Sunday, October 29, 2006


A weekend of monumental roasts, marking the official if not experiential onset of winter. And the almost final part of my kitchen is in place – the shelf, oh the fucking shelf – and so far bearing the weight of my dried herbs and spices. The bitter irony of it, of course, is that in the 5 or 6 weeks since my condiments have been stowed in a deep plastic container on top of the chest of drawers in the living room, I have barely had to make the treacherous trip across Lego, banana and plastic shopping items to get them. Bar the odd dried chilli I just haven’t needed them. The same was true for the week I had no fucking kitchen at all. We ate very well, roasts mainly.

This weekend was no exception. My single trip outside this house since I left the Office via the Green Man on Friday evening was to the airport shop for some meat and fish. It is best this way at the moment. A weighty chuck of cod fillet and a juicy-looking rolled- shoulder of Gloucestershire Old Spot came back home with me and I set about clearing the latest items on what seems to be an everlasting household to-do list. Cleaning fridges, rationalizing sheds, taking stock of your dry-store, spend more time with the kids, have more sex with the Wife, …, you know, that sort of thing.

The day disappeared before long, but this meal wasn’t going to take much time. I wanted a rich tomato stew to go with the fish so I sweated off the usuals in my casserole and then melted down a frozen lump of fish stock. It smelled fucking awesome, some chilli and garlic in there too. And once that had started to boil I tipped in the remains of a carton of passata that had been sitting in the fridge for the last 10 days. A handful of olives and left to simmer for half an hour or so. Meanwhile I sliced and scored the cod and fried it skin-side down on a hot, all-metal pan to crisp up before throwing it in the oven to roast with a handful of sliced fennel and some butter; put some rice on; and steamed some spinach and chard. A quick scrub of the mussels and into the stew with them for five minutes. Parsley to serve. Amazing.

And tonight, some of the tastiest pork I have ever had. It must have been one fucking happy pig, that’s for sure. I propped up the dark-flesh joint with a pile of peeled coxes, thyme, sage, garlic, smoked bacon, and a thick slice of orange; and rubbed lots of coarsely ground sea salt deep into the sharp cuts in the rind. In to the oven for a good hour and 15 minutes, carefully building up gravy in the pan by occasionally deglazing with some balsamic, water, and/or red wine.

The result, passed just once into a very thin roux made with cornfour and finished off with small cubes of ice cold unsalted butter, was as good as a gravy will get. No, of course it didn’t have the breadth of flavour that a good stock would deliver. But the taste and consistency were up there with the best of them. And the meat had turned out to be cooked perfectly, slightly rare in the centre but crispy on top. It was the best pork I remember eating, and helped along with some slow-roasted Jerusalem artichokes and fennel (done in butter with a little brown sugar towards the end) and some braised kale.

We gorged our fat faces on the plentiful meat and gravy. It was to witness gluttony, but happiness too. We are maxed out in terms of sleeplessness and trying to keep up with Hyperlife.

And the best part of this has been the lack of any Sundays in this room. I stood there n front of the last remaining folders of newsprint and plastic scattered redundantly across the dirty lino floor of my local shop, and I thought to myself: “no, I have had enough of this routine”. The nights are fair drawing in now, Christmas is in the air, and I have a pot of cinnamon-, star-anise-, orange- and clove-infused veg stock sitting on my stove about to chill down over night in preparation for a pumpkin soup. I smell the spirits.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Living to excess

I am smoking an inordinate quantity of extremely strong grass these days. A good pipe or two packed weekdays full of stinky sticky weed and effectively wiping out my brain as required of an evening. Sure you build a tolerance to it. But it’s not like drink, with which it was becoming impossible just before I stopped to actually get into any higher state than the hazy numbness and necessity of daily soaking. Green can, if you put a little effort in, transform your evening into one of soft edges and trippy detachment.

Food is plays a central role in this of course, and tonight was a case in point. The weather has definitely turned now, and I had walked an especially long walk home on account of the round trip I had to make to supply my weekend herbs. I was hungry. And we’ve had enough of the grilled meat + salad combos this week. No, this was a night for Carbs.

It turned out, in fact, that the Wife was in exactly the same mood, her day of battling with the razor sharp wits of a bright three year-old having left her in a similar state as would spending 10 hours sitting in a brightly lit, air-conditioned hallway with thirty three people of whom just five you have ever spoken to, so it seems. The fridge was looking decidedly bare on this chilly late October night, with little else but George’s diminished cheese and half a pot of decaying double cream amounting to about all that was fresh. So I mixed up a couple of eggs with the cream and some cheese, set a large pan of generously salted water on the stove, and sweated of a couple of small, finely chopped shallots, two cloves of garlic and a small amount of diced celery in my casserole. Later I tossed in some halved black olives and a few rinsed capers, and just before the spaghetti was cooked I tossed it all together retaining a good volume of the cooking water and mixed it briskly into a rich, creamy sauce with plenty of salt and pepper and a handful of chopped herbs from the garden – bits and pieces of sage, oregano and rosemary. A couple of dods of butter for good measure and onto hot deep plates, served with more cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Less than a pound a head, and filling a hole without any bullshit at all. And you can stuff all the Mars bars and Pringles in the world up your arse, munchies don’t get much better than that.

Chicken enthusiasm

What did I just say about meat, salad & carbs? Came home in a great mood which quickly turned sour for some irrational reason I know not of. Possibly child-related, possibly home-improvement-induced, possibly Office-linked, possibly none of the above. Exclaimed to the Wife that my interest in cooking was directly proportional to my interest in being alive, and that I had no desire whatsoever to cook on this particular evening.

It wasn’t as if there was no food, I mean the fridge had some stuff in it – principally a vacpack of chicken thighs from the farmers’, some Tesco traffic-light peppers and some Tesco green beans. There were also bits and pieces of green stuff in my grimy salad bins.

Chicken is something I find hard to get excited about a the best of times. All you can do is use it as a vehicle for something you do like. In this case, on account of my lack of will to live and good intentions to hold some food over for the children, my options appeared few. So the thighs ended up being scored and rubbed with that prosaic mix of garlic and paprika, salt and oil and roasted on the top shelf for three quarters of an hour. Half way through I threw in the peppers halved into six pieces and mixed up a quick yoghurt & Dijon based dressing spiked with finely diced shallots and lemon juice.

A small handful of black olives went into the salad of cucumber, celery, a few leaves and some cooked and cooled green beans. And it was the best part really, the skin having not quite crisped up on account of my turning down the oven too early. I still haven’t properly mastered how to work that steely bitch, not really. Not if it came down to a matter of Life or Death.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It gets a bit boring after a while

Only in Holland would you find such crude and soulless treatment of a fine cheese. For a cheese-making nation too, it is hard to forgive. Economy over knowledge; weight over value; don’t cut the fucking rinds off your parmesan block you cunts. Christ.

I discovered the massacre last night just as I was finishing off my mushroom risotto -- two thirds of the stripped block covered with a rash of blue mould. It was damp, the whole fucking thing had gotten good and wet thanks to that cheese-shop fucker.

But no matter. It washed off just fine, washed off by George in fact, my surprise visitor for the evening en route to fuck-knows-where. It was meant to be his cheese after all, a fact forgotten in all the commotion of kitchen building all those weeks ago. I tell you, it was hard to look him in the eye at first. His presence in this room, poring over the various errors to see how bad they had got in the interim, brought a flashback of the mild trauma I felt when -- after three consecutive days spent realizing the job was bigger and more complicated than I had ever anticipated -- he struck gold with a hole cutter and a water main. I will never forget that.

But I will always welcome a familiar face at my door, and I had dropped off at Tesco on the way home to bag a half shoulder of lamb and a bag of leaves to make a cheap and hearty main. I then arrived home to an empty house and opened the door to the immediate aroma of a bolognaise.

“Odd,” I thought to myself. And there indeed on top of my cooker was resting a large pan of smooth meat sauce. I tasted some, and it was fair enough. I wanted to throw out something a little more varied, and thought it the height of wastefulness or at least unreasonableness to freeze this ample pile of food when I have three hungry mouths to feed. But tonight wasn’t the night for it.

So I threw a large handful of porcini into a pan with hot water and left them to soak while I set about stuffing bits of garlic and rosemary between the fatty layers of meat; olive oil, salt, and into the oven it went on Burn for 15 minutes. And I threw a tasty little risotto together from it and the tub of cooking liquor from the hock last week to fill it out. It was a little overcooked, for sure. But a melting consistency and rich nutty taste.
And then the roasted shoulder, not nearly as crispy as I like it and served with an olive, spinach and watercress salad. Bread and butter; wine; water; you name it. Nothing. I felt awkward. I don’t know why. I think it was because I was up to the eyeballs and got paranoid. I wanted to get drunk. I don’t WANT to have to use gear every night; I want alcohol, and cigarettes. That’s what I want.

Talking of different, tonight we dined on a beef version of the Meat, Carbs & Leaves combo. It gets a bit boring after a while. This evening we dined on a tray of beautifully roasted new potatoes, sliced in half and rolled in plenty of olive oil and salt with some garlic and rosemary. And half way through I threw in the best part of a lemon cut into little wedges. I wanted something with a bit of taste to go with the meat, a slab of rump steak picked up by the Wife at the Farmers’ coated with pounded chilli and garlic and griddled perfectly for a couple of minutes each side. It was hot, mind. A dried red and fresh green [birdseye] did the trick. The salad helped all that though, tossed as the otherwise unmemorable leaves were in a yoghurty dressing. The tatties were so creamy and soft, while still maintaining a firm shape. But how many time do I need to do this?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Saved by a Swiss pie

While casually standing there at my black Formica work-top, holding an infant in one arm and peeling a carrot with the other (much easier than you’d think), it suddenly dawned on me that my days of cooking are numbered. It is only a matter of time, maybe two years, maybe four, until we start to eat regularly every night as a family. And that means family food.

I always enjoyed my family meals as a kid, my mother’s cheese & onion pies and lasagnes; slicing mouthfuls of cold apple crumble for breakfast on a Monday morning and, my favourite, a rich-cheddar cauliflower cheese, two fat salty sausages and a spoonful of baked beans. But how much of any of it was any fun for her to make? I can only imagine that having to cook day-in day-out for three hungry mouths by a roughly reasonable hour would wear thin. She did well, rotating the favourites at just the right rate for each to hold its appeal. I, on the other hand, am facing the very real prospect of being told on a daily basis that my food is shit and nowhere near as good as so-and-so’s dad’s [the fucking pervert]. I wish I could be more like Hugh, finding the time to bake pies and pastries with his red-cheeked and healthy young children in his flour-dusted and stone-floored kitchen some, oh, mid-week afternoon when not in the, err, office.

I don’t want to dwell on that thought for now, though. We have just finished the rest of my bean stew – this time more soup-like thanks to my throwing in of almost all of the rest (minus a wee punnet for the freezer) of the cooking water into the casserole with the remains last night -- with a carrot and parsley salad (not so great really) and some soft three-seed bread smeared thickly with cool and salty butter.

But it was my apple tart, which I neglected to mention, which stole the show. Yesterday we enjoyed a good 80 degrees or so each of the warm pie with a dollop of sugared whipped cream. The pastry was so sweet and crumbly that it almost melted on the tongue, the coxes super-sweet but providing a refreshing tartness and the now-roasted whole-almond studs rounding it all off with butter and spice. It was a winner, although next time I would add another layer or two of apples to get the pastry balance a it better. And some home-made vanilla ice-cream wouldn’t be too offensive next door either. A simple classic etc.

We were then left with the other half of the Swiss pie. It would have been even tastier tomorrow -- the pasty having soaked up enough apple and sugar to turn slightly chewy, and the apple having had time to decompose every so little. But none of this was to be, at least not for me. In fact, I have already had the very last piece of this pie that I will ever take. It would appear, however, that the remaining semicircle went to a very good home – a home lived in by a friend of the Wife’s and recently vacated by said friend’s husband. So she took it round when she went over for the chat and they reheated it and felt much better, leaving a wedge for the Friend to enjoy later in front of the telly. It was a lovely pie.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cooking with cowboy confidence

Despite being charged with full responsibility for the care and well-being of a disturbed and at times horrific three-year old plus a speechless. legless nine-month old, today was a day devoted to producing lots of rustic, home-cooked food. It was pissing with rain all day and there was nothing else I wanted to do, other than murder my immediate family. A day of calm on most culinary fronts, other than those that were sporadically interupted by spikes of dangerous white noise followed by short but awkward readjustment periods. The eldest wearing me into the ground basically.

So I tried to get her involved in some way to redeem a qnother, rather panic-stricken, scene which took place earlier this morning whereby she lost out on her warm buttery croissant with spoonfuls of fresh strawberry jam on account of her inability to recognise House Society, or any other society for that matter. We began with some roughly chopped veg to flavour the cooking water for my ham hock, which was then to be used as a stock for the flageolet beans. There is something deeply gratifying about waking to a bowl of plump fattened beans that have been soaking all night in a clean white bowl and to a knuckle of pig alongside it that has been spending its long night similarly.

We boiled it up for a good hour and a half, strained it and flaked the deep purple flesh from the hot, sticky bones. It had taken on a sweet bacony flavour without any of the salt or nasty chemicals you associate with most twenty-first century swine; a tangerine, star-anise and three cloves bringing a sweet and comforting seasonal hint -- something to bring us all together, a thing which is in dire need of taking place soon around here.

Meanwhile I got to work on an apple pie. First, I wanted to recoup my losses from last week’s sorry pastry case for my even sorrier treacle tart (which to my annoyance the CafĂ© at work had bettered effortlessly this week). And I succeded, even though it could have been still more elastic, to bake a smooth, thick and crumbly case which I then filled with sliced coxes and topped with a warmed mix of golden syrup, lemon and butter infused with cinnamon bark and overlaid with a pastry lattice the diamond gaps of which were studded with whole blanched almonds – the ideal task for the delinquent mind.

By the time the Swiss Pie had been assembled and left to chill in the fridge it was time to get the beans on. So I sweated the sliced remains of a leek and a couple of shallots and some garlic in my casserole and rolled the plump olive-green pulses around in the hot oil for a bit before splashing in a good glug of pastis. A ladle or two of stock and then I left it for an hour or two to simmer. It was green and aromatic, fresh and musty, and it looked almost alien when I tossed in the bulbous purple meat and a tablespoon of dirty-yellow Dijon.

All that was left to do -- in between scattering pieces of variously hot/cold, old/new bread before the youngest while she did her Stephen Hawking impression in her high-chair, and ignoring her big sister’s minute-by-minute assaults against my authority -- was throw a creamy broccoli cheese together. The cabbage had been in the fridge for days and was becoming limp, so I sliced it and placed it in a buttered dish rubbed with raw garlic and poured over it a high-finesse gruyere sauce topped with more cheese and fresh breadcrumbs, which bubbled into an awesome gooey crust after its half-hour spell on the top shelf. In there below it, in my tardis-like-main oven, were the circular strudel and the remainder of last night’s sweet potatoes. This was to be a meal fit for all of us, the close family unit.

But it didn’t quite turn out that way. In fact, just before I placed the first bean of the heart-warming strew into my mouth, I thought I was going to burst into tears at the dinner table. The cacophony of two screaming children after days of similar had made irrelevant my long, slow food, half of which was made with them in mind, and brought me once again to the edge. We soldiered on, however, the meal doing all lit could to mask the indefinable madness that is being a parent of the young. And it did very well indeed, the cheesy greens matching in a coarse and unsophisticated manner the ham and beans. I would have gorged myself on it had the youngest not decided it was the best thing she had ever tasted, and it was satisfying to watch at least one of my dependents stuff themselves on my food with leaking gusto.

Nevertheless, the scene was hardly reflective of the high-res images of strangely familiar faces in the OFM around large wooden tables in some corner of continental Europe in their late autumn setting, nor indicative of the certainty and clarity of the Indie’s “Kitchen masterclass: Part 4, Puddings and Cakes”, jostling about in the foodie-revolution-PR of today’s Sundays. WAS IT? We are normal. Actually, I quit liked the latter.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Shanks for solitude

Take a pair of shanks. Roll them in a fresh mash of garlic, rosemary and salt. Throw in a birdseye chilli for the craic, and leave in the fridge all day. Then get to work on taking your kitchen a nanometre closer to the End while having your head done-in by a screaming infant whose demands you are helpless to meet. A window sill goes from am innocuous reclaimed plank to a three hour project involving three power tools; a lick of paint still licking me 2 hours later. But at ten to six, just in time to pick the eldest up from nursery, I threw together what was to become a tender, tender shank supper and what would hopefully rescue the day from the pointlessness of incremental home improvement. A slow, warming stew. The flavour of this particular stew was spot-on, and I didn’t use any stock at all. I began by taking my trimmed, marinated shanks and placing them in a hot casserole with oil to brown up. Meanwhile I roughly chopped a leek, two large carrots, an onion and some celery and threw them in with the meat, along with a small handful of fennel seeds and some bay. After a few turns over a fierce heat I poured in a good couple of glasses of dry white wine, let it bubble down for a minute, added a bit of cold water, added a generous teaspoon of Dijon and threw the whole thing into the oven with the lid on and a leaving-the-house safety temperature of about 160 degrees. An hour and a half later, once the baths and bottles and piss and shit and videos and protests and other normal bedtime activities were complete, I threw a handful of thick-cut slices of tattie in, wetted it a bit with some more water, and slammed it back in for another hour. Which gave me time to knock up something unexpectedly special: a salad of finely sliced leeks, the rest of the firm and ripe cherry tomatoes grown in the poly tunnel behind the Shop, some well rinsed capers, olive oil and salt. I left it for a good half an hour there, in an attempt to soften the leeks. Then I tossed in a small bunch of roughly chopped herbs from the garden, all sorts really but mostly oregano. And although it sat somewhat uncomfortably next to our deep plates of perfectly cooked potatoes and shanks in a liquor that was beefed up by the birdseye to great effect. The fennel, chilli and fatty lamb flavour was awesome, and the fact that I hadn’t passed it to make a more sophisticated gravy only enhanced its simplicity. And the salad surprised with its unplaceable taste somewhere between onion and parsley, lemon and salt. Take a pair of shanks, I tell you.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Saturday's papers

Childhood mate of Jamie Oliver and celebrity spoof pig farmer, once broadcast “pleasuring” a boar to harvest semen (or wait a minute, wasn't that Big Brother?), Jimmy Docherty has hit the nail on the head concerning our backward attitude to food. Well, almost: “Inverted snobbery” about good food, he writes in the Times, is preventing the masses -- who, like kids who are too cool for homework, are largely responsible for the supermarket shelves being lined with processed shite and rock-bottom prices in the first place -- from improving their diet.

“People need to realise that there’s nothing posh about caring about good food,” he adds. Okay, so he doesn’t quite make the subsequent and final connection by admitting that it’s his Creative & Media crew that is making people associate class and cash with eating well, but it’s a start.

He looks like a sound enough bloke to me. And his opinions don’t come fucking close to the iatrogenesis of that snuffling sap down in Dorset, the sight of who’s smug face adorning the front page prevented me from purchasing my usual Saturday. But what is it with him and that Australian sommelier of Jamie’s at his making-poverty-history restaurant? They’re like holograms crafted from the same Jamie brand: the agricultural one, the wine & spirits one. Bright, scruffy guys in their early thirties living the dream and selling that dream to us the panicking public lost as to our purpose or goals in life.

[Which reminds me: The people, the Scottish National Trust, who recently advertised for two new families to relocate to the inner Hebridean island of Tiree (population 15) to make it habitable, have been inundated. Tens of thousands of applications from all over, mostly the south east, many from deluded folk in the States in search of their ancestors, all trying to escape the same fucking things.]

And no wonder. This morning, for example, I made a trip I had intended to make all week – a trip to the timber merchant’s to pick up a piece of sill for my FUCKING kitchen. A simple job, for sure, a 1.2m standard piece of wood, thank you very much. And I suspected the place shut at 12 so I made a point of getting there before hand. In fact, it was 8 minutes-to by the time I pulled up at the closed gates. So I left the wain in the car and let myself though to the open shop door at the other side of the forecourt.

“Oh, glad I caught you before you disappeared,” I said, relieved after having already trying last week to do this very same thing and finally standing there in a shop where I knew I was going to find what I wanted. But I was wrong.

“We’re closed, “ said a thick-looking stump of a man in his early twenties. “I’m not serving you,” he added, after I pointed out that it was before 12 in the clock directly above his head. Anyway, I then started to swear at him. I think my bullshit-free attitude at the Office of late is rubbing off. I called him a fat cunt too, and the interaction ended with me screaming “pricks” out of the passenger window as I screeched off and him raising his finger and shouting words to the effect of “fuck you”.

But why did it have to come to this, I beg of you? Who won here? And half an hour later I had a similarly detached encounter with a human-like biped in a petrol station. But my trip ended with friendly faces in the Airport Shop, for which I pad thirty five quid. In return I got a bag of cod cheeks, some smoked haddock and prawns with which to make a killer fish pie to see us through the weekend and, the best part, a hunk of tuna loin which I am going to serve up to a vegetarian friend who has just started to get back into fish, chicken and turkey. A slab of ultra-rare loin then? Perhaps slightly forceful, hence the stodgey back-up. But the fucker nearly killed me. It took two hours, while I also make a fish stock (for some reason, and a veggie stock to cook some beans that are currently saturating in water).

I am literally falling asleep as I write this. High and knackered a the same time. I cannot go on with no sleep like this for days. Children crying all night, behaving in a disturbed manner by day. Mornay sauces splitting, curdling, whatever you want to call it. And the first hint at troubles to come with the wedding catering: a wild–west drink-fuelled diatribe, perpetrated by my Sister, has ceased the flow of free highland produce.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The grass is greener

I want to get away from this feeling. The feeling that you can’t do certain things without certain other things in place. Such as an evening at home without a bag of grass. The feeling of dependence – not some trivial physical thing like withdrawal symptoms etc, but having to depend on others to get hold of the stuff. It’s this alone that will drive me to get off it. It sucks self-respect like nothing else on earth. It makes you feel like a fucking parasite. And this is what makes gear worse than drink, nothing else.

This weekend has now been ruined by it. Take Friday, last night. Having half-heartedly told myself the evening before, on running out of my last little bit, that I would seize the opportunity to take an unspecified break, I decided by mid-morning that I would “drop by” (it’s in the completely opposite direction to my usual walk home) the Place and pick up a ten-bag (despite having been expecting a delivery from my neighbour all week). I never hand around there, and there’s normally no need to. But for some reason, this time nobody was selling.

So I stood there with my can of red bull among the physically and mentally deformed, pretending that I had some higher purpose like studying the game of pool before me, all the while surrounded by plumes of sweet cannabis smoke. I watched one or two other desperates turn up; by Christ they looked sad. We all looked sad. We all knew we were in the same boat despite not making eye contact. Each of us sitting there with our courtesy half-pints or softs, the have-nots versus the haves. Although “haves” is not necessarily the best depiction, seeing as one guy had his mouth on the side of his face and the other had a limp. Another, who had sorted me out before and clearly knew who I was, didn’t even look at me.

What desolation some people must feel when realizing that all is not what it seems, the smiles and winks and nods. The Cash. And I hated myself as much as I did this pathetic scene of quasi-depravity, knowing that I was not going to be home in time to kiss my beautiful daughter goodnight even though I was going home empty-handed.

So I knocked on the neighbour’s door when I got back and he promised me he was going to sort it out that night, and in I got to my unsuspecting wife for a quiet night of frustration as I realised what I knew was going to be the case anyway, that the goods were never to be seen. But a tasty lamb kebab interrupted it. Lamb mince spiced with toasted cumin, fennel and coriander. Lots of chilli and into a pita with some rocket, tomatoes, onions and some garlic-infused yoghurt. It was one of the best kebabs I’ve eaten.


Then this morning, having had the neighbour assure me he would sort it out this evening, I started to crack. It had nothing to do with the lack of gear, ???, but in watching the wife tile the kitchen walls. She was intent on making a good job of the corner, which I knew nobody would ever see. The electrics had to be off and the light was getting dim. I nearly broke down. I don’t know what brought it to this. I was just shouting at her, not in a maniac screaming fashion, but in an unnerving and uncharted way. I did not feel like I was in control. It was witnessing her going through what I had gone through that tipped it.

Hearing her need to talk to someone to share the realisation that, in fact the job [the tiling] was going to take considerably longer than she had anticipated while standing back and looking at it, even with the previous day’s experience behind her. I didn’t want to hear it. That was it. I had gone through too much of this in the last three weeks. I didn’t care one flying fuck about the tiling in the corner that I was never going to see again. Really.

I saw the fear in her eyes though, when she saw the sate I was in. I felt like I was about to cry. It was then that I left the house for the Place under the pretences of some mineral water and to give us ten minutes’ recuperation. So I rolled up there feeling desperate but nonetheless better off for it. Except that when I got there it was dry again. Thick with smoke and fucking dry again.

So I came back resigned to the hopelessness of my situation and kidded myself that I would write-off the neighbour’s dues and start afresh: on my own. But it was a farce, of course. So I slowly cleaned, scored and stuffed two fat mackerel picked up at the airport shop with bay, garlic, lemon and salt. I just couldn’t see how I was going to be able to eat it straight. The fish were eventually baked and served with a fresh fennel, tomato and rocket salad. That rocket lasted 4 fucking meals and it only cost 80p. I enjoyed it as best I could. But the strangest thing about tonight is that my fruitless trip to the bar seems as if it was a dream. It doesn’t feel as if I was there at all.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A veal moment

The stock is a good one. I was too fucked last night, too stoned, too tired, to work out how best to divide it among the plastic tubs. So I filtered it down slowly, at midnight straining it at least 4 times and gently extracting all the juices from the soggy matter left over. Anyway, you need a day or two to get to know your stock. This stuff is fucking gold man, I swear to you.

The butcher was going to cut down the beef that afternoon and so had no bones when I arrived. So I asked him if he still had veal bones and got a fiver’s worth, and then a bag of fresh pork bones that I spotted under his bench plus a couple of trotters. Anyway, it all went in the roasting tray and pot with the browned veg too, minus the trotters, and out came a golden light brown stock with a depth AND BREADTH that I hitherto not experienced. It was so fucking tasty you wouldn’t believe it. I got the volume/reduction ratio bang on.

But the best part was this morning. It was the first thing I did when I went downstairs to look in the fridge at the result. It was solid, jelly, with a thin rim of yellowy fat on top. I set it back, and looked forward to coming home tonight and slicing it up, melting it back down and pouring it into containers. And that’s exactly what I did, with, in fact, the whole family helping as it turned out. There was a strange fascination with it. The Eldest stuck labels onto the tubs for me while the wife marvelled at the weird structure and form of the stuff. And so I urged her to taste some, and the bairn too, who was clearly puzzled when the thing she had just watched her parents oohing and aaaahing about was not, in fact, something sweet and nice, but a deeply savoury and rudimentary veal stock.

Sadly I didn’t think while at the Shop yesterday to pick up a couple of slices of fillet of something to try out the liquor. So tomorrow at the farmers’ it will have to be. I think we’re going for the pepper steak. Cream sauce. Old-school done well.

Tonight we therefore had to make do with some filler, a tasty bowl of spaghetti tossed in an egg, cream and cheese solution and oily greek olives, finely diced shallot and garlic. Served with a cold and somewhat chewy runner bean salad. Fair enough like. And I need to buy some time back from the ether.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Transported to a dusty bar

Chirst. I’m in danger of turning into a HFW myself here, spending as I have my new Monday off making stock. It was a pleasant day, in between abusing the youngest in some way or other, putting the plinth on the bottom of my UNICS and keeping watch over the bubbling cauldron. A kipper for breakfast and, eventually, three fillets of herring rolled in oatmeal with a light leafy salad dressed in mutarde de meaux and lots of butter and lemon.

The combination of the sweet rustic dressing and the buttery oats transported me to a quiet wooden tabled bar in the mid afternoon light with a glass of slightly cold ale. I ate most of it with my fingers, marvelling at the simplicity of the meal as I gently squeezed the toasted oat shell into the firm grey and purple flesh between my thumb and forefinger. It could have been 3000 years ago, somewhere in the Highlands. Minus the springy poly-tunnel lettuce of course. But no need. A meal in one, that. You might get a couple of sprigs of parsley in kitchen window from time to time.

In preparing the fish I also had to source an egg last minute, ending up next door at the Poles’. They were happy to show their neighbourly generosity and, once I’d faltered for 20 seconds pathetically over my attempt at saying “jajko”, proudly got all their eggs out for me to see. Two trays of them, dozens of eggs. Lots of plastic. Simple design. The lowest form of animal protein possible, the battery of the batteries: Tesco value eggs, by the 2 dozen by the looks of it. It was the colour of that coconut liqueur stuff you drink at Dutch weddings. Foul, so to speak.

Time is running out every day, there is never enough of it. But I am relishing it. I am thinking about drink a lot, this warm-up cold-spell triggering this that and the other. But I can keep on track here. The gear I need to address though. It is going exactly the same way as alcohol now. I get edgy when I am about to run out and then, after a morning of convincing myself that I will face enjoy the hardship of going without for a few days, get a batch in and smoke it harder and until I am fucked on it every night.

I mean, I am going a fiver’s worth of the best green you can buy most nights. A couple of full pipes, to myself. And I am getting immune to it, like I was with drink. Unable to actually reach that euphoric state that used to be the motivating factor, but unable not to have the necessaries to try every single night, and in reality spending all my home-life in a bubble.

But there is no doubt I am a better father and husband with it at the moment. I am telling myself it is because I am going through a bad patch with the drink, but it’s totally fucking separate. It’s the fuck I like, getting fucked. It doesn’t matter a fuck what it is. Or how I get there. It’s just getting away from it. I hope there is nothing in my current life that I am trying to blot out, like the nightmare of having young children or unconscious doubts about my marriage.

Living a lie in Dorset

A shattering weekend of d i FUCKING y and children. Not sure exactly which one drives me over the edge, but to the edge I have been driven. No matter what people say about how hard kids can be before you have them, nothing prepares you for the situation whereby you need to get something finished, like fix the last couple of wall tiles to the tiny bit of wall the area of which was a far cry from what you have envisaged, and you need to pop out quickly to get another bag of adhesive and you are faced with that expression of “Right. Now, I’m not going to move an inch, instead standing here with my head cocked to one side and my eyes big and glancing upwards radiating with the enjoyment of watching you fucking disintegrate”.

But it’s not even that, nor the having to end every third situation by carrying her sideways into another room. It’s the dichotomy of standing there filled to the brim with rage for the relentless timing and pointlessness of it all, and being full of respect for and even in awe of this tiny creature before you so determined to make a stand – just for the hell of it. Willing to go without pretty much anything in exchange for her stubborn honour. It’s a wonderful madness.

So I left the Wife to tile proper while I took them in the car with the express intention of not stopping until they were flat out. It was Sunday after all, and I could sit anywhere with a modest view and read my paper in between bouts of torrential rain. That anywhere turned out to be one of the emergency entrances/exits of the runway at the airport, the very same spot in which I had a memorable moment with the eldest, a picnic and bottle of Chablis between the knees that splendid time. This time a pipe did the trick, for all of the ten minutes I got before the fucking baby started screaming again.

I had, in fact, come out here to try for some bones at the shop (tomorrow I am going to celebrate the fact that I do not work Wednesdays anymore by making the first of two great stocks). But it was closed, so tonight we ate again from the fridge for fuck-all. The chorizo had put me in the mood for a curry, not to mention the daily smell wafting from the horrific take-out place around the corner, and there’s not much better a way to use four chicken thighs (anything else might leave you in danger of tasting one). So I threw together a chilli stew, while tandem-cooking the bairn’s chicken broccoli and pesto pasta.

And the news of the weekend is that Hugh Fearnly Twitteringsville has joined the fucking Guardian, opening his weekly and presumably well remunerated column with an informal biog explaining why you shouldn’t hate him for being a professional food writer supposedly living the dream on his riverside cottage in Dorset. Not quite sure I got his thesis, but it was nevertheless interesting to have my stereotype challenged. Okay, so some of it I had got right -- the public school bit for example. The year above David Cameron at Eton, as it turns out, not that it makes much difference. He then did philosophy at Oxford, leading him naturally a jobs as a commis in the River Cafe.

I can just picture him there, the big loafing fop convinced of his own importance (what is it with that place and weird, power and cash crazy media types?) and using all his prep time to marvel obsessively at his own genius, so much so that he didn’t realise he was part of a team and that nobody gave a shit how plummy his tomatoes were. And so he was fired.

He reckons he didn’t fancy sticking it in the high-end restaurant scene, “having your head dunked in the stock-pot and being called a talentless c**t”. No, Hugh, just “c**t” I think you’ll find. And then he takes a flying trip up his own fat arse, taking off with the paragraph “I am aware that some people are now of the opinion that I have the perfect job. And I am aware that, on all the available evidence, their opinion seems well-founded.” Fucking hell. What wouldn’t you give for ten minutes in a room with him and a heavy utensil? I stopped reading. He’s a brand, and he will therefore bleed himself to death.