Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas shopping

You’d never guess that it was just going to be the two of us for Christmas this year, not looking at the clobber I picked up today. The air was cold and damp, misty and Christmasy, and it felt right to be trawling meat counters for bones and freebees. Admittedly, I hadn’t intended on bringing home a fresh pig’s head. As if I’ve got the time to be fannying around with gritty snot and meaty ear wax, not to mention dealing with the horror of having to separate and remove a large wet brain.

But I couldn’t say no, not when faced with the terms on offer – the mere exchange of a charitable donation of 22 pence. I always get the feeling they don’t like me up in that organic butcher. I always seem to arrive at the wrong time of the week no matter what I’m after. But perhaps the Christmas air had got to them too, seeing as they were only too happy to throw me a large bag of pork bones. So I felt obliged to pick up a couple of slices of their beef shin and a bag of chicken wings.

On top of the 5kg Canada goose and brace of wild mallard with all but their breasts, some mince, bacon and sausage-meat, my 2006 Christmas shopping was near complete. As was the end of the lives of several animals and birds. Christ knows when I will get round to doing any of it though. I have never cooked a goose before, nor butchered a head. The pork bones, wings and duck carcasses are going to be turned into a special festive stock to get me in the mood. But in dealing with the head I have delusions about separating the three different types of flesh, binding them into a cylinder with muslin and simmering it for several hours in head stock. It’s a French Laundry job, served in medium-thick slices painted with Dijon mustard, coated in light breadcrumbs, fried in butter and topped with sauce gribiche.

But getting away from the turkey is the priority here. I can’t stand the idea, nor bear others harp on about how it has to be turkey and sprouts and bread-sauce or else it just isn’t fucking Christmas. They’re quite militant about it. I used to feel like that about the Christmas dinner. But I think several consecutive years spent variously passed-out in the wrong house, witnessing family ideals descend into brutal selfishness, lying stranded on a sheet of ice at the top of the drive having mysteriously awoken there without the ability to stand and spending three days in bed imbibing nothing but water, peach yoghurt and, eventually, soup that I was unable to transfer from bowl to mouth on account of the tremors, may have taken away some of the appeal.

Still, whatever I do this year will take less time than it would to synthesize this month’s OFM molecular-gastronomic take on the traditional turkey&trimmings. It involves fun stuff like parsnip ice-cream, sausage jelly and chestnut dust, and for once the editorial team has put together something with a sense of humour. There are a few articles that are worth reading, as well as the latest Blythman doomsday scenario, which always make me feel as though I am the last human alive.

But, oh no, what was that eight-page feature at the very beginning doing in there amongst it all? How on Earth could that have been seen as a good piece of editorial judgement? An entire issue exploring the future of food by the freaks at the forefront and there he was, peeking out from behind his teaspoon in one hand and pot of ice cream in the other, a pair of Converse trainers and the look of a small boy guilty of his sensitive criems in the playground. And we’re not just talking recipes here, although indeed a full 6 pages are devoted yet again to his best of the best, we’re talking the Story of how Nigel Became a Food Writer.

Yes indeed, 800 words or so revealing just how at first he rejected the publisher’s invitation to write a book because he found it too intimidating, but now, “fourteen years on, the outcome, my first book has sold somewhere around a million copies.” Would you ever buy a newspaper again in which the editor, or worse, a columnist, thought it good use of space to publish a story about how he became as great as he was – when there’s not even a point to be made about, say, how different the newspaper business was back then. No, no, just Nige and Nige (whose current luscious offering, I noticed the other day, wasn’t shifting many copies in Borders despite having been slashed in price). Anyway, at least I can console myself with the fact that I didn’t pay for any of it, being as I am one of those despicable figures who occasionally slips their favourite Sunday supplements between their many newspaper sections on the way to the counter.

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