Mostly concerning food.
Tuesday is a perfect day of dog walks and reading. As a sideline to this blog I asked if anyone had any suggestions for novels rich in food. Paul suggested The Sea, The Sea and I’m already contemplating doing a Withnail. Doing a Withnail involves watching the film and matching Richard E Grant’s character drink for drink. It never much appealed to me in my drinking days. It also seems to show a fundamental misunderstanding of the movie. You are supposed to be charmed by the man but at the same time find him repellent. Joining him in a drinking game seems to be using him as a role model and that wouldn’t be a good idea. Matching Charles Arrowby meal for meal over a period of some weeks feels like an altogether better idea. Though he seems to be almost as weird as Uncle Monty. I spend the morning with Iris Murdoch’s world of theatrical memories and, in the afternoon, allow Robert Kee to unfold the history of Ireland to me. Discovering new stuff is always a treat but I’m pleased to discover that I already have a certain expertise through travels and previous research. It’s nice to know stuff.
I enjoyed Cosmo’s risotto on Monday and knock up a quick vegetable and white fish pilau for two. It’s a remarkably simple dish. Soften chopped onions in a good slosh of oil in a wok. Add chopped peppers and then well washed basmati rice. I throw in a chopped tomato and a couple of teaspoons of gram masala. It’s been a while since I worried the spice rack. Cook it thoroughly with the oil and add some water and some frozen chicken stock. One the stock has melted, I add two fillets of white fish from the freezer and top up the water as it gets absorbed. Just before the rice is cooked, I add a handful of spinach leaves. The fish gets forked into flakes and the pilau beats yesterday’s risotto into a cocked hat.
I’m not sure if grating cheese on the top would please the purists but I’ve grown very fond of this pecorino and it works for me.
This gets followed by a slice of the Oven Door’s generous cream cake. Discovering a really good bakers sets a dilemma. Why bother with baking when you have cakes and bread this good on your doorstep?
Wednesday I go and see my Auntie . She’s always been a favourite relation. She is constantly happy, consistently nice and never judgmental. She’s always a pleasure to see.
Getting there involves driving up the A1 and meeting my sister near Knaresborough. I get a series of texts and have to pull into a Little Chef to respond. It promises the advantage of making up for a missed breakfast. I order the coffee and bacon sandwich special and get some hot brown liquid in a carry out beaker and a tasteless roll with a lonely rasher. It could be the first bacon sandwich that I have ever left unfinished. The coffee suffers a similar fate. The last time I heard of Little Chef restaurants, Heston Blumenthal was supposed to be revving up their recipes. The sterile open spaces, the empty tables and the food on offer suggests that his revolution hasn’t yet reached Hampole.
I leave my car (T’s car) at a retail park. (I buy three bottles of bubble bath at Boot’s, as my contribution, as the parking is free). My sister has an altogether smarter and classier car. She’s also inherited the family cheerful gene and we catch up as we head towards Teesside. It’s a pleasant journey with North Yorkshire passing with Dales to the left and Moors to the right. She has a printout of directions. As usual they are written by someone who knows computer software but has never been to Stockton. We should have got hopelessly lost but end up outside Cousin N’s flats as much by happy chance as through navigation. We see no reason to change a winning formula and allow instinct to locate my aunt’s flat in Norton.
It is a treat to see them both and we talk about times past and times to come. She has an appointment and cannot join us for lunch which my sister has booked in a country pub which we find via a smartphone. We don’t find the quickest route.
Ive never been a huge fan of food in pubs. Cafés are either greasy spoon (which I like) or run by someone with a bit of flair and imagination (which I also like). Restaurants and hotels tend to have kitchen staff who have been trained. There are pubs where the food is worth travelling for but many have tired imitations of proper food. The menus are too extensive for the number of covers they do and they tend to be over reliant on réchauffer dishes and the awful microwave.
The landlord has a very loud, well starched blue shirt to go with his lank grey ponytail. The waiter is polite and obliging and largely clueless. The food is perfectly acceptable.
We start with a warm salad of pigeon breast. There is a rule with these. The frizzier the lettuce the lesser the salad. Here the lettuce startles in appearance.
For mains N enjoys a creamy fish pie with nice mashed potatoes. My sister has a burger and I go for the fish and chips. The menu assures me that the fish is line caught. I take its word for it.
The puds are fine. The Teesside Mess looks fun. My sticky toffee pudding is a decent steamed pud though the sauce has rather gone on the run. I’ve tried to ignore Mr and Mrs McBigot who have been seated close enough to easily punch (something I feel an ever increasing urge to do). As well as sharing their views on immigration and social security she also sports the most unpleasant mouth on Teesside. Don’t they have dentists up here? Or toothpaste?
Despite this we enjoy an agreeable hour.
We go back to town where my Auntie has completed her errands and we enjoy the rest of the afternoon in family chatter, chuckles, reminiscences and altogether good company. She’s that sort of an auntie
On Thursday T wants to visit Morrison’s. She pushes a trolley and I sit down to their big breakfast. I like the Morrison’s at Halfway in Sheffield. I like the people who serve there and the people who eat there. The food isn’t amazing but it does the job. The place is open, airy and clean. The breakfast completes a week of eating food cooked for me and sees me well into the afternoon.
The evening’s treat is ice cream and banana and pear with a couple of little biscuits. This is more like it.
The party is over by Friday. I’ve eaten altogether too much and altogether the wrong stuff. The main reason for eating at home is that you know what you are eating. I’m not over well by Friday morning and in need of simple fare. Toast, real butter, marmalade, good coffee. Simple, satisfying, tasty…perfect. I’ve enjoyed my jaunts, been nice to catch up with films and family and friends. I’m now ready to enjoy simple food well cooked and the company of a loyal and enthusiastic sheepdog and two cats and a wife who is going to continue the teaching tradition and look forward to coming home to find her tea made for her.
I think I’m going to enjoy being a pensioner.