Friday, 19 August 2011

Giles' featherblade stew

So here we are in Sussex. I am not especially touched by the number of you telling me to merrily enjoy my holiday and not to bother posting. So I might write a hugely long and boring thing (what's new?) to punish you all.

If only because I know next-eldest sister subscribes to this via email and what with three children under 5 I know she's got nothing better to do than read my old cack for 2,000 words.

Here she is:

(That's Kitty, rather than one of hers. Although hers are sweet, you should see them. You know next-eldest sister from previous posts such as "Ginger Cake" and "Aunty Hannah's Courgette Thing". Adrian Gill once talked to me for an entire starter course about how "pretty" her nose is. This is not the first time that's happened to me. So I think that's all you need to know about her.)

Kitty is entirely recovered, you'll be relieved to know. I paid a private GP £8,000 to come to my house and tell me that she needed antibiotics, because no NHS doctor in a million years will tell you anything needs antibiotics even if it is livid with bacteria. Anyway Dr Abelman gave me some amoxycillin without batting an eyelid and Kitty was on the mend within hours.

(And he ALSO, as those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, gave me painkiller suppositories for Kitty. A lifeline with an infant throat infection, which menas they won't swallow the wretched fucking Calpol. He gave me some Nurofen ones he found in Tel Aviv but I went straight out and bought 2 packs of paracetamol ones at £18 a throw. I would now launch into a very long thing about how completely insane it is that infant painkillers aren't available in suppository form wider and more cheaply in this country, but I fear I would bore you. Further. And also elicit awful tedious jokes about suppositories and the French, which I don't want to hear. I no longer think suppositories are remotely funny.)

Sussex is very nice. I chose the house on the basis that it has WiFi and a tumble drier. The only downer is that I think the woman who owns it used to interrogate people for the Stasi because the lighting concept is absolutely fucking terrible! 100 watt horrors shining right in your eyes or hideous energy savers. Brrr. 

The house is also close to Cowdray Park Farm shop, which is like Waitrose with only the top 5% of the poshest things available and you can buy things like REN skincare and really delicious takeaway quiche for £5. But in all seriousness, the butcher there is first-rate and my husband is practically hysterical with relief because although he claims to be all folksy and down to earth he is terrified of the dark English countryside where there is only a Spar and local boys tear around on dirt bikes. 

The weather has turned slightly and it is very sunny but really quite cold. My packing has let me down a bit,  although I have learned from past mistakes and now abide by these packing rules:

1 Do not pack things you never wear at home because you think you might wear them because you're away. You're away but you're still YOU.
2 Do not pack your shittiest clothes because you're away and so it doesn't matter
3 Allow for one very cold day
4 Allow for one very hot day
5 Allow for one very wet day
6 Pack your entire medicine cabinet
7 and the iPad

I did all that but I didn't quite pack enough warm clothes. I'm not one of those people who always anticipates being freezing and packs fleeces and UGG boots because I am not a sticky fashion person who is always cold because they are so THIN living as they do off handfuls of bombay mix and miso paste. But now I do miss my UGG boots. (Although they are not UGG boots, they are called Celt Boots and they are the most marvellous rip off and available here: I also miss my Crocs. Why didn't I bring them. I fucking love my Crocs. I won't hear a word against them.

Where was I? Oh yes, the butcher at Cowdray Park. The other day, in the third hour of some pretty heroic childcare, my husband made, while Kitty crashed around the kitchen in her walker, a stew from some featherblade, which is a kind of steak cut from the shoulder. I think. I'm never quite sure about cuts. Anyway the butcher said to cook it for 4 hours, which is the kind of instruction we like in this family, so that's what we did.

And it was terrific and very simple.

Giles's featherblade stew
for 2

2 featherblade steaks
1 medium white onion, quartered (which is just a normal onion, rather than a shallot or whatever)
1 carrot, halved
1 fennel bulb, quartered (leave this out if you don't like fennel)
1 kohlrabi, quartered (this tastes like turnip)
1 large strip of orange peel
1 strip of lemon peel
3 bay leaves
5 peppercorns
1 stick of rosemary
some stock - about 150ml
1 glass red wine

Preheat the oven to 150

1 Brown off the steaks in some veg oil for about 5 minutes until brown all over

2 Put in a pot with a lid with all the other ingredients

3 Cook in the oven for 4 hours with the lid on

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Recipe Rifle is away

I'm in Sussex on "holiday" (DON'T bother burgling me, I've got builders in and a friend staying) and I've forgotten the lead that joins my camera to my laptop. So I can't post any photos. And I know you can't abide a post without a photo so I haven't done anything.

But it's a bit of a shame because it's quite pretty round here and my husband is making some kind of daube of beef thing that I think might be worth writing about.

Should I drive into the local village, Midhurst, and see if someone will sell me this essential cable? Or more likely round here I will have to swap something for it like my shoes, or a pair of Levis or something.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


It is 1am and I am lying on the single bed in the nursery staring at the ceiling, listening to Kitty's shallow breathing in the cot next to me. She has just fallen asleep.

She is very ill. Strep throat, a doctor will say two days later. She was boiling - boiling - to the touch with fever when I arrived at her bedside. I got myself ready to adminster some life-saving Nurofen but she didn't want it - gagged and vomited a little bit down herself in protest. So I jammed as much in her mouth as I could, changed her pukey sleeping back, walked her round, waited for her to nod off and then lay down braced for a sleepless night listening to her whimper.

It's a terrible noise, a baby whimpering in its sleep.

And as I lay there in the dark listening to the whimpering and to the nursery clock ticking and the aircon whirring I thought for the first time in a long time "At least I'm not in Australia."

That is my thing, my "At least I'm not..." thing.

I ended up in Australia in the late summer of 2001. I went out with no clear idea of what I was going to do but my sister was out there for a year and I was bored, so I went. My sister was working in some snazzy bar and going out with a very posh Australian - yes they do, in fact, exist - called Jimmy. He was terrific, Jimmy - he was hilarious. Tall with dark hair and long dark eyelashes like a girl. He was always stealing his flatmates' food - usually dinky little take-out pots of spicy asian-fusion salads - late at night when drunk and peckish.

"Hmm..." he would say, his head in the fridge. "What's Polly got in here? A little snacky-snack for Jimmy before bedtime?"

Anyway you get the idea.

I couldn't stay in Sydney with them so I took off up the East Coast. It was boring. I had a shit time. There was one okay week where I worked on a cattle farm and I should have stayed there mucking out the horses and working in the bar, but I moved on in the wrong belief that there was more to see.

What happened instead was that I unwittingly became a thief.

It happened like this:

I was sitting about in some hostel or other with a girl who was going home soon. "Just going," she said "to have a quick rummage round lost property for some flip flops. Mine are broken."

"Is that a thing you do?"

"Yeah there's always great stuff in hostel lost properties. These Miss Sixties?" She said, pointing at her jeans. "Alice Springs. This bag...?" etc.

So off we went to the lost property box. There was nothing that fascinating except a shitty brown t-shirt with red Japanese writing on the front that I thought looked quite unusual. I tucked it under my arm and thought no more about it.

Three days later I was sitting in another dull, depressing hostel somewhere hot and crappy, wearing my scavanged t-shirt, and an angry Irish girl stormed up to me.

"Where did you get that t-shirt?" she demanded. "It was stolen out of my bag. Why have you got it?"

And here is where it went wrong. Why didn't I just say "Found it. Lost property in X. Is it yours? Have it back!!"?

I don't know why not. What I did say, however, was "My sister gave it to me."

Why did I say that? WHY?

Maybe I thought she wouldn't believe the story that I'd found it in lost property and scream "Thief!" at me. I can't be bothered to recount exactly what happened in the days that followed but it was nasty. The angry Irish girl and her friend accused me to everyone they could find of having stolen her t-shirt. And the Eastern Coast of Australia turns out to be a very small place. I somehow kept up with my lame story that it was mine.

They followed me up the coast for three days, telling everyone at every hostel that I was a thief. Hissing at me as they passed me that I was pathetic. Then one day the angry Irish girl's friend came up to me and said that they'd called the police. By then I had lost all sense of perspective and couldn't see that it was obviously total fucking rubbish. I'd had enough. I hadn't eaten for about three days or really slept. I am an anxious person, you see, and being accused of being a thief is something I can't really style out.

I went to my rucksack and took out the t-shirt. "If I give this to you," I said. "Do you promise to leave me alone and never speak to me again?"

I saw, on the girls' face, a flicker of doubt that she and her angry Irish friend were right.
"I'm not an arsehole, you know," she said.
"Sure," I said, and handed her the t-shirt.

Then that night, in the middle of the night, I split. I took a taxi to a hostel well off the beaten tourist path, filled with cattle station hands and middle-aged women travelling cross-country to see newborns. And that was that.

It's bothered me for years, that incident - although with hindsight I didn't really do anything that bad. Just really thick. But still, I have never told anyone that story. Not. A. Soul.

(A week later I arrived back in Sydney and went straight out and got a tattoo. I've always wondered if the two things are connected.)

The day before I flew back to London the twin towers collapsed. (It was interesting getting on an international flight via the Middle East on 12/09/01, I tell you.) Then about three years later, Jimmy killed himself. I won't go into how. And I simply don't know why. Oh, and someone gave me fucking chlamydia.

So that's why however crumby things are, I'm glad I'm not in Australia.

Although I think I am one of the few people to have enjoyed the film.

I have newly fallen back in love with my husband. Not that I was ever out of love with him but in the last few days I have been crawling around after him screaming "I love you! I worship you! Please marry me!"

The thing is, he comes into his own when there's something wrong with the baby and I am simply vomiting in a corner with anxiety, ringing NHS Direct and crying. My husband takes charge, shooes me out of the nursery, won't let me near the baby monitor and makes me dinner.

All we had in the house was some beef, which he decided to roast - "Although I know we're not celebrating or anything," he said. "I know we're all in mourning because Kitty's got a cough."

And he wanted to make a gravy to go with it.

Gravy is something that can appear daunting but actually it's okay if you give yourself a bit of time.

For gravy, you need:
1 The pan that something has roasted in
2 Some shitty alcohol (even this is optional, really)
3 Some flour or cornflour
4 Some stock or vegetable cooking water

Roughly to make a gravy, take the roasting pan and "de-glaze" with shitty cooking wine. This means you place the pan over a medium flame and pour in some alcohol, about half a wine-glass full I'd say. Then you scrape at the pan and get all the roasty bits and sticky bits off the bottom.

Then reduce this until it becomes glossy-ish round the edges. Reduce the heat and take the pan off the flame. Sprinkle over some flour - about a tablespoon. With the pan off the heat, mush this all round until it is a paste.

Now add some of your liquid - either stock or some veg cooking water - to the pan still off the heat. Mix this round until vaguely combined.

Then put the pan back on the heat and add some more sloops of stock or cooking water. Simmer it briskly until it starts to thicken thanks to the flour.

Pour over your roast dinner.

Then take a Valium. Or three.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Nigella's mexican lasagne

I once read in a magazine - I forget which one now - a problem on the problem pages that went something like this:

Q. My husband refuses to pick his towel up off the bathroom floor. It drives me demented. How can I punish him?

A. Instead of wanting to punish him, why don't you think to yourself, as you pick the towel up off the bathroom floor, of all the nice things he does for you without you asking? It is little act of devotion like these that keep marriages going.

Here are some of the annoying things that my husband does:

- He doesn't pick up the bathmat off the bathroom floor
- He clears his throat in quite an annoying way
- He steals my car key because he can't be bothered to find his, then accuses me of having used, and lost his key (thus forcing him to use mine).
- He will turn to me and say "Shall I have a shower? Or not?"
- If the TV is on and he wants to say something, rather than finding the remote and pausing the programme he will shout "PAUSE!", which is my cue to find the remote (under his bum, usually) and pause the programme for him so he may deliver his opinion.
- He will suddenly decide that the house is a mess and pick things up randomly (an unopened letter, a pair of flip flops, a baby's toy) and say "What's the story with this? Should it be here?"
- He will walk into his own kitchen and wonder aloud where we keep the knives, forks, salt, pepper, plates and so on

Here are some of the annoying things that I do:

- I pick at my cuticles. Constantly.
- I clear my throat in a nice way. But I do it ALL the time
- I never open my post, particularly anything that looks financial
- I interrupt all the time.
- I give my husband death stares
- I am a sluttish washer-upper
- I call the baby "Kitty-Cookan-TIS"
- I sometimes only empty half of the dishwasher and then wander off to do something else and forget to unload the rest
- I throw money (his) at any problem
- I leave the area around the toaster a mess, attracting ants and wasps.
- I don't make the bed

Here are the nice things that my husband does for me:

- He doesn't make me go and get a job
- He does my tax
- He takes out all the bins and deals with the compost
- He sorts out the cars, the tax for the cars, the maintenence of the cars
- He doesn't make me see people I don't like
- He'll make any phonecall for me that I'm too scared to make
- He cleans all my hair out of the trap in the shower

Here are the nice things that I do for my husband:

- I hang up the bathmat
- I always make sure there is enough deodorant, shampoo, showergel etc in the bathroom
- Ditto for the kitchen
- Ditto stamps, birthday cards and wrapping paper
- I sort out dinner, pretty much every night
- I will fire anyone that he feels too guilty to fire
- I don't give him shit about going out and getting drunk
- I don't give him shit about his swearing or bad taste jokes
- I don't give him shit about doing more childcare

Whenever my husband has done something annoying and I feel enervated, I always run those lists through my head. It's what my marriage balances on, like a fat elephant on a plank of wood on a ballbearing. But a few years ago, I realised that my husband was NOT aware that there was this careful balancing act going on. He did not think, as he ignored my throat-clearing, cuticle-picking, death-staring grotesqueness, that he was simply keeping up his end of the bargain. He believed that he was bearing the brunt of marital irritation, while I sailed through life blithely un-irritated. One day, things exploded in a terrible row about me not making the bed.

I won't lie, there were tears.

Then I explained about the list. About the importance of acts of devotion. And he got it, more or less.

And that's why I'm always sorting out dinner; it's part of the deal. It's why I try to find new things to cook, rather than just doing a roast chicken or pasta over and over again. If it's going to be my area, I might as well having a big repertoire. It makes everything easier.

Which explains why I tried out this Mexican Lasagne, by Nigella. I thought it looked fun although like everything that used canned tomatoes, it ends up tasting a lot like canned tomatoes. But it's a good one to have up your sleeve to pull out when things are getting a bit samey.

This is not Nigella's exact recipe but it is close enough. The exact one can be sourced easily on the internet.

Mexican lasagne
Serves 4 hungry people, or 6 less hungry, with a salad

1 pack flour tortillas
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1 can sweetcorn
1 can black beans
2 red chillies
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 small bunch coriander
2 tsp mild chilli powder
1 red pepper, roughly chopped, or a jar of peppers in oil, chopped
two big handfuls cheese - manchengo, monteray jack or cheddar

Preheat oven to 180

1 Chop the onion, garlic, chillies and red peppers and sweat in a pan with some veg oil for about four minutes, then sprinkle over the chilli powder and cook for a further 10 minutes over a low flame. Then add the tomatoes and chopped coriander and simmer for about 10 minutes.

2 In a separate pan put the black beans and the sweetcorn, heat up and mix around.

3 Now layer the tomato sauce, bean mix, grated cheese and flour tortillas (2 per layer) to make up a lasagne. I'll leave you to decide the best way of doing it, but it's good to finish off with a layer of tortillas and then cheese for a bubbly brown top.

4 Bung in the oven for 30 minutes.

You can eat this with yoghurt or guacamole or any other Mexicany-type thing you can think of, while you ponder the secrets of martial bliss.

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