My kitchen floor is now a lake
My pipes are blocked, that’s my mistake
So I’m busy doing unblocking
Got no time to waste on blogging
My kitchen floor is now a lake
My pipes are blocked, that’s my mistake
So I’m busy doing unblocking
Got no time to waste on blogging
Tonight at the Scottish Arts Club, the Members’ Exhibition includes my latest masterwork, a gouache poster on pricey paper, entitled Bringing in the Sheaves.
20″x28″ roughly. I don’t like it framed; it should really be in poster hangers, but Club rules say frames and not clipframes, so I found a framed Alma-Tadema poster in a charridy shop for a tenner. It’s only held in place with tiny tabs of sticky tape, so if it doesn’t sell or it sells (for £200) to a like-minded person, it can be easily removed. And posted. Or just hung on my wall somewhere.
I wonder if the model, over in Hangzhou, would like it? I doubt it, as she said her face wasn’t ‘lovely enough’ on my Assisi pic.
What’s that you ask? What does the caption say?
Well, as far as I can ascertain, it means Quiet Harvest, but can also be read as Jing Reaps the Harvest. Jing, the lassie’s name, means quiet, I suppose rather like my Sicilian friend Serena.
The idea is that Jing, a modern bourgeois teacher married to a successful engineer is of the generation that is reaping the benefits of the sacrifices made (perhaps reluctantly) by the people in the old Maoist propaganda posters that this one is (respectfully) parodying, and the subsequent controlled economy. And now she can wear designer clobber and go on trips to the countryside to pose as a happy peasant in the fields (not unlike Marie Antoinette dressing as a shepherdess).
Maybe Jacob Rees-Mogg was right and we Brits will be able to say the same about reaping the benefits of leaving the EU, after the 50 years of civil strife, hardship and starvation endured by the generation that narrowly voted for it.
I won’t be here to paint the poster but it’s nice to know there’s always hope.
Being a chatty, friendly (ie annoying) kinda guy, I have, in my many years of what passes for life, spoken to many fascinating peoples. As in the most part they all are. As Quentin Crisp so rightly says, to say someone is boring is to criticise ourselves; it means we have failed to make ourselves into the wide open vessel into which they can pour their entire lives.
And when it comes to conversation starters, apart from, ‘Where are you from?’, the most trite and tested has to be, ‘and what do you do?’
Well, if it’s good enough for Mrs Windsor, who am I to bust a gut looking for anything more original?
As to the former, it makes a tiny number shrink away as if afraid I will be finding out their illegal immigrant or on-the-run-from-the-mob status, which they could hardly signal more clearly by that very reaction; and on one occasion earned me an irate lecture about asking such an intrusive, personal and silly question on first acquaintance. Hmm, touchy.
I just saw a tv documentary in which a guy giving people customised profiles for dating sites says the best start-line is something like, ‘pineapple on pizza: yes or no?’ but I’m just wanting to get to know people, not to knob them.
But the job/profession/hobbies question has been most instructive. It’s odd, because when I had one of those paid work things, I hated to be defined by it. I would often answer, ‘What do I do? All sorts of things: I paint, I write, I read, I cycle around …’. If I was in a perverse enough frame of mind, I might add references to eating, sleeping and even masturbating. To which the response would always be, ‘no, I mean what’s your job?’
Now, even ignoring the fact that most of my colleagues would question whether I ever did ‘do’ my job, I used this opportunity to rant about not being defined by the shit I did to put a crust on my table; rapidly, and largely by subtext, I told the questioner enough about me to send him or her on their way, wishing they’d never wasted their time.
But down the years I have often found myself asking other people about their jobs, and the most interesting or odd ones — even ones that sound unspectacular but still out of the ordinary — have made me think, more than anything, “why the fuck did our careers advisers at school or uni never tell me that option existed?”
I recall walking up Rosslyn Hill with a pram-pushing young mum who was taking a maternity break from her job of finding luxury hotel rooms and buying them wholesale to sell on via cheap deals (and this would be by phone or coupon in those pre-interweb days). Now, I was just coming to the premature end of my career in what was latterly called IT; of course, careers advisers, especially back in the early Seventies, didn’t have to think hard about what job a computer science graduate (third class) would be likely to pursue. One could get a well-paid job programming the damn things if one could spell ‘kompewter’. But how quickly I would have changed course, if someone had told my callow, twenty-one-year-old self that one could get paid to go round the world on expenses, checking out top-class hotels!
Of course I would have been aware of my other dream job — paid food critic — but even there, I, familiar only with the the simple conveyor belt of school–uni–IT, would have had no clue as to how to become one.
So it’s intriguing to consider all the amazingly varied things folks can actually do to earn their salt.
And what made me think of this? Well, I was sitting at my computer typing away at last week’s blog entry, and a sudden disaster, followed by a careful examination of thirty-plus ‘flour-based food products’ (as Wikipedia calls them), caused me to wonder what sort of person would ever choose the job of sitting by a conveyor belt, assiduously putting microscopic cracks in whole packets of rich tea biscuits so that the majority of each breaks off, moisturised by the slightest dunking, into innocent bloggers’ mugs of sodding coffee. I hope it’s well-paid, you bastard!
Over the years, your humble correspondent has become more and more appreciative of the education he received in the 1960s East Midlands‘ grammar and comprehensive schools system, at the Jesse Boot and West Bridgford Schools, the latter of which also and more valuably gave you Lucy Worsley and the sublime Samantha Morton.
At a talk about the creative process (none of which chimed with his experience) it was smugly pleasing to think that this school, unlike those moaned about by the speaker and many creatives, encouraged rather than suppressed individuality and all that shit.
And one of the things that has stayed with me all these years, is the love of drama inculcated by a state institution with a fine stage and theatre facilities, and keen teachers, from the mildly insane Ruth Davis of the English Dept to the considerably Welsh Bill Morgan of German, whose make-up skills were legendary (we didn’t ask). Four houses mounted junior and senior plays each year and there were similarly two school plays. Though unable to name the play in question, I still recall my first line at age 12 (Ladies, please!), and the embarrassment at having to kiss a girl on stage (pleasant enough in itself, but the whoops from classmates in the audience stopped it being a particularly satisfying experience).
And perhaps the play that lives with me most vividly, from a wide and occasionally edgy repertoire, is Max Frisch’s black comedy Biedermann und die Brandstifter, known and performed in English as The Fire Raisers or The Arsonists. A play that seems little known and rarely if ever revived now, but one that might strike you as scarily relevant.
Let us consider the plot.
Herr Biedermann (German for ‘conventional man’) lives up to his name in a provincial town, which has been plagued by a series of arson attacks. The firemen of the town act as a kind of Greek chorus (Watching! Listening!) and our hero is smugly sure he couldn’t be taken in by these bastards.
Then Schmitz appears, a hawker who talks Biedermann into letting him spend the night in his attic. He is soon joined by Eisenring, and the two men start to fill Biedermann’s loft with straw and drums of petroleum. But whenever their host asks what they’re up to and what they want all this stuff for, they simply tell him, ‘we’re the fire raisers; we’re going to burn your house down’.
Reasoning that no real arsonist would ever be that blatant, Biedermann shrugs this off as an obvious, if tasteless joke. Eventually he even helps them to measure and prepare the fuse.
And when a fire engine rushes past, he expresses delight that it’s some other poor fool who is the target. Even this is undercut by the arsonists’ explanation that they always set a small decoy fire on the edge of town to get the fire service out of the way for the main event. They explain that their campaign will eventually culminate in an attack on the gasworks.
Clinging as best he can to his collapsing belief that his guests are merely pulling his leg, finally he even hands them the requested match as they head upstairs.
An epilogue shows Herr und Frau Biedermann, burnt to a crisp, at the gates of Hell. Even here they convince themselves they are really in Heaven. They encounter the arsonists, who turn out to be Beelzebub and Satan themselves, complaining that too many real mass murderers are getting into Heaven, while they get stuck with small fry like the Biedermanns.
As the fire raisers tell the audience, the secret is to tell the outrageous truth, safe in the knowledge that people will go to any lengths not to believe it.
Remind you of anything, dear reader?
Frisch’s main target when the play was begun in 1948 was the Communist take-over in Prague, but no one at the time would have missed the similarities with the rise of the Nazis in Germany only a decade and a half ago. On a milder level (or is it?), there was Rory Bremner’s prescient ‘conference speech’ in the guise of Tony Blair in 1996: “The Tories made one big mistake: they didn’t do what they said they were going to do. We won’t make that mistake. We will do what they said they were going to do.”
But in the present day we seem to be overwhelmed with parallels, many of them running in … well, parallel.
Just as Thatcher won an election with Saaatchi’s famous Labour Isn’t Working poster, only to introduce policies obviously designed to throw millions onto the dole and create a low-wage economy, we now have a Brexit largely won by suggesting that a non-existent amount of dosh could be spent on the NHS — in a campaign headed by people like Farage and Banks, who are on record as believing the NHS should be replaced by an American-style, for-profit system. As Michael Portillo said after the 2010 election, The Tories “did not believe they could win if they told you what they were going to do because people are so wedded to the NHS.” And we even had a Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who co-authored a booklet (with Douglas Carswell) with chapters on how to dismantle the socialised service and replace it, yet regularly campaigned claiming he was supportive of it, while, of course, running it down to reduce public confidence in it.
Got enough kerosene yet, lads?
It wouldn’t be so bad if these people stood up publicly and said this is what they believe in, trying to convince others as to why a private system is better (others, that is, who can’t afford shares in the companies straining at the leash to get their teeth into it). OK, not an easy task when you compare health outcomes and costs in the States against those even in our cash-strapped and badly-funded system, fearfully awaiting the extra blow of a post-Brexit drop in staff. But I still have this wish to see politics return to being, at least in part, the art of persuasion, rather than the playground of marketeers and manipulators.
Maybe a slightly longer fuse?
And to cap it all we have the global assortment of right/far-right/alt-right/ctrl-right/esc-right or whatever else you call them populist movements. For, in this globally connected age, it is even greater folly than ever ’twas not to see them as intertwined. Brexit is but a tree in a forest with groves in Brazil, Venezuela, Hungary, Italy and saplings pretty much everywhere.
And again, none of this should be surprising. Schmitz and Eisenring may have been replaced by such as Bannon and Banks, but they are announcing as clearly as ever why it is they’re filling our lofts with their combustibles. Steven Bannon is quite open about his belief that the world is overdue a conflagration, a cull of its decadent and liberal chaff, and his hopes to bring that about. He has wr5itten of his desire to overthrow the established forms of government, particularly liberal democracies, which makes it more baffling that privileged pillars of that very establishment like Johnson and Rees-Mogg are so keen to get into bed with him. But then many of the Gross und Gut of Germany went along with Hitler for similar reasons. We never learn.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in that Biergarten in Cabaret with some Brexiteer Xenophobe singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Still think we can control them?
Don’t worry, lads, we’ll bring the matches.
Well, your beloved correspondent has done the initial proofread of The Travelling Lady’s Cookbook: A Grand Tour in Twenty Recipes, (@Grieve-not Lake passim), and it could be worse. Hemingway said ‘all first drafts are shit’, but I guess that kinda implied the later ones would not be so bad.
We shall see.
You can either go back through the last twenty blog entries, or you can access, read or download the pdf of the whole novella (first draft) here. Or you can just ignore it to save time. It may get updated from time to time and a link my even be added to the Lucidity Books page, where you can check for news of such updates. Or not.
As the method of representing the text messages between the lovers is a pain in all formats, an epub/Kindle version will take a while to sort, but there will be one. Ideally the editor himself wants one, to make further revisions easier.
And what needs revising, dear reader?
Well, all of it, but mainly it seems that a lot of the chapters could have a lot more genius loci, or sense of place added. Although it does suit the original, impressionistic, idea to have a vagueness about location, it does seem there’s a lot less about the travelling than there is about the cooking (and the sex/love life development).
So that will be the main project, once the whole thing’s had a chance to stew on the back burner for a while and the author can come to it afresh. All literary projects, on their initial completion, should be buried in soft peat on a remote Hebridean Island for a number of months and, ideally, forgotten about entirely, before being dug up and reconsidered, then, in a few cases, being revised, in a few more rewritten, and in most shredded and used to line hamster or gerbil cages.
But meanwhile a number* of readers have asked for an index of the foodstuffs involved. It does feature at the back of the book, but here it is for your drooling and delight …
Index of Foods – country – chapter
avocado with citrus dressing – UK – 17
black squid risotto – Italy – 20
chicken and preserved lemon tagine – Morocco – 10
a gallimaufry (pork, peppers, mushroom stir-fry) – International – 3
fish Panang curry – Thailand – 14
fish stir-fry – International – 7
fried pork and kimchi – Korea – 13
friendly kakapo (avocado with citrus dressing) – UK – 17
gaeng Panang pla – Thailand – 14
goulash with sauerkraut – Hungary – 11
green eggs and ham – UK – 5
hake in green sauce – Spain/Basque – 2
jambalaya – USA – 15
khao niaow ma muang – Thailand – 19
kimchi bokum – Korea – 13
mango with sticky rice – Thailand – 19
merluza alla vasca (hake in green sauce) – Spain/Basque – 2
mole poblano – Mexico – 12
pancetta and broad bean risotto – Italy – 1
pork, garlic and olives in goose fat – France/Perigord – 9
risotto al nero di seppia – Italy – 20
sausages in cider – UK – 6
smörgåsbord/mezze/dim sum/tapas/buffet – International – 8
steak with pate and mushrooms en croute – France – 18
Székely gulyás – Hungary – 11
tagine with chicken and preserved lemon – Morocco – 10
tournedos Rossini – France – 18
turkey in chocolate and chilli sauce – Mexico – 12
venison in cassis sauce – UK – 4
wild mushroom omelette – France – 16
Abnormal service should then be resumed, Maybe there will be new and random topics in the blog from now on.
I have to get a painting done by the end of the month. Maybe just a picture of that in progress will appear.
Come back and find out…
*the number in question is zero
Let us take a break from all things novelly, but stay with travel and food, if not love and sex.
Your trusty (but not lusty) correspondent has mentioned many times, in many places, but apparently not in these posts, a certain disdain for a greyness that pervades English ‘culture’, especially in the culinary sense. Within the pages of the novella itself, he has made humorous play on the fact that the best thing we seem capable of doing with pulses and meats is a tin of baked beans and ‘sausages’, while our continental cousins create luscious concoctions with similar ingredients and a lot more passion.
And at this time of year, he is painfully reminded of the time he was in Cádiz, Andalucía, Spainland for Carnaval 2001. Someone he met there said the Gaditanos say the Brazilians don’t know how to party; but he also said that to him Cádiz carnaval is like a million people sharing a joke you’re not in on. Well, maybe, but it made me laugh.
From Friday night to Shrove Tuesday the streets are never quiet, and I couldn’t even get to my flat in La Viña for crowds, so I just had to stay out drinking, right? And Saturday is the big parade, when everyone dresses up (even your correspondent) and parties long into the night.
I saw a child of no more than six years sitting outside Bar Manteca (now of Rick Stein fame), dressed as Bugs Bunny, throwing confetti weakly at the knees of passers-by, as she fought to stay awake. Then someone pointed out that her father was standing by, cradling her baby sibling, ‘dressed’ as a carrot, complete with green sprouts over the head.
I was chatting to a friend in Germanyland on the Wednesday afternoon, having managed to snatch some shut-eye from 7am to noon.
“I have to go out now; it’s carnaval,” I said.
“No no,” she insisted, “It’s now Ash Wednesday; this is Lent.”
“Ah, but here the carnival don’t stop until the weekend — and then they have a mini one next Saturday too.”
“Are they not Catholics?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied, “but first and foremost they are Andaluz!”
I follow them on facebook and other social media. The main features of the Cai bash are the choirs, ranging from thirty-strong choros, down to four-person cuartettos, the mainstay being the medium sized chirigotas. These perform a series of songs, cuplés, pasodobles, some of which celebrate the delights of the province, but most of which pass satirical and often scatological comment on the year’s news. The costumes (as with those of the revellers on the Saturday) are amazingly inventive, the songs inventively hilarious — if you can understand a word, which even any Spanish can’t, as they are usually rendered in the local dialect (think a foreign Johnny trying to follow the English in a Glasgow pub, late on a Friday night). Check them out by searching youtube for ‘chirigotas’. This year, one lot —Daddy Cadi — even incorporate rap.
Meanwhile my facebook and writing friend, Mardi, has been giving it large in New Orleans, for Mardi Gras, despite some pretty cold weather. Looks great too, as I’m sure it does in Rio, Saõ Paolo, etc etc etc.
Carne vale, ‘meat goodbye’, or the slightly less enticing mardi gras — ‘fat Tuesday’ — all spring from the need to eat up the foodstuffs that were off the menu during Lent, but have led to wild partying, conviviality and, let’s not deny it, hangovers, in many parts of the Christian world, even where the observance of the following fast has died away.
So what do we in the UK do?
We make sodding pancakes! And many of us put lemon juice on them, as if it isn’t enough to be dull, so we have to be sour too.
Don’t get me wrong. I love pancakes (you should see my collection). I made a load last night; three with a lightly curried slow-cooked pork, mushroom and pepper filling, followed by a couple with mixed citrus juices and sugar. But can’t we party as well?
Oh, somewhere in a distant land the sun is shining bright,
The choirs are singing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And folks are dressing up — oh it’s to there I would escape,
‘Cos there is no joy in Britain — our fiestas are just crêpe
[apologies to E L Thayer]
And so, 17 months and 25½k words after it was begun, The Travelling Lady’s Cookbook (a Grand Tour in Twenty Recipes) is complete. Well, the first draft anyway, and as Hemingway tells us, all first drafts are shit.
Plough back through the previous 19 blogs, if you really want to check out the whole thing and I’ll stick a pdf of it on my website maybe in time for next week (when I will also present an index to the foods within).
Now the food porn is out the way, it’s time to get back to the funny book about football.
Departing is Such Black Risotto
—This last supper had long been intended. A small sachet of squid ink had accompanied Epifanea since leaving home, though, as she had hoped, the better fish markets on the Continent sold them complete with ink sacs. The sachet could go home tomorrow, virgo intacta. She chose a small, plump squid from the dockside stall and impressed the seller with her insistence she would prepare it herself. Once, years ago, someone had mentioned that cleaning out a squid was like emptying a used condom of some vintage variety. Ever since that time, this distasteful image was one she could not keep out of her mind when preparing the slippery cephalopods, but she wasn’t going to let that be a deterrent.
—Garlic was in the kitchen of her apartment overlooking the harbour, and tomato puree, parsley from the window box and butter, she was allowed to use for a small consideration. So a small onion, a pot of fish stock and a bag of risotto rice, the remainder of which she could donate to the host or future guests, was all she required to complete the evening.
—Well, that and petit pain and a nice tarte au citron from the boulangerie. And a rather good bottle of Entre-Deux-Mers, which she could donate to the cooking — and to herself. Tomorrow’s flight was not so early that she couldn’t afford to overindulge tonight.
—With food and wine in her bag, she sat outside the bistrot and watched the locals at play. She sent a short video home, though she knew he’d be at work and unavailable for extended communication. Longer chats could wait until the evening.
—She smiled as his reply identified the game correctly. Not just boules, as most Brits would say, but the version with ‘planted feet’.
—For such a simple sport, she found it rather hypnotic. The friendly arguments, the teasing laughter at flunked shots, the general bonhomie, behind which lurked an intense desire to win. As one shot sent an opponent’s ball flying smartly from the field of play, she even applauded, earning a deep bow and an elegantly blown kiss from the victorious player.
—She raised her glass of red to him in salute and turned her attention back to her baguette au fromage.
—She was ending her peregrinations in a small town, as she had no more desire for sightseeing and only a little for shopping, for esoteric souvenirs and gifts for family and friends. A quiet day and exceeding lazy was what the doctor ordered. She would cook, eat, sit on her balcony, finish that awful book and have one last stroll before turning in for her last European mainland night.
—And Skype with him, of course. But not for long. Lengthy last long distance conversations could turn edgy with impatience and tomorrow’s reunion should not be spoiled. She knew he’d feel the same, but plans did have to be finalised and fond goodnights exchanged.
—But first the squid.
—Eppy opened the doors onto the balcony, standing there in a reverie as she took in the scene and the sea air. Two young men walking a pair of bichons saw her, waved and saluted her with hands on hearts and walked on, laughing cheerily. With a shake of her head and a sigh of contentment, she turned back into the bijou kitchen area, where the squid lay on a nylon chopping board, ready for dissection.
—She removed the head and tentacles and peeled the fine, speckled outer skin from the body. With a grimace she inserted a couple of fingers and pulled out the slender quill and the ink sac. Then she filled the body with water and squeezed most of the remaining gloop out with it into the sink.
—After disposing of the skin and innards, she cut the body in two lengthwise to finish cleaning the flesh, which she then chopped up along with the head parts (removing and discarding the beak of course), and placed in a dish
—She chopped the onion and smacked a knife blade down on a clove of garlic. She chopped some of the parsley and put the stock with water in a pan over a medium heat.
—That bean and pancetta risotto on a Mediterranean island seemed so long ago now. Epifanea Tredwell’s procedure for this Venetian black version required a slightly different sequence of events.
—In this case, the rice was started separately — and not yet. In a small but deep frying pan the garlic and onion were first softened in a little butter and olive oil, joined soon after by the chopped up squid. In a cup she mixed the ink squeezed from its sac with a little warm water and added this to the pan, stirring to colour the vegetables until the liquid was just about evaporated.
—She added half a glass of the wine and a spoon of puree, increasing the heat and stirring until the wine was reduced by about half. Once this was achieved the heat was reduced and the pan covered. Over the next ten minutes or so, she would tidy up, set the table, slice the bread and prepare a side salad with a light vinaigrette dressing, stopping now and then to stir the contents of the pan and check the squid was cooking nicely staying moist. When it looked like it might be drying out, she added a little water to the pan and a glass of wine to herself.
—And now the rice. In another skillet Eppy melted some butter, added a little oil to prevent burning, and added a half a coffee mug of finest arborio. She stirred it into the butter and cooked it until the grains became translucent and gave off a fragrant odour, at which point she drowned them in another half glass of dry white. Once this had all but evaporated, she started to add the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring gently to break up the grains and release the starch into the increasingly creamy mélange.
—After ten patient minutes of this, she judged it time for the components of her dish to come together. She spooned the black mixture into the rice and stirred it tenderly, watching the darkness slowly overwhelm the creamy, white grains, until the whole pan was ‘dark as Erebus’. She tasted a little, spitting out the still-too-crunchy rice, and added salt and pepper along with the chopped parsley and a last ladle of stock.
—A few more minutes of stirring and she could ‘plate up’. She filled a small bowl with the finished risotto and upended that neatly onto a large, white plate. After sprinkling a little more parsley on top of the black dome, she took a photograph to send home, captioned, as black as my own dark soul, lol! and settled down to enjoy.
—Dark soul indeed. An enjoyable repast and a whole bottle of wine left her in a playful and teasing mood, so he too was only too pleased that their last long-distance communication be kept brief, with expressions of fond anticipation and hopes for but the slightest of hangovers and the smoothest of journeys on the morrow.
—Even her last evening stroll was short and erratic. and she had no desire, not that concentration would have been possible anyway, to share in any more of Janey Gower’s Picnics of Passion. A good nights’ sleep and a light early breakfast in the café with its view of fishing boats and the squat towers guarding the harbour would be a pleasingly peaceful postlude to a life-enhancing few weeks of novel sights, gastronomic delights, sleazy reading and introspective deliberation. On the whole, Epifanea thought the whole experience a success. She had a fair idea of her life and where she wanted it to be heading. Who knew if it would go as expected? Just now, she didn’t really care, and the room was gently spinning her to sleep.
—In the cool light of dawn, the North Sea slapped against the harbour wall. She almost wished she was returning by ferry. She liked the thought of standing on the deck alone, her silk scarf suspended behind her on the breeze as she waved farewell to the Continent and anticipated her homecoming.
—But she had an aeroplane ticket.
—And she had no silk scarf.
—But for all the airport hassle and the queuing and the waiting, she knew she’d be home with less haste and less nausea and he’d be waiting there to meet her with her name in large letters on an unnecessary piece of card clutched in one hand, and maybe a bunch of roses in the other. And he’d drive her home and they’d have a pizza at Piccolo’s as their very own picnic of passion, followed by a supper of sex and a lifetime of … what? Time would tell. She felt sure she’d enjoy finding out.
I’m just a station on your way…
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.
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
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
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
Herring, ham, stuff
Anyway. Best till last
On the demon next!
—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’.
—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
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.
Oh, that Rossini. I know him
What’s he got to do with the weather?
Tournedos are cuts of fillet steak
You know that
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
What’s she doing there?
Is that the idea?
Ruth from work. You know
And I’m being a bad host
Good practice for your single life
Oi. She’s here with Richard
Oh, Ruth as in Ruth is stranger than Richard
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?
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.”
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
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.