plat du jour
Where on earth do I start? Flat, food, family – I have thoughts whirring in my head about all three right now, sort of like gumbo: a bit fishy, a bit spicy, with lots of unidentifiable bits bobbing around. So then, the flat. Well, Rebecca – our solicitor – has completed all the requisite searches and we might just be on track to exchange contracts this week. Can you believe it? Finally at the ripe old ages of 33 and 28, respectively, TA and I are going to be homeowners. I’ve got to admit it’s giving me the heebie-jeebies, which is silly given the lengths we’ve gone to get to this point. Also, I keep wondering if my relationship with my home will change – will I get better at keeping the place clean and tidy, will I develop a sharper design vision? – somehow I doubt it, but I’m kind of hopeful.
Related to the subject of the flat is the family stuff that’s bubbling and simmering away merrily. Yesterday TA and I met up with my parents, deceased Aunt’s brother (long story, she was actually my father’s cousin’s widow, so her brother isn’t really a relation, except that he certainly feels like one) and various other extended family members for a bit of a Sunday lunch knees up in Woking. It was a bit awkward because, well it just was for reasons I can’t quite put into words, but it was also really lovely.
The uncle who isn’t really an uncle was very jovial and welcoming – offering glass after glass of various alcoholic beverages along with lovely food and cheery conversation – and then halfway through the afternoon the sales particulars of aunt’s house were produced and we were asked to flick through the brochure and see if there were things we wanted. Essentially, they want us to clear the place as far as we can so that her belongings don’t go to waste. So the new flat will have two beautiful room-sized rugs – possibly kelim or similar, hard to tell from the photos – which means that we’ll be able to take up the carpets sooner rather than later (the jury is still out on whether we’re going to settle for laminate or live large with reclaimed wood – no prizes for guessing which I’d rather do). TA will get a ‘new’ desk – this is wonderful since his current desk is quite literally on its last legs and although when we bought it it was the right shape for the space (it’s a corner desk) we’ve moved twice since then and it has not travelled well. Also, frankly, why keep Argos flatpack laminate nasties when you can replace them with 1950s-era real wood lovelies? The kitchen and our linen closet will suddenly become fully stocked. We may get ‘new’ white goods, I’m not sure yet since we asked the vendor to leave the washing machine and fridge. Our new living room will benefit from a high-quality three-piece suite – or possibly just the sofa, I’m having difficulty imagining fitting a sofa, two chairs and a desk into a small living room. We will have a dining table and chairs – which means that we’ll be able to sit down to dinner properly instead of balancing our plates on our laps (a practice I abhor). Depending on what happens with our bedroom – we both have our hearts set on proper built-in wardrobes, but I haven’t a clue how we’re going to finance such an extravagance – we may take a wardrobe or two as a stopgap measure. Phew! I’m being dull aren’t I. All you really need to know is that through a supreme stroke of luck, it appears that our new home will be furnished with some very high-end pieces of furniture; not perhaps what we would have chosen (and certainly more than we could have ever hoped to afford), but classic and enduring – saving us hundreds if not thousands of pounds. And, since TA and I eventually plan to rent the flat to city workers, timeless good-quality furniture is no bad thing. Can timeless, good-quality furniture ever be a bad thing?
There are more entwined thoughts on the flat and family – more precisely the advisability or otherwise of starting a family in a one-bedroom flat – but these have not entirely come to the surface of the gumbo yet. I think it’s best to leave them undisturbed and unexamined to cook a little longer.
The final F was food. TA and I are going to stay with my parents on the Isle of Wight at Christmas after all – mostly at his instigation, since he has been having his own thoughts about family, its fragility and the passing of time (funnily enough, he fails to see how this might apply to his own parents). Also at TA’s instigation, we have told M&D that we will cater the day, including all the shopping (but excluding making the pudding, mince pies, sausage rolls and other long-range seasonal delicacies) as our Christmas present to them. We thoroughly enjoyed cooking for our friends last year and, anyway, the thought of traditional turkey and boiled sprouts leaves both of us rather underwhelmed. TA and I sat up with the recipe books on Friday night in a fever of anticipation. I’m so excited; I just have to share the news of what we have planned with someone (we’re keeping it secret from my parents). So here is our plan! At around midday we will convene around the fire for chilled champagne, cranberry royale and amuse bouche of smoked salmon blini, Kalamata olives and mixed nuts. After, say, half an hour of chatting and relaxing we will move from the living room to the dining room to sit down at a sumptuously laid table and pull the crackers – for the Americans in the audience, crackers are an integral part of Christmas celebrations and, in my family, it is compulsory to wear the paper hats throughout the meal and tell the corny jokes before digging in.
For a first course, we have settled on a Salmi of Guinea Fowl with Roast Chestnuts – this is a Hugh FW recipe and, since neither of us have ever eaten, let along cooked a guinea fowl before, TA and I are planning to have a trial run next week. I’ll be sure to report back on our verdict. This course may change – TA has been petitioning for roast pork belly, but I’d like to serve some kind of bird to atone for the lack of turkey.
Do you remember the bottle of claret I scored from my grateful employers? Well I’ve decided to save it for Christmas day – it came from Fortnum and Mason after all. So, we will have the choice of Claret or Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany roast beef (which will be bought from our favourite beef stall at the farmers’ market just like last year – I can’t remember the name of the joint, but we were told it is the Rolls Royce of joints and I seem to remember it featuring in Hugh FW’s MEAT book) cooked quite rare and all the trimmings. And we’re planning quite a spread of trimmings! Yorkshire puddings are a no brainer as are lemon and rosemary roast potatoes. I love pumpkin mash with spicy onions (a Nigel Slater recipe from last year’s Guardian Christmas feature) and, for my parents, it wouldn’t be Christmas without Brussels sprouts so we will be serving creamed sprouts with bacon (another Hugh recipe). The final vegetable dish will contain glazed carrots and honey-roast parsnips. All of this will be lubricated with freshly prepared creamed horseradish and “nice gravy”. Nice gravy is quite a legend in my family as each year my paternal grandmother would compliment my mother’s gargantuan Christmas spread, her Herculean labour (with meals on wheels for the three old men and various aunts and cousins staying in our little bungalow, my mother often cooked for twelve or more), with the immortal words “nice gravy”. My mother has a similar weakness for inappropriate compliments – any new outfit I model for her garners the response “it looks nice at the back”. Anyway, to ensure the niceness of the gravy I have plans to make the beef stock before we travel to the Isle and transport it as a block of beef-flavoured ice in a cool bag.
Once the savoury delights have been despatched, TA and I will clear the dishes and give everyone the chance of a breather before serving a dessert wine – probably a Tokaj – and white chocolate mousse with cranberries or (but knowing my family AND) Christmas pudding (made by my mother) with brandy butter (made with great ceremony by my father).
The final insults to our digestion will be a selection of fine British and French cheeses served with Port followed by coffee, Godiva chocolates and a selection of liqueurs for those of us who like our coffee fortified!
Traditionally, if we finish lunch before 3pm we then watch the Queen’s speech before opening our presents. However, I doubt we’ll manage to finish this lunch before 3pm, even though I’m going to be fairly strict with the portion sizes of the opening courses. Are you excited for us?