Simple pleasures

Yesterday I wandered through the café kitchen on my way out to work thinking, thank God it’s Friday. I can’t say I was looking forward to another day pondering the multi faceted uses for a vintage 1970s shag pile rug. As you can tell there’s never a dull day at the office for a South London interior designer.

“You know,” said Guido staring at the stove flame whilst holding his spoon in the air pensively, “sometimes it’s the simple things in life you derive most pleasure from.”

It wasn’t clear if he was talking to me or the spatula.

“Strip off. Be bold. Get down to the bare bones.”

Then he made a worrying sort of, Mmm… noise.

I looked at my watch. It was nine thirty a.m. and let’s just say I didn’t have the time or the inclination to start taking all of my clothes off. Trust me, Guido’s epiphanies are time consuming.

“Never before have three little words – less is more – seemed so appropriate to me.”

Guido’s eyes started to mist up.

“I see,” I said, seeing nothing at all, “I’ll tell you what Einstein, perhaps we could continue this very interesting conversation when I get home, “but unfortunately,” I said, “I’ve got a client waiting for me in Islington who has a weird but very expensive fetish for Italian polished marble.”

The clock was ticking on that one, trust me. But Guido certainly did get me thinking.

As I dodged other commuters across the concourse at London Bridge Train Station I wondered why on earth I was struggling to balance two satchels and an oversized portfolio when probably only one of them would do. Then down on a Northern Line tube train I sat opposite a guy wearing a Burberry tie and a big man scarf knotted with a flourish and a hat and I thought – aha! That’s actually all I can remember thinking at the time, but it definitely was fashion overkill. Whilst extremely cute, I resisted the temptation to lean over and point out to him that in my opinion the combination of a beard and only a cocked hat really was totally acceptable.

Later last night at home I got real quick to where Guido had been coming from.

Roman food with only 3 ingredients.

I’m telling you, pasta really does taste best almost naked. Oh and, it’s on the specials board tonight. We still have tables if you want to stop by. If you can’t then here’s the recipe. But just one thing, remember, strip off.

Cacio e Pepe

Bring a deep pan of water to a boil and season with salt; add spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes before it’s tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking water. Meanwhile, melt 2 chopped tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of cracked pepper and cook, until toasted. Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the pan and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and one table spoon of chopped butter. Reduce heat to low and add 3/4 cup of Grana Padano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add 1/3 cup of Pecorino, stirring and tossing until the cheese melts, and coats the pasta. Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry. Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.

Going for a song

This week Guido’s super tiny Spanish parents, the super diminutive Rosa and Juan, invited us round to their place for dinner. All I ever hope for when we go round there is a quiet night in with his folks and a big plate of Rosa’s hot and spicy salt and pepper calamari. Guido’s parents might be small in stature, but trust me, their portion size is always huge. Rosa serves it with a homemade chopped tomato salsa like you’ve never tasted before. If she ever bothers to tell me the recipe I’m going to immediately press it into production at a bottling plant and probably become a millionaire overnight.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that Guido’s parents burst out laughing every time they clap their super tiny eyes on me. Apparently the words – hello, or, how are you? – have never before seemed so incredibly funny.

“Hello,” I said smiling at Juan as he threw open his big front door in downtown Dulwich.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” said Juan bent over double looking up at me, “you so so funny!” He waved me in and hugged Guido.

Juan is so super tiny and his son is so super tall they kissed somewhere around Guido’s knee caps. Unfortunately when Juan starts laughing, it’s highly contagious. So, so do Guido and me. This usually means that by the time I finally find Rosa in the kitchen we’re all almost hysterical but no one can remember what the hell anyone is laughing about.

“How are you?” I asked Rosa, who just happened to slicing vegetables with the same but unaided vigour of a Kenwood food blender switched to its highest setting.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” she shrieked, stopping only to point her big cleaver at me, “you so crack me up and into many MANY tiny pieces.” I’m guessing that would be many many even more super tiny pieces. At the time I could smell the scent of her delicious calamari batter mix so I was just praying she’d manage to serve it all up before she fell to bits.

I’ve got to tell you the fish main course was great. The almond cake dessert was terrific too but nothing could prepare me for what came along with the coffee and I’m not talking about that full bottle of liqueur. Let’s just say you can’t miss an electronic organ when it’s got pride of place with a microphone plugged in right in the center of the room. Especially when it comes with a fully integrated orchestra at the press of a button. And when Rosa sings she really puts her heart and soul into it. Some how she manages to make Margarita Pracatan sould like Maria Callas. I’m surprised the neighbours haven’t shot themselves. I’m hoping for their sakes they’re deaf.

After almost a full bottle of Tia Maria, Guido agreed to play a tune on the keyboard. Rosa, Juan and me sang along, and whilst I have absolutely no idea what it was, I think the four of us might now be taking bookings for bar mitzvahs and weddings. The clip below is the closest I can give you to the real thing (and boy it’s pretty close).

Rosa might overcook the lyrics to any song she says sings, but her calamari is pitch perfect.

Hypothetically speaking

Wednesday night Guido and I were in bed. It was one of those predictable midweek bedtimes when all you’re expecting to do is strip off, slide between the sheets, then shut your eyes. If I’m really lucky I’ll have a dream about getting stuck in a very small elevator with Alexander Skarsgard.

Whilst there was no immediate suggestion of extraneous sex, I could sense Guido was perky. He sat up totally erect. So in the blink of an eye our discussion had shifted from, who was hogging the blanket most, to one of life’s unexpected dilemmas.

“Hypothetically speaking…” Guido said staring at the bedroom ceiling.

I have to tell you my heart always sinks whenever Guido starts a conversation with the words – hypothetically speaking. This is because when it boils right down to it, it’s very rarely hypothetical. Infact, it’s usually the total opposite. What he really means is it’s completely literal. This is the guy who once asked me, hypothetically, how I felt about interesting and alternative uses for peanut butter. And then proceeded use his tartan boxer shorts and a tablespoon to illustrate his point. Go figure.

“If you went to Southwark Street to withdraw some cash from our bank account, and the ATM unexpectedly spewed out an extra £200, what would you do?”

As dilemmas go it was a pretty good one. I lay there trying to get my head around all that hard cash. Trust me, there isn’t a whole shed load of it in our bank account and, if the lease for the new cafe in Denmark Hill ever gets signed, then there will be even less of it. You have no idea what £200 could do for me right now.

“Would you hand it back or pocket the cash and spend it?” asked Guido.

This time it was my turn to stare at the ceiling. I was mentally thinking about counting out all those crisp notes and then stuffing them into my wallet.

“Well?” said Guido.

“Give me a minute,” I said, “I’ve got it narrowed down to a pair of tan Ted Baker lace up shoes or a spa day at Champneys.”

“I see,” said Guido. He said that with an air of obvious disapproval.

“As you know I’m clearly a shallow person who likes nothing better than spending other people’s money,” I said. After all this time together you’d think he’d have gotten me figured out by now. I mean, really.

However I felt obliged to be contrite for just a moment.

“You?” I asked.

“I think I’d probably act out my Robin Hood fantasy,” said Guido. “It’s not exactly robbing from the rich to give to the poor but if I saw someone who I really thought needed it on Bankside then I’d share it around.”

I thought about being down and out but wearing Ted Baker shoes. It wasn’t all bad.

“I see,” I said. I wasn’t feeling at all sleepy. “Well if you fancied it, I suppose we could re-enact some of your favourite Robin Hood scenes before lights out?”

All it took was a couple of fertile minds to turn a double bed and four pillows into Sherwood Forest. I particularly enjoyed the part where Guido pretended to fire his bow and arrow from the top of our chest of drawers.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Eat it

Today I was sitting in the café quietly minding my own business. I was idly stirring a frothy cappuccino whilst torturing myself with thoughts about my diet.

It’s one thing thinking about dieting but trust me it’s a whole other ball game actually doing it. Unfortunately, as well as stiring my coffee, I was also slicing a thick slab of milk chocolate layer cake. I stuck my finger into it. Then I pulled it out again and gave it a very long and satisfying lick. It tasted dreamy. I tried to imagine a life without cake. The only way I could possibly entertain it was if I became a monk.

Stop laughing. I wasn’t sure if eating layer cake was on the approved list of monk activities. I’m guessing there are some dos and a considerable amount of don’ts. Whilst warming to the idea of a spell in a monastery,  I’d need to balance all that abstinence with a good bottle of Rioja and a 12 inch Pappa John pepperoni pizza every couple of nights.

My thoughts got interrupted.

Two Japanese tourists sat down at the table opposite me and excitedly ordered Guido’s Full English Breakfast. This was despite the fact it was half past two in the afternoon. By their reaction to it I’m not sure they’d seen anything like it before in Yokohama. Guido’s breakfast includes hot buttered toast, bacon and egg, hash browns and a couple of spoonfuls of baked beans. I can highly recommend it no matter what time of the day it is. Just add ketchup. When it got delivered they didn’t pick up their forks and knives, instead they spent the next ten minutes carefully examining a fried pork sausage.

My mother always used to tell me, you are what you eat. That’s what she used to say to me as a naive and flabby kid, “You are what you eat darling, so just accept it,” which was pretty damning at the time because all she ever fed me was her fatty ham pie. No wonder I have a complex about pastry. Make of that what you will. This of course was rich coming from the woman who only ever seemed to consume gin and the occasional ice-cube. And you can make of that what you will too.

Sometimes I think controlling my weight would be a whole lot easier if Guido wasn’t a chef and didn’t lovingly cook all day long for a living. It would be really helpful if whatever he did was as far removed as possible from a pan of melting chocolate.  He’s not the brightest screw in the tool box but a quantum physicist might be good. I’m guessing if Guido was a quantum physicist he wouldn’t come to bed with warped ideas for sex with Nutella spread, which just goes to show you really can’t have your cake and eat it. Instead he’d probably bore me rigid between the sheets with tales of the cosmos and distant galaxies, but at least I’d be thirty pounds lighter and feel a whole lot better about getting sucked into a black hole.

I looked at the Japanese couple. They’d harpooned the sausage and were now waving it about as an Instagram photo opportunity.

I stuck my finger back into the rich cake icing. Sometimes food just has to be eaten.