many names, was ubiquitous, it came as some surprise, even in the global village of today, to find an Asian store on the shores of the Baltic Sea, which inevitably stocked the spicy Korean equivalent, mat kimchi.
xxxSo Epifanea’s thoughts had naturally turned to the history of food preservation in general and to the pickling of vegetables in particular. People write of the growth of civilisations in terms of the wheel, weapons, architecture, but surely the storage of foods and the ability to make them available outside their season and beyond their natural use-by date must have been the major factor in allowing previously wandering communities to settle down in the first place. Hunt and gather, by all means, but how y’all gonna store your shit?
xxxBut how did some woman (and she had no doubt it was a woman), all those millennia ago, first discover the preservative powers of vinegar?
xxxIn fact who the heck first made and kept vinegar at all? Who found that a batch of fermented drink had gone sour, and thought of doing anything other than pouring it away, far from the noses of the tribe?
xxx“Eurghh! This is foul! I know: let’s put those tasty roots and leaves in it for a few weeks and see what happens,” did not seem a logical or likely scenario.
xxxBut, as with, “Look at these grass seeds. Why don’t we crush them to a powder and mix them with water and stuff and then heat it all up? We could call it ‘bread’, maybe?” she was aware that a lot of stages were missing from the narrative.
xxxShe also knew that Koreans loved their kimchi even more than Alsatians loved sauerkraut. A Korean astronaut on the International Space Station said it was the thing she longed most to get back for, ahead of boyfriend and family. Maybe she had a bf like mine, thought Eppy.
xxxHer thoughts shifting from archæological gastronomy to personal diet, she wondered if there was any foodstuff so crucial to her own happiness. Nothing sprang to mind; not even chocolate was that important. Floating in a tin can, in space or on the mighty rolling ocean, it might be the restricted nature of the diet, the lack of variety, that got to her, but there was no one ingredient, certainly nothing as all-pervasive or indispensable as kimchi was in the Korean diet. Nothing that would be calamitously conspicuous by its absence.
xxxThese rambling meditations occupied her mind for a languid hour or so, as she sipped her beer and nibbled on snacks, looking out over the Gulf of Finland. They took her mind gratefully away from his texts and her reading about Le Bistrot de l’Amour, a restaurant where surprisingly little cooking or eating seemed to take place. She just hoped the heroine’s latest paramour wiped the kitchen surfaces down thoroughly, after their love making session had apparently made good use of all of them.
xxxNo need for any extra chilli pepper; one bite of the kimchi in the jar confirmed that her travelling spice store was superfluous tonight, though no fire extinguishers would be called for either. Perfectly piquant. She repeated the phrase a few times, lips pursed in plosive pleasure. Pork, partly thawed and trimmed of fat, she cut into strips; these she placed in a bowl with soy sauce, a little mustard, a dash of fragrant Alsatian wine and a healthy splash of sesame oil (the small bottle a slight extravagance and the large unused portion, she hoped, a nice gift for her hosts). Thaw and marinade at the same time.
xxxIn the absence of Korean udon, and making sticky rice being too much trouble, the small pack of Chinese, spinachy-green wheat noodles would be perfectly acceptable. So: garlic, onion, kimchi, coriander and marinading pork. A while to go until suppertime, so a stroll by the river is called for.

xxxOr would be.
xxxThe weather, so far so kind, suddenly soggy. OK, stay in, and let’s read about sex, bay–bee.
xxxTaste.
xxxTaste was the key, for both food and frolics in fiction.
xxxTasty and tasteful; spicy, not coarse.
xxxPicnics of Passion seemed to swing from bland to blistering, never quite finding what to Eppy was the right, sexy, tone. Nonetheless coy descriptions and references to ‘members’ and ‘down below’ served to make her impatient for the crude accounts of hard-pumping action, however badly written. Perhaps that was the idea. The anticipation of, the impatience for, more explicit narrative, got her juices flowing far more effectively than the tawdry text itself.
xxxLiterally so. Having tutted and sighed over one frankly delineated sex act after another, asking herself who on earth could find this sort of thing arousing, she was chastened on her next visit to the lavatory to be confronted with the abundantly moistened state of her own underwear. And when her hand instinctively went to check, as if it could be any other way, that her vulva was equally sodden, she was somehow still surprised at how pleasurable she found her own touch.
xxxWell, it just goes to show, she thought with a smile.
xxxOh well, why not?
xxxThe slow, rhythmic motion of her fingers on her well-oiled clitoris brought an immediate pleasure that proved how successfully her ‘sordid’ reading matter had, after all, acted as foreplay. If only his was as effective, she mused, but dismissed this as unfair.
xxxThe sudden, rhythmic chiming of her phone’s ringtone completely destroyed the mood, and half an hour of evasive chat later, she wanted nothing more than to cook up some spicy food, followed by a shower and an early night.
xxxMaybe I’ll feel more like it later.
xxxShe didn’t. She slept.

Turkey in Chocolate Sauce

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Happy New Year to all my reader. Here’s the nextest bit of The Travelling Lady’s Cookbook. If you’re new, do look back through the previous eleven posts for the whole story, which is getting spicier now …

XII
Mole Poblano

Sor Asunta’s announcement had thrown the convent of Santa Rosa into a panic. The Archbishop was on his way to pay an episcopal visit. The Abadesa’s strict instruction to make everything ready at lightning speed was felt most keenly in the refectory. A feast worthy of His Grace would be no small commandment to fulfil, and Mother Superior reminding them of what Our Lord could achieve with a few small loaves and fishes served only to remind them that what bread they did have was far from fresh.
xxxNonetheless, Sor Juana prayed fervently for inspiration, and inspiration came unto her. Christ made use (with divine aid, it must be said) of what He had available, so Juana started with an inventory. More than loaves and fishes to be sure, but feeding one Archbishop was a bigger challenge than five thousand Galilean campesinos.
xxxOne turkey (old and scrawny), some tortillas (stale), onions and garlic, chilli peppers (naturally), other herbs and spices from Sor Inmaculada’s garden, and those vital ingredients from their New World home, maize flour, tomatoes and chocolate.

Epifanea Tredwell cooked with delight dishes created on the fly. From Chicken Marengo, born (some say) on the battlefield, to chicken wings cooked to feed late night callers in Buffalo; and the Mexican national dish was one of her favourites. The sheer number of ingredients in her recipe book had limited it to dinner parties, whenever she could find guests who didn’t suddenly remember a prior engagement at the words turkey in chocolate sauce. Even he had been very reluctant to try it, until she convinced him that the chilli would overpower any other flavour; this was far from true but she knew his machismo would balk at the thought he might seem scared of the Scovilles.
xxxBut once she worked out that the necessary spices were always in her larder and could easily be combined in small quantities, it became a mainstay of her repertoire, even for the solitary diner. Added to this the increasingly common supply of breasts, legs or chunks meant that a turkey now was not just for Christmas. So she could reproduce the original recipe (or at least that given in her Round the World recipe book) with ease. Now that more books in Europe featured such exotic fare, she had seen other versions, using different spice mixes and even the inclusion of things like banana or plantain, something she always meant to try one day.
xxxFor now, on her travels, she simply carried a sachet of spices — fennel seeds, allspice, cloves, sesame seeds and chilli flakes — and waited to find that kitchen with the mortar and pestle or, for lazier days, a very small blender.
xxxWhich is why now, so far from anywhere remotely Latino, she was about to take the parting advice of Ahmed and Renaté and get some spice in your life. Though she was well aware that chilli was not what Renaté had in mind.
xxxThe tender turkey escalope from the local market would not need boiling anywhere near as long as Sor Juana’s had in the 1880s; half an hour’s simmering would be plenty to cook it and produce a meaty stock. In place of the pounded stale tortilla, half a slice of toast would go into the blender and give body to the sauce. Whizzing it with a clove of garlic, half an onion, a small peeled tomato, some blanched almonds, half a snack pack of raisins and a generous spoonful of her spice mix, produced a thick, pungent paste.
xxxCorn tortillas had proved elusive, as had flour ones in fact; she had no intention of making her own, so some boiled long-grain rice would suffice. A small tub of ready-made guacamole and a pot of the ubiquitous soured cream would be the side dishes.
xxxWhich left only the chocolate. To the Aztecs a bitter, savoury flavouring, a luxury import from the mountains, having spiritual associations with human sacrifice, it took the Spanish to turn it into a sweetened confectionary item, imbued with an equally religious significance for many consumers. It was a small square from the bar of an unsweetened, 100% cocoa version that Epifanea Tredwell carried in her culinary travel kit which now evoked that earlier usage; dissolved in the hot stock once the turkey pieces had been set aside to drain, it gave the sauce its character, underpinning all those other spices, bulbs and seeds.
xxxThe kitchen had no corn oil, nor lard, so she settled for sunflower oil in which to fry the paste. The scent of the frying spices assailed her nostrils and made her cough and sneeze but she stirred it around until the softening aroma showed that the spices had been ‘cooked off’, then added, a little at a time, the chocolatey stock, stirring it until she had a thick, rich gravy.
xxxA little salt and pepper and a chopped sprig of parsley and it was ready to have the turkey returned to its warm and velvety embrace. At home she’d often sprinkle some almond flakes and sesame seeds, lightly toasted in a dry pan, on the top. Here, after a long day of historic sightseeing, she couldn’t be bothered. Sufficient unto the day was the draining of the rice, putting it into a bowl and tipping the turkey and the sauce onto it. The soured cream and the mashed avocado sat at the side in their plastic tubs.
xxxPresentation is everything, she told herself.

According to one of its many creation myths, chop suey was invented when the Chinese Ambassador to the USA was asked by the then president if he would prepare some authentic Chinese food for him and the first lady. Being no cook but reluctant to lose face, he threw an assortment of items into a wok and stir-fried them with noodles, as he had seen done many times since childhood. When the delighted (or at least diplomatic) president asked the name of the dish, the reply in Chinese meant just a bit of everything, but sounded to American ears like chop suey.
xxxLikewise and equally unlikely, it is claimed that when the Archbishop of Puebla asked an exhausted Sor Juana how she came up with her delicious offering, she replied using the Nahuatl word for a mishmash, saying, “I made a moli“. A legend and a national dish were born.
xxxEppy washed hers down with lots of cold beer — making a mental note to use a little less chilli in future mixes — and prepared to Skype home in cheerful mood.
xxx“Hello handsome. How are things in Glockamorra?”
xxx“You what?”

A Goulash on St Stephen’s (Boxing) Day

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A cool Yule to all my readers in the last post for 2018. I doubt there is anybody actually following the whole Travelling Lady’s Cookbook (a Grand Tour in Twenty Recipes), but I don’t want to break the sequence (even though I’m now only two chapters ahead of the game, so I’d better get back to writing).

So, pausing only to show you the dinner for one I had on Chrimbo Day (‘Pear Tree in a Partridge’ (pear and walnut stuffing), Ch Palmer ’89, cheeses with LBV Port and a ‘Fettes Mess’ of meringue, raspberries and whisky)

I shall move on to Chapter XI

Goulash

Gladsome was our Epifanea at having booked two nights in Ahmed’s North African fantasy apartment. Her hosts had turned out to be as charming as their accommodation had appeared online, and with them she could sit long into the night, sipping wine and talking about life. And mainly about food.
xxxAhmed’s wife, Renaté hailed from Budapest, so naturally conversation turned to the dishes of Hungary. Eppy was able to impress with her knowledge of a few of those that were not just goulash.
xxxThat she had eaten kárpáti borszata and tried her hand at making sólet, the Magyar version of cassoulet, albeit in a simplified form, impressed her hostess immensely.
xxx“In Spain,” she said, “they make fabada, which also has in the bloody pudding, I think.”
xxxEppy laughed.
xxxMorcillo  — black pudding, we call it. Yes, I’ve had that too. But I like the paprika in sólet. The nearest British cuisine gets is tinned baked beans with what they claim are pork sausages.”
xxxEpifanea even knew that a true gulyás was a soup and not the chunky stew most Brits assumed (and she most often made, with goodsize cubes of meat and spud, and more lumps than liquid). But even as a soup, served with large hunks of crusty bread, it was one of her main course mainstays.
xxxAnd of course Renaté kept a good supply of the finest Hungarian paprika, dark, fruity, aromatic and somehow a notch or seven richer than even the best delis sold back home.
xxx“We girls should cook big gulyás together tomorrow!” she had said in the early hours of the morning.
xxx“Does Ahmed cook?” Eppy asked the next day, as she and Renaté chopped onions and potatoes, the man in question being busy slaughtering zombies on a distant planet to make it fit for human habitation.
xxx“Oh yes. We both have our specialities. Couscous, tagine, foul medames, Mediterranean salads, anything with an eggplant.”
xxxFor some reason, Renaté seemed to find her final comment hilarious and nearly choked on her wine with giggling. Epifanea smiled with her, more out of politeness than understanding.
xxx“So you have boyfriend in UK? Why he don’t come with you?”
xxx“Mainly because of his job. But I wanted to travel alone anyway.”
xxx“Why? You don’t love him? You sound loving when he phone.”
xxx“Yes, of course,” she replied, surprised by Renaté’s assessment but saying nothing to contradict it. “In fact we’re thinking about starting a family and …”
xxx“You mean make babies?”
xxx“Er, yes, I suppose I do mean ‘make babies’.” Eppy laughed. “And once we’ve made one I know travels like this will be out of the question for quite a while.”
xxx“What is the question?” asked a confused Hungarian.
xxx“Sorry? Oh I see. No. ‘Out of the question’ means it will not be possible. To travel so freely and easily with a baby in tow — I mean ‘with us’. What about you and Ahmed?”
xxx“Oh yes. We make already. Is still in oven, haha. Four months. Nearly half cook already.”
xxx“Congratulations!” said Eppy, giving her hostess a spontaneous hug, a risky manœuvre when said hostess was chopping a green pepper with a fierce, sharp blade.
xxxOvatos! Careful! Are you OK?”
xxx“Oh God, sorry. Yes, no harm done.” Eppy checked theatrically her garments and skin for holes. Both women laughed, causing Ahmed to turn suddenly and get blown to pieces by an alien stormtrooper or something. What he said was, Eppy assumed, an Arabic swearword. She didn’t ask; he went back to his game.
xxxRenaté put garlic and bacon pieces into the Dutch oven with a little olive oil, and turned up the gas a little.
xxx“This called Székely gulyás,” she said. Some say from town of Szeged, some say invented for writer Székely. Restaurant have things left at end of day — meats, gulyás, er … savanyú káposta?”
xxx“Sauerkraut,” said Eppy as Renaté pointed to a jar of pickled cabbage. “Yes, we use the German word.”
xxx“OK, sauerkraut. So he say, ‘put them all in pot’. You like sauerkraut?”
xxx“Oh yes, I love it. Not in large quantities on its own, but I love it in Polish bigos. This seems similar.”
xxx“Yes. And different also.” Again the Hungarian seemed inordinately amused. “So, you will marry boyfriend for make family?”
xxx“I don’t think so. I think he’s more traditional than I am, though.”
xxx“You don’t want him put a ring on it?”
xxxRenaté did an amusing version of Beyoncé’s dance.
xxx“Haha, no, I’m not a prize pig to be tagged. And I’ve lost count of the friends who found the ‘security’ of that ring was just an illusion. We’ll use wills and other legal documents to protect our interests, just in case.”
xxxShe smiled and added, “And anyway, I know people who can find him and kill him if he cheats or leaves.”
xxx“You are serious?!”
xxxIt was Epifanea’s turn to laugh and to confuse.
xxx“No, no, no! Only joking. Did I worry you? Anyway, the onions are in; now the meat?”
xxxNot yet. Green peppers — is right name? Yes; peppers for one minute to get softer. Then the meat. They say original restaurant had three types. This just young beef.”
xxx“Veal. Looks delicious.”
xxx“Yes. Just cook away pink colour, then add paprika.”
xxx“Oh, that smells so good. Much better than I have back home.”
xxx“You will take some when you go. It is insisted. But now I add some tomato, cut up. Some tradition cooks say no tomato; came from Mexico only four hundred year since. Very new ingredient.
xxxRenaté’s random laughter was becoming infectious, perhaps helped by the wine, dark red and plentiful.
xxxEgri Bikavér,” read Eppy.
xxx“Blood of bulls,” said Renaté; “from Eger in North of Hungary.”
xxx“Yes, I remember that name. My father said Bull’s Blood was a popular wine in the Eighties. It’s bloody good in fact.”
xxxIn honour of her guest’s expressed appreciation, the hostess topped up her glass. She also poured cold water into the pot, to cover its contents.
xxx“Once is boiled we turn down to low and cook for hour, hour and half. We drink and talk and drink and prepare csipetke paste. And drink.” And laugh.
xxxSo drink and talk and drink they did. Renaté seemed fascinated by, if not obsessed with her guest’s love life.
xxx“So you travel all on own. Many lovers in different cities?”
xxx“No, no, no! Would you do that to Ahmed?”
xxx“Of course no! Sorry. But would not travel without, either. You never tempt? Your body not miss jiggy-jiggy?”
xxxJiggy-jiggy?!” Epifanea had to cover her mouth to avoid spraying the table with Bull’s Blood. “Well — a bit, maybe. Naturally. But mainly I’m glad of a break, even if my body isn’t.”
xxx“Not so good at home?” Renaté’s smirk suggested she meant ‘in bed’.
xxxVery good at home! Maybe too good.”
xxxShe was about to say that maybe the good sex clouded her judgement in other areas, but she neither wanted to have to explain the phrase, nor go into detail.
xxxBut fortunately this was not a topic that could be sustained for ninety minutes, so, after Eppy had half-grudgingly admitted that in all her zig-zag whimsical travels round Europe, yes, a few handsome and even naked young guys had caught her eye (and after she’d explained that idiom), but that none of these had even slightly tempted her or caused more than the slightest tingling in her loins (a favourite phrase of his that she now avoided using altogether), they spoke mainly about all the food she had cooked and eaten, and slightly about the other sights she had seen on the way.
xxxNot that the topic of love and sex was put totally aside. Renaté’s new-found concern for the Englishwoman’s love and sex life flavoured much of their conversation in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and came to the surface once again when holiday reading matter was discussed.
xxx“You are reading sexy book, I think? Picture on front …”
xxx“Oh, God, no! I mean yes, I am reading, and, yes, it is meant to be sexy, but it’s so bad. Badly written, stupid story — terrible.”
xxxShe tried to explain why, if it was so bad, she was reading this instead of something more intellectually stimulating. Renaté was very impressed that Eppy had even heard of her compatriot, László Krasznahorkai, but totally baffled as to why any Hungarian would actually read his turgid, meaningless waffle, much less someone with so many good books written in her own language to choose from. But she wasn’t as curious about the roots of such lunacy as she was to know what kind of things went on between the covers of Picnics of Passion.
xxxMs Tredwell obliged with an exaggerated and comic account. She quoted and misquoted some of the tortuous and torturous descriptions of both feelings and actions.
xxx“To be honest, it’s not very explicit — not many sexy details —yet. But I think as it goes on it might get a lot worse.”
xxx“Or better!” said her hostess, once again with that knowing smirk. “And it not make you want …?”
xxx“Jiggy-jiggy?”
xxxThey both laughed so much that Ahmed turned the sound up on his game.
xxxEppy protested that the writing was so bad it countered any stimulating effect of the subject matter. Nonetheless, she admitted to herself alone that even badly-described sex had some kind of effect on the more primitive parts of the brain.
xxxIt was a relief when Renaté glanced at her watch and announced that the time had come for her to show Epifanea her csipetke — at least it was, when she remembered that csipetke referred not to anything excessively personal, but the tiny dumplings that were to accompany the goulash. The Hungarian provided a running commentary.
xxx“I break egg in bowl. Then I beat. I add little water and salt. Then I add … er, liszt? Yes, flour, not composer. I make stiff shape — like fasz!”
xxxHer laughter and the obscene gesture she made with the phallic piece of dough left Eppy with no need to use her translation app.
xxx“Now we leave it on own for while — like you!” and once again she laughed heartily at her own comment.
xxxEppy smiled.
xxx“While that rest,” Renaté continued, covering the bowl with a tea towel, “we add — sauerkraut, yes? We add to gulyás. Stir in, let warm up.”
xxx“Like you,” said Eppy by way of riposte. She realised she wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but as it seemed to bring yet more laughter from the chef, it hardly mattered.
xxx“Yes, I very warm. And ‘hot’. Ahmed think so anyway. But he play stupid war, we set nice table.
xxxAnd so they did. And once it was set, Renate stirred into the soup a large spoonful of tejföl, which was obviously soured cream, leaving a delicately decorative swirl atop the pan. She had set a pan of water on the stove, which was now at a rolling boil, so she gave Eppy the great honour of pinching small pieces from the dough and dropping them into the water.
xxx“Fast as you can. This is what csipetke means,” she said, as she demonstrated the pinching action.
xxxOnce the noodles were swollen, cooked and drained, they were placed on the table and joined by the goulash and green salad, so the warrior reluctantly came back on leave from the battlefield to join the grateful womenfolk back home. After many a solitary meal, Eppy was moved by the conviviality of this one, probably in part due to the effect of liberal helpings of rich, red Egri wine. She was touched by the deep affection, free from excessive sentimentality, shown by her hosts, obviously as comfortable with each other’s foibles as happy with their good qualities, and she found herself much more amused than discomfited by Renaté’s occasional suggestive looks and knowing smiles.
xxxWhen she messaged home from her bed that she missed him, she meant it.

 

Come with me to the Casbah

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Continuing with the novella. To read preceding chapters, just work your way back through the blogs. It started way back on October 17th

X
Tagine

Come with me to the Casbah.
xxxEpifanea had been intrigued by the high-camp, exotic imagery on the website and delighted by the modest cost of what looked more like a Moroccan souk than an apartment, even in North Africa. Where it wasn’t.
xxxBut the owner’s roots evidently were, and Eppy was delighted to find her new home from home was even more opulent than it looked on the website. The kitchen was an especial treat, the room and its provisions being shared with Ahmed’s otherwise separate living quarters.
xxxFrom deep within her psyche the imp of the perverse was shouting, Make mince and tatties! Fish and chips! Anything but Moroccan! Until Ahmed’s wife told her she could make use of any of the equipment and any of the ingredients, and she was met with the sight of a range of earthenware tagines, jars of preserved fruits and vegetables and all manner of spices, including the mix called ras al hanout. The imp was banished for a season and a slow-cooked tagine was planned.

Oh so were speaking again?

Might be.
But you gotta see this place

Wow. You in Tangier?

no course not

Thought youd run off with Pepe Lemoko

Chance’d be a fine thing
Nah you’re stuck with me

If I want 2b. Might not want a moody cow as a bf

Moody?! Who was sulking and sending dickpics?

Let’s not go there again. Food porn will have to do

That’s more like it. Look at this then

A one-man tagine?

They got all sizes here. Ahmed and Renaté

So what’s the tagine tonight? Swedish meatballs and banana? Lutefisk and apple?

Haha they’re going out. Chicken and lemon for 1

Wish I was there

So do I … almost

*Checks flight times*

Won’t be here long enough, buster

A man can dream

I’ve noticed. Gotta go shops now

Love you

Yeah. I know. Hugs ♥♥♥

xxxNo bazaars were in the offing, no, nor souks or casbahs either. A cornucopian hypermarket supplied her needs, a chicken thigh, a potato, onion and carrot, and a small pot of plain yoghurt. And the cutest pot plant as a gift for her hosts. She sat at a bar by the river for a spot of lager and people watching. And musing on her life and loves.
xxxHe wasn’t so bad, better than most of her lukewarm relationships. Quite considerate and open-minded — for a guy, anyway. The quote, As well him as any other, sprang to her mind, but from where she couldn’t recall.  And she felt sure she could trust him, and that he trusted her. No doubt his friends made reference to the cat being away, like some of hers had suggested she should have a lover in every port. But somehow she just knew that nothing like that was going to happen.
xxxNo, for all his faults, he was a keeper. When she got home there’d be serious thought given to long-term plans of home and even family. But not before they’d spent a few wild days — and especially nights — making up — more than making up — for his disappointments over not receiving any ‘feelthy peectures’.
xxxKatrina had said the book might give her some new ideas, though whether that was meant to be for when she got home to him, or for testing out on passing gigolos, she was far from sure. But Katrina must have had a very dull sex life, or at least a dim view of theirs, if she thought this tiresomely-written shagfest might introduce her to anything she hadn’t already known about — and, in most cases, tried.
xxxOh well, takes the mind off food, she told herself. And a slow-cooking tagine gives a woman a couple of hours to wade through a couple more chapters and half a dozen more fucks. Eppy wondered where these characters found the energy.
xxxFrom wandering through quaint dockside streets and round a sizeable art gallery she was sufficiently fatigued; thus the extra effort of cutting up carrot, onion and potato could be classed exhausting enough to merit that large, relaxing glass of ‘classic’ lager.
xxxA thin drizzle of oil to coat the base of the tagine. Thickset slices of soon-to-be-caramelised carrot sat slippery on top, over a gentle heat. The rest built up in layers of bitesize chunks, topped with the boned chicken thigh and a finecut clove of the inevitable garlic. Crushed over the top was half a chicken stock cube and sprinkled with it a generous spoonful of the spice mix known as best in shop. Ras el hanout is as indeterminate as pre-blended ‘curry powder’, but it save messing about assembling a mix from cardamom, chilli, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and other things which didn’t all begin with ‘c’, such as rose petals and ash berries. Such messing about seemed too much like hard work at home; in a foreign kitchen where one was a guest, albeit paying, it seemed impolite too. Though in the case of Ahmed and Renaté, unlikely they’d be without any of those ingredients or mind her using them.
xxxIn fact the smell of the mix, its texture and the hand-written and dated label suggested it was Ahmed’s own blend, specifically for poultry. She later found this to be the case, a combination of which he was very proud and, as she’d discovered before her hosts returned home, justly so.
xxxHis coriander was home grown too, in the tiny shared patch of garden behind the flats. She snipped off and chopped a few leaves and stalks and scattered them over the top, along with some sea salt and a generous grind of black pepper. No more than a tablespoon of water needed to be splashed over the top, washing down some of the spices and helping them to permeate, the circulating steam under the conical lid needing no more to propagate a rich sauce out of all the natural juices.
xxxThe heat reduced almost as far as it would go, everything could sit there for an hour or so, before she took a break from the literary delights of Picnics of Passion to add a quartered baby lemon, evidently also preserved by Ahmed’s fair hands (so many friends advised her to preserve her own back home, but bothered could she never be), and a spoonful of honey to balance the sourness.
xxxA bit like life and relationships, she thought, smiling.
xxxJust as Noël Coward once commented on how potent cheap music can be, Ms Tredwell now started to cultivate similar opinions about corny erotica. Maybe it had something to do with today’s texting and (almost) making up, with reveries regarding a passionate reunion, but she found herself wishing that tonight she was in a totally self-contained apartment and not a shared space to which her guests would return at some unspecified time, with probably too-thin walls.
xxxThis led to wondering what it might be like if the walls were on the thin side and her hosts were the noisy lovers?
xxxBut then all such thoughts were dispelled as she read a passage in her book in which Samantha and — who was it this time? — ah, yes, Craig — indulged their desires in a position that would have brought on fits of laughter, if it hadn’t first brought back painful memories of the time she had tried it with him — or was that someone else? How embarrassing, on so many levels. All she recalled clearly was the discomfort and the cost of repairing that table.
xxxShe threw the book aside and went to the kitchen to dish up the tagine, top it with a BSD (or British Standard Dollop) of plain yogurt and, of course, take a photo to send back home.
xxxIf his reply showing a sorry-looking portion of fish and chips in a polystyrene tray was supposed to elicit pity, it failed completely. Well, almost completely.