Monday, 31 May 2010

The Boy and me

I first met George in the bogs at the Vortex. Screwdriver were playing and the atmosphere was thick with violence which jarred amongst the glitter and gladrags of the camper prettier punks. One Skin had gathered his own large turd in a pint glass and was threatening to throw it at people.
George was 15 and reapplying his makeup in the ladies. He loved my vintage lipstick, so matte it practically tattooed your lips and lasted almost a week. George wanted to borrow it. His friend 'Mickey', with a ginger mop and svelte body minced even more loudly, their quickfire repartée crackled arcs of lightning-fast bitchery into the Soho night air.
I liked George straight away. I'd never really met a gay man before who was so open. A week later he turned up at my parent's house in Highgate
"you coming down the Vortex?"
On the top deck of the number 43 bus he explained gay sex in detail: that they took it up the arse, although some men preferred to be the fucker. He told me about some posh party where an older man locked and mounted him in the loo. I lapped it up. George told me that he was gay but that he expected to get married and have children later. That seems kind of poignant now.
Every Thursday night for a few weeks, George and Mickey (feather boa, piping voice) would come round on the way to the club. We'd perform last minute adornment on my parent's enormous Heal's zebra print sofa.
I was into a 'mod' look at that time, even though I was a punk. Sixties Twiggy-style dresses were cheap and plentiful in the charity shops: painted eyelashes, pale lipstick, white tights and I was set. Every Saturday I'd go down to Camden market, before it became a money laundering joint for Israeli mafia, and create my look for that week.
My friendship with George cooled when I threw my 18th birthday party during my parent's holiday abroad. In those days you had to deal with tribes, as neatly delineated, warring viciously in the high streets of Britain, as any civil war. You had your Punks, your Teds and your Skins. I spent hours taping a party cassette, alternating all three genres of music. Ever the cook and hostess, I made tons of food. A harbinger of the future, I spent almost all my party budget on food: cheeses, baguettes, salads. People laughed. It wasn't very rock n roll. But I was glad of it, people vomit less when they've had something to eat. For my hostess outfit, I ran myself up a pink tutu, badly, it kept unravelling throughout the night.
I'd invited a few people from the pubs where I lurked every opening hour in Highgate, some mates from the Roxy and the Vortex. I had a boyfriend: Tone, to whom I'd recently lost my virginity in the back of my mother's Honda. It was cramped but surprisingly pleasurable. I was dating outside of my caste: Tony was a Ted. He had a solid laquered quiff and jeans so tight that he sewed himself into them every night. He smelt of Paco Rabanne, hairspray and fags. To this day that smell turns me on. I wasn't allowed to touch his hair
"I love you babes but don't touch the barnet".
He only ate cheese sandwiches. His sister was in jail. In his fonzyesque leather jacket, rough but rule-bound like so many working class men, his 'otherness' and his talent as a cartoonist enamoured me. Like most men, he was prepared to spend any amount of money on me for drink, but food was something else: once, after a drinking sesh at the Duke of Hamilton pub in Hampstead where he and his crew, who were later to become the band Madness, hung out, I said I was hungry.
As we walked down Hampstead High street in the rain from the chip shop, sharing the damp vinegar soaked bag, he said
"'Course I love you, I bought you chips".
I looked at him: he was serious. Buying me food, even a take-away, showed commitment of a different order.
I was in the papers with Tone, front page of the News of The World 'Punk and Ted in love'. Going to clubs together was difficult: if I went to a rockabilly club, I needed a set of bodyguarding girl-Teds, all clad in gingham blouses and hoop skirts, picked out by Tony, to accompany me to the loo otherwise I'd get beaten up. When I took Tony to punk clubs, it was easier: punks were more liberal, allowing Skins and Rastas into their clubs. In fact all the girls fancied him; my good friend Simone, ha! briefly ended up with Tony when we split. Ah the heartbreak and betrayals you learn growing up.
So my 18th birthday party was all prepared. My brother and I had moved all the furniture upstairs.
Later, when 300 people were crammed on the dancefloor (punks were pogo-ing to the Clash, then the teds would take over for Sha Na Na, it was a dance off!), fights were breaking out all over, my boyfriend was nowhere to be seen, the food had gone, the police had turned up and people wouldn't go home, I was very glad we'd taken that precaution.
About 50 people stayed the night, including Melissa Caplan, shortly afterwards a famous fashion designer for New Romantics, and Boy George.
"I had to stop George from spray painting your parent's living room with graffitti" Melissa told me.
I was shocked that a friend would consider such a thing. I still got in a heap of trouble with the parents, even though my brother and I had spent a week clearing up. We weren't sure how to repair the fixtures and fittings though, such as the wood surrounds of the doors which had been ripped off. For a week or so afterwards whenever I went out to a club, I was famous as the girl that had 'that party'.

A couple of years previously I hosted a dinner party for a guy I thought fancied me. My menu was laughably seventies: grilled grapefruit halves with glacé cherries, spaghetti bolognese, and baked apples with custard. I had 12 or maybe it was 15 people over, a ridiculously large amount for a 15 year old. Grilling the grapefruits took forever and the main course didn't get served till 11pm. By which time I was exhausted and drunk. Then my good friend Clare Bennett got off with the object, a preening cock whose millionaire father owned a plastic bag factory, of my affection. Bitch. Story of my life: I'm in the kitchen, thinking bizarrely that my beautiful food would pull in the love while my mates are outside, wearing platforms, face glitter and flicked up fringes, actually getting some.
One of the guests was a pixieish young man, black hair, tiny features and periwinkle blue eyes, named Jon Moss. He had access to a car and would sometimes whisk me off to Maxwell's Hamburger joint in Hampstead after the pub. He seemed interested in me.
Maxwell's was a very exciting place: you wouldn't believe how novel burgers appeared in the 70s. Mostly I couldn't afford to eat there: I'd go with someone else and pick at the free tray of sauces.* There were four sauces I seem to recall: 1) ketchup, proper Heinz, not the watery vinegared red stuff they served at Wimpey 2) a lurid green relish, which may have had pickled cucumbers in it 3) a nuclear yellow relish, perhaps made of corn 4) thick Helman's style mayonnaise, not 'salad dressing'.
Jon Moss represented glamour and money, he was also exotic because, it was whispered, he was adopted. I'd never met anyone adopted before.
One weekend he invited me to Liverpool. My nan was babysitting as my parents were away. I was almost 16 and determined to lose my virginity. So I persuaded my nan to let me go. We drove up in a tiny car, disappointingly I was in the back seat, Jon had a friend with him in the front seat. We stopped at a motorway cafe (something I'd never been to before, as my family never holidayed in Britain) and irritatingly Jon decided to pick up a hitchhiker. It meant I had even less room in the car and the prospect of a romantic hymen-busting weekend with Jon dimmed further. I felt sidelined especially as Jon was noticeably friendlier and chattier to this Hitcher than me. They jabbered away, ignoring me, obviously considering me too young to understand their lofty talk.
Suddenly I heard them talking about prophesies, I jerked into action:
"Are you talking about Nostradamus?" I interjected.
A moment's silence followed in which I could almost physically hear their minds reappraising me as perhaps not the bimbo they had thought. They had no idea of course that I'd been brought up in a family immersed in mysticism such as Arthurian tales and astrology.
In Liverpool the party was in a barely decorated house. I was hungry. The party dragged on. I kept wondering when Jon was going to have his way with me. After all why else did he invite me? Jon was upstairs, busy, talking to others I guess. I was alone on the sofa with his mate, front-seat guy. At about 4am in the morning, front-seat guy did that creeping his hand along the back of the sofa thing, trying to put his arm around me. Ugh! No way! I thought. Just then Jon came down and saw. He smiled. He was fine with it!
The next morning we drove back to London. I was perplexed. I didn't understand what had gone wrong. I'd returned virgo intacta, what humiliation. I didn't see Jon for a few years after that.

Can you imagine my surprise when Culture Club burst on the scene?

*I'd recently been to America on holiday with my parents. American restaurants were a revelation after years driving through France going to Relais Routiers. They had 'help yourself' salad bars, blue cheese dressing, huge glasses of iced water which were brought to your table even when you didn't order it. The service was friendly. Friendly!! They told you their names and everything! They said 'you are welcome' and 'hi' like they knew you!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Bloody: the vegan coup

"It's cock worship or the convent, there is no middle ground," saith the Maitre D'Aft.
Mystic Curry at Pogo

or Pogo cafe and the separatist independent state of Hackney

Some of you who have been reading my other food blog The English can cook since the beginning of time will know that I used to volunteer at a vegan cooperative cafe called Pogo. It's in Hackney. I have a theory about places without the tube: they are different: self-administering, land-locked, incestuous, tribal.
People who live in Hackney don't leave their postcode. People who live in Hackney tend only to socialise with other people in Hackney. Unless you happen to be passing by. Which is unlikely. (Unless you are on the way to Norfolk, and we all know what they are like). You really have to make a special effort to visit. You have to wait in the cold and get a bus or brave the dark stations of the North London Line, an overground train that theoretically comes once every twenty minutes. This route used to be called the Freeline, pre-Oyster card. Nobody paid. Like hobos in depression America, you could jump a train, cross North London from West to East and back again, which is the toughest direction of travel in the clusterfucked tube map, constructed primarily to enable people in outlying boroughs to get to the centre to shop or work.
This has the effect of skewing social and fiscal interaction in London villages (for that is what London consists of, a sprawling collection of hamlets, it's not a cohesive town like Paris, with intramuros and extramuros being as clear as jail, i.e. all the poor people locked out in the banlieu, la zone).
Pogo is located between Clapton and Hackney and probably encapsulates everything that is good about that area apart from the murder rate. It's a cooperative venture. Nobody gets paid. The food is organic, fairtrade and vegan. It has sofas and free internet and two computers for public use.
The 'customers' are a mix of mohicaned punks, activists, animal rights campaigners, lesbians, gays, transgender people, care in the community slightly mad people, old musicians, ex-addicts, mums and their pushchairs from the local council estate and even the odd businessman stopping in for a soya mango shake on his way home from work.
To the average passerby it might seem a little intimidating. But you soon learn that there everything is cool, everything is permitted, everything is possible. I've lain on the sofas for hours, clutching my broken heart, trying to dull the pain of rejection on many occasions there. In fact I started to work there during a period when I'd been dumped a couple of times in a row. I found the chopping and cleaning and stirring and baking a soothing routine.
I'm not a vegan. The food is a bit up and down. Sometimes it's squat slop. Other times it's exquisitely fresh, original and creative. You are limited to cooking with whatever Growing Communities delivers which can mean months of cabbage and beetroot. It's hard core aggressively seasonal, and will force invention upon a cook to conjure up new dishes with the same dull ingredients. But it's all cooked with love.
Pogo is as much community space as food outlet. There are books to borrow or swap, discussions, meetings and film night to be held. My gay best friend, the Maitre D'aft, was front of house. This is how he talks:
"Goddess willing. She-mail me. Will you cook me g/f food? By that I mean gay friendly. I'm cunstantly hungry."
He will deliver radical puns at a breakneck pace, trill witticisms with verbal dexterity, flashing black eyes from his rail thin carcass. It's as if Oscar Wilde were reincarnated as a crack-head Jewish boy from Dollis Hill. He left home and whacked through his inheritance, mostly on drugs and boys who did not return his ardour. D'aft can speak and write Hebrew. He lives in a tent in someone's back garden.
All this is over now. There has been a coup. Some freegans (definition: people who will eat anything as long as it is free) collected food, including meat, when the freezers from the nearby Somerfield supermarket broke down. Rather than let it go to waste, they stored it in Pogo freezers in the storage garage. None of the meat was used in the cafe.
A group of volunteers grew angry about this. Pogo cafe is one of the few activist vegan cafes in London. The debate became freegans versus the vegans. The vegans threw away the meat.
At a surprise and secret meeting last week, organised by someone who hacked into the Pogo café email data, the core group of the collective , under attack for allowing this to occur, resigned en masse.
There followed a lengthy, shocked and informative debate on email and a long thread of comments on the Pogo blog (now, sadly, deleted, as they try to eradicate their bloody beginnings?). Accusations were thrown around. Some of the quirkier, more characterful people like D'aft were pushed out.
I support so many of the principles that Pogo was founded to promote: ethical eating, self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality and keeping it local. When I cooked there, there were cliques and I had a few fights, mainly because I'm the boss in my kitchen, no matter how temporary, and that was deemed to be in contradiction to deciding everything on a consensus. The fact that most of the other staff seemed to be sleeping with each other (I was excluded on grounds of age and family responsibilities) didn't help. But there was humour and craziness: one waitress said she was accosted outside by an unknown local asking for urine, "Please I need a clean sample to give to the police". Only in Crackney. (She was willing, but had to admit her urine wasn't 'clean' either).
But I can't help being amused by some of the debating points, like this from one founder member: "I wonder why the co-op member questioned did not feel uncomfortable about the animal corpses in the fridge? Would they feel comfortable if a murdered human corpse was kept in the fridge? I'm assuming they wouldn't, which underlies a speciesist attitude that as a vegan I am fighting against."
(This reminded me of the time there was a mouse at the cafe and we weren't allowed to trap it.)
Others railed against the "vegan police" and while acknowledging that keeping the meat was a mistake, that the core co-op had "over the last few years... worked incredibly hard doing incredibly boring things - accounts and orders cleaning etc.. not fun and not quick. Their motivation was not money - as no-one is paid, if you think that they were intoxicated by power (the power to clean the toilet in the early hours perhaps?) then just stop reading now, you're too far gone. "
This blogger talks about his disappointment with the "massive vegan shit storm" while Alex Bourke, editor of the Vegetarian London guidebook, wrote: "We should not forget why veganism is fundamental to ecology, equality, sustainability and social justice for humans and all other animal nations."

Three months later: the original collective was overturned, the new collective has been installed. Some of the newbies have now realised that the "hierarchical" original collective actually did the donkey work and that running a cafe, no matter how anarchic and freestyle is pure labour. The originals have moved on.

Last week was National Vegetarian Week. Many 'foodies' on Twitter regarded this as an opportunity to take the piss. My own position is that if an animal has died to feed us, it's only moral that much of it should be used, snout to tail eating, but there are increasingly good vegan and vegetarian restaurants out there... and this is the future, whether you like it or not.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

How was the Waitrose party?

Last Thursday night Waitrose held a summer party at RIBA in central London. Getting invited to stuff like this is one of the perks of being a food blogger. Despite a guest list of 300, it's doubtful that anyone will blog this. But hey, every lig deserves to be recorded doesn't it?
The whole place was filled with suits or 'partners'. Suits have a certain effect on me, my behaviour gets worse in inverse proportion to how posh the event is. I get very drunk and very loud. I could have sucked up to the foodie c list like this year's Masterchef finalists who attended (and fair enough in the absence of Delia and Heston they were the nearest to slebs) but having siphoned four cocktails (rhubarb Bellini and vodka & passion fruit) simultaneously from the tray holder standing at the entrance, I don't rightly recall their presence.
The canapes, a Siamese twinning of food styles, were part Delia, part Heston: surburban dinner party fare or cutting edge experimentation. For instance we had Delia's asparagus spears with little cheffy hats served in shot glasses filled with a lemony buttery sauce. It was hard to jam my tongue down the bottom of the shot glass though. I can't bear waste. On the other hand we were given...slugs on a spoon. I kid you not. White porcelain spoons (sick to death of pretentious spoon presentation) with little black bodies on them, snails without shells.
Another weirdy thing about the whole evening is that they were quite parsimonious with the food at first. Caterers normally calculate eight canapés per guest. Frankly I can eat eight just to accompany my first drink. This all leads to a terrible condition, which I've written about before, called 'canape stress' whereby you spend the whole party in a state of anxiety, no doubt a throwback to hunter-gatherer times when famine was a regular problem. You suddenly find yourself cravenly becoming smiley new best friends with the waiters and waitresses, in case they might swerve around you with the tray, insufficiently taking on board your need for a constant supply of substances that occupy your mouth. Freudians! I think I must be stuck in the oral phase. As are all foodies I suppose.
(To be honest I'd rather eat than have sex. Not at first of course, when the oxytocin is pumping and an insanity called being 'in love' reigns for six months. But afterwards.)
I'm not sure what the Waitrose party was about: what were they trying to say? One suit said to me:
"We want you to love us".
"But I do love you"
"Then love us more"
he said slurpily. I guess he was drunk too.
And that's the thing: everybody loves Waitrose don't they? Part of the John Lewis Partnership, which my mother positively reveres, they tick all the boxes: luxury food, dependable quality, innovative ingredients....and they are practically communists!
Every employee is a share holder. The success of the company is down to the workers, it's a cooperative. The original John Lewis was born in Shepton Mallet. If he'd been alive today he probably would have been rocking out at Glasto! He worked his way up from the shop floor and maybe that's why he realised that the best way of running a business is to involve everybody. Despite being around for over 100 years, the John Lewis cooperative business model is the future.
Still, having inadvertently become a kind of event planner with The Underground Restaurant, I find myself perusing all parties with a semi-professional critical eye nowadays.
The opera singer, though charming, beautiful and talented, singing a bit of opera, a bit of Subo and a strange operatic version of an Elvis song, was just wrong. Why? Well you felt like you had to stop and listen, interrupting the important work of drinking, eating and networking. And what were Waitrose trying to prove by hiring her? We already know they are posh and classy. Much better to have something backgroundy or raucous (such as a kletzmer or gypsy band) so that you don't feel, as a guest, like you are crushing the fragile musical hopes of a young girl while you greedily attempt to carouse.
Also onstage was a acrobatic woman wearing a skin tight leopard skin all in one outfit. A photographer from the Daily Mail lurched over to me while she was on, sighing
"I'd love to be gripped by her thighs".
Then everybody left apart from a couple of farmers who looked like a different species, tanned, fit, stuffed into posh suits and floral ties, from all of us pale townies. One supplied a product called 'Steve's Leaves" consisting of red rocket, very spicy rocket, and something else. Why didn't Waitrose have a table with invited suppliers products displayed?
Once most people had left, trays and trays of canapes arrived; tea smoked salmon on dry crispbreads (boring and couldn't taste the tea) mixed with salted caramel lolly pops and white chocolate coated pretzel sticks (good) and scallops in spoons (the soy sauce overwhelmed the delicate scallops).
Yes I'm reviewing canapés here. I'll review anything given time.
But I did wonder, where were you lot when everybody was here?
Downstairs many female 'partners' were leaving with armfuls of tall white flowers.
"Where did you get those from?" I asked.
"In that room" one said pointing "we don't want them to be wasted"
On the way home in the tube, blooms sweetly scenting the sweaty carriage, commuters smiled at me, one asked if they could help control the unwieldy bouquet, another struck up conversation, I realised that flowers really do make people happy. Perhaps London Transport should try a little aromatherapy at rush hour?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Can't eat, won't eat

The Three Graces by Peter Paul Rubens

I was asked by Rude Health to do a 'rant' by their bandstand at The Real Food Festival. I got there late, having mistaken Olympia for Earls Court, and literally ran on, grabbing the mike as I staggered forward in my pink high heels and hat.

My subject was 'allergies', especially appropriate during Food Allergy Awareness Week. Allergies are the bane of every chef's life, especially if, as in my case, you do a fixed menu.

There is a difference between food allergies, intolerances and aversions. The first gives you hives, the second gives you gas, and the last means you simply don't like it.

You'd be amazed how many people in the latter category 'upgrade' their aversion to a full-blown allergy when ordering in restaurants. Short of demanding that your guest has a blood test on the spot to determine a positive IgE antibody reading, the restaurateur is in a helpless position to rebut these claims.

My own sneaky technique when faced with, say, a guest suffering from a 'dairy allergy' is to exclaim:

"What a shame! I've got this extensive and expensive cheeseboard, and poor you won't be able to try it..."

The reaction can often be:

"Oh maybe I'll have just a little bit..." accompanied by an embarrassed giggle.

It's not only hard for professional chefs; having a dinner party has become a nightmare for a host. Between the vegans, the vegetarians, the pescatarians, the wheat free, the dairyacs, the coriander haters, the ayuverdics(no garlic,onion,mushrooms) and Atkins dieters, the hostess ends up with nothing to offer everyone, maybe just a bowl of porridge, with soy milk of course, unless she's the kind of masochist that wants to do a separate meal for each guest.

Despite reports that allergies have grown in the last decade by 18%, the percentage of genuine food allergies is low. In a recent Californian study by Dr Marc Riedl, while 30% of adults believe they have a food allergy, it's actually only about 5%.

The rate is slightly higher for children, 8%, but most outgrow their allergy by the age of 12.

Lets take a look at food allergies around the world: they are highly heritable and often have a genetic or geographic bias.

As much as 70% to 90% of Asians are lactose intolerant, only 10% to 15% in Westerners, while 50% of Asians cannot drink alcohol.

The Japanese can be allergic to buckwheat flour, used in soba noodles.

Irish people, particularly those on the West Coast, suffer from coeliac disease, they cannot digest gluten.

Nightshade vegetables such as aubergine, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes can cause arthritic symptoms.

An allergy to celery of all things is common in Central Europe.

Peanut allergies can lead to anaphylactic shock or death.

Some people hate coriander, it tastes like soap or worse, bedbugs, the origin of the word 'coriander'. On the other hand, it's considered a folk remedy for diabetes.

We must also distinguish between fussy eaters and religious taboos: restrictions such as halal meat for muslims and kosher food for Jews are well known but did you know that some religions, Jainism for example, advise against eating things that grow underground for, if you eat the root, you kill the plant.

Old world religions can be suspicious of new world ingredients. Imagine our diet today without peanuts, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, coffee, tobacco.

Things we don't eat are famine foods: associated with desperate times and terrible poverty: in Iceland and parts of Sweden, for instance, mushrooms are considered an animal food and only eaten in times of hardship.

Another food edict is against salt: the author Jeffrey Steingarten writes that after a worldwide test conducted by the World Health Organisation, only 8% of people are sensitive to salt, that there is no proven link between high blood pressure and salt, and that most of us can eat as much salt as we feel like...

One of my most frequent complaints about other home restaurants, which must reflect home cooking in general, is undersalting food. I use good quality sea salt while cooking, in this way I minimise the use of salt at the table.

Having spoken to people with very real allergies, tested and proved by blood tests, I know they are irritated by the fakers. My beef is with the food intolerance group: it's funny how the women (yes it's generally women although I do know a few men who are also neurotic about food) who complain of wheat or dairy intolerances are invariably skinny with concave stomachs. (Hey, where do they fit their reproductive organs?)

Why don't they just admit they are 'being single forever/not being able to fit into Topshop clothes/can't cope with not getting society & media approval' intolerant? That'd be a bit more honest.

As far as I'm concerned, they are just on a diet. Which is fine, but why come to a supperclub if you don't like to eat?

I 'think' this is how to listen to my rant:

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Secret Gardens paladar

Tequila Sunrise, so 80s but I loved it! Behind: totopos (roasted corn tortillas) con salsa fresca de jitomate (red tomatoes) y chipotles adobados.

Bright Mexican paper decorations

Lesley, front of house, spent all day making paper flower decorations

Ceviche (sea bass) with corn tortilla

Main course of yuca chips, fish in an umami rich olive, pepper and tomato sauce (a la vercruzana) with green rice and a delicious onion salad (pickled in lime juice).

Carla makes salsa picante which she sold out at The Underground Farmers & Craft market

TV being used as sideboard

A warming flourless chocolate and chili brownie with hot mole sauce (choc, chili and cinnamon)

Food blogger Carla of Bribed with Food has a paladar in her home in Willesden Green. Carla comes originally from Panama, and her food reflects her Latin American roots.
This evening, el cinco de Mayo, a holiday that celebrates an unlikely battle victory over the French during their occupation of Mexico, myself and 12 other guests were treated to a Mexican menu. Bright paper decorations, handmade by Lesley, her flatmate, graced the tables, Tequila Sunrise cocktails were shaken by Carla's other flatmate.
We started with fried tortilla chips and salsa then a ceviche with tortilla wrap. I love this raw fish 'cooked' by citrus juice dish which I often ate in Peru on street stalls, despite warnings of worms and cholera.
Main course was all piled on one plate, typically South American, with authentic fried yuca or cassava. I remember eating yuca nonstop during my year in South America, in which I travelled from Venezuela through almost every country until Tierra del fuego. As a non-meat consumer on a meat obsessed continent, it was one of the few food stuffs I could eat, on 12 hour bus trips stopping at dusty roadside cafes, with a fixed menu chosen by the bus driver.
Yuca is oddly popular: one of the most widely consumed carbohydrates in the world, if you eat it raw or 'insufficiently processed' it's poisonous, cyanide to be specific and can lead to paralysis. But the bitterness of the cyanide means that's it's easy to grow, resistant to pests.
The red onion salad and green herby rice were particularly delicious...Carla, do post us the recipe?
We finished with a moist chili chocolate brownie. A well known combination nowadays but one that doesn't always work too well, here it did!
As Carla had a gluten free guest ( a real one, with Irish blood!) the whole menu was gluten free but you'd never have known!
At the end, Carla emerged from the kitchen and joined her guests at the table for drinks...which went on till 4 am. My only memory after midnight is doing a poor version of Beyoncés 'single ladies' dance with fellow supperclub hostesses @foodrambler and Carla. Despite our wide range of age and body shape, all of us are single. Cooking for a living means you end up with a nun-like existence. Food Rambler started about six months after me, but has also noticed how the guests are changing...she increasingly wants to move away from hosting dinners in her home, preferring the detachment and enjoyment of transforming a rented space. Waking up to other people's mess on a weekly basis can be wearing. The rare rude guest is still disproportionately upsetting when it's in your own home. I was relieved to find out that she too from time to time spends all day in bed, physically recovering from the graft of cooking for large numbers in a domestic kitchen. I thought I was getting old!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

May Day! May Day!*

Trout baked in banana leaves, Thai style

Saffron kulfi with cardamom and almond tuiles

If my supperclub is a random but accurate sample of what's going on in the world, it looks like the Conservatives will win. Practically every guest was going to vote Tory. This has made me so depressed that I've had difficulty rousing myself to write this blog post. Those of us who lived through the stultifying Thatcher and Major years are not looking forward to a Tory government.
Another lesson learnt: don't put coconut milk in with rice in a rice steamer. You will find that your fish is cooked, you check the rice to go with it is raw. You try to switch on the rice steamers and they will not remain switched on. You resort to sellotape and tape down the switch. Ten minutes later you smell something burning and realise that your rice is burnt. All of this was done under the unrelenting gaze of the BBC Moneywatch cameras (I think they must be making a feature film on me). If, when it is screened in July, you see a harassed and hysterical MsMarmitelover screaming helplessly "You cunting Teflon" at an inanimate object, picking burnt bits, trying to rescue some rice, hyperventilating "I can't cook rice except in a steamer" to a strange first-time waitress well...please understand. This was scary. Probably the biggest cooking scare I've ever had. The cameras just kept turning, focusing in ever closer on the caramelised bottom of the rice steamer, the blobs of rice everywhere, counter, plates, in my hair. I wanted to stop them but realised this would make me seem even more uncool. So much for my unflustered, I can cope with anything persona that I dimly fantasised that I would project on the telly screen. It was car crash cooking. Embarrassing.
I mentioned it on Twitter and apparently this inability of a rice steamer to cope with coconut milk is well known. The trick is to use coconut powder instead. Or just add the coconut milk at the end.


Pimms with mint, cucumber and strawberries

Rigatoni puttanesca

Banana leaf wrapped red sea trout with Thai spices and coconut (the banana leaf 'en papillote' style of cooking really retains the moisture and flavour of the fish)

Coconut Rice

Neal's Yard cheese board with Dorstone goats cheese, Ardrahan washed rind cheese, Coolea (made by a Dutch couple who moved and shipped Dutch cows to Ireland) and Colston Bassett Stilton, a fig and walnut wheel, oat cakes and almonds.

Cardamom and almond tuile
Saffron kulfi

Coffee by Douwe Egberts (cafetiere blend)
Chocolate truffles made by moi.

I tried a couple of tuile recipes, one with caster sugar, the other with icing sugar. Perhaps the icing sugar version turned out thinner and crispier. Once you get the knack of spreading a circle of the batter with your spoon, not too thin, not too thick, it's a fun thing to make and matched well with the creamy kulfi.
Even a table of British-Asian guests (Tories and interestingly, concerned about immigration, talked about the differences between generations) loved it. Compliment indeed. They asked when I was going to do an Indian night....soon....
Another table of guests had come all the way from Essex. One of the ladies was a life coach and personal trainer.
"Where are you going next?" she asked me with a significant look.
"What do you mean?"
"Well you can't start a restaurant can you?" she pronounced
"Can't I?"
"Ooh no. It just wouldn't be the same" She paused then announced "What you need is a franchise"
"Er how would that work?" I asked politely.
"Sell your idea to other people, train them how to do it, set up other home restaurants..."

I was a bit tired so couldn't wrap my brain around this idea. Does she lots of other houses, put an Aga in each and it out to people on condition they hold a weekly dinner for strangers?
I would have added 'buy a Smeg fridge-freezer' but I spent 1.5k on one which was delivered last Friday. As I unwrapped the boxes inside, I noticed one of them was broken, one of the handles kept coming off. Saturday I saw the seal at the top of the door was coming away. Sunday, the door wouldn't shut, again, out with the sellotape. Again. Never buy major mechanical appliances under a Mercury retrograde.
I didn't take many pictures...too hard with a film crew there. My teen did my makeup for the filming. As she worked she said expertly
"I need a shiny blusher for flash photography"
She's supposed to be revising for her GCSEs but appears to have watched an awful lot of Youtube tutorials of how to apply makeup instead. She has also started a blog about music and, possibly, makeup...

*May Day as a call for rescue comes from the French 'M'aider!' 'Help me!'