Bad habits

Bad habits. I definitely know there are some of us who have more of them than others.

People (like me) have itsy bitsy tiny ones you’d barely even notice. They’re like a speck of moon dust up in the outer atmosphere of life. Then there’s other people (like Guido) who have great big ones the size of a space station orbiting earth. No matter how hard you try to ignore them they stubbornly refuse to burn up during re-entry.

There’s a hook on the back on our bathroom door and a steel ladder radiator for wet towels to dry out but Guido never hangs anything there. It must be one of the great mysteries of his life that after a soggy bath they miraculously pick themselves up and are back to hand the following morning to pat his face dry.

Need I mention underwear? Usually this blog will go into great, and I’ll admit gratuitous, description about how my husband and I peel our knickers off one another and then open a bottle of maple syrup just for the hell of it. But I can’t recall telling any of you how our boxer shorts eventually reach the Ali Baba laundry basket. Let me solve that one for you.

I put them in there.

It’s the same as when I replace the empty toilet roll holder, and close the dishwasher door.

Last night Ted and Gary and their super intelligent Jack Russell dog, called Brian, came over. Naturally I raised this in conversation with them.

“As far as I’m concerned the only person in our household with any bad habits,” said Gary, “is Brian.”

I looked at Brian and he looked at me. I could see this obviously came as a big surprise to him.

“He likes to chew a bone in our bed at the most inopportune of moments,” sniffed Ted.

Brian shook his head in complete disagreement but nobody seemed to notice. The whistle had been blown, as they say.

Later on our sofa (after I’d picked up the soggy towels, refilled the toilet holder and shut the dishwasher door) Guido and I sat on the sofa watching the sports channel. As usual, the remote control was strategically held between his legs in a vice like grip. I defy anyone to wrestle it free without the use of deep hypnosis or metal plyers.

“Can you believe Ted and Gary have no bad habits?” I said, “I mean, really!”

“None they were willing to tell you,” said Guido staring at the TV.

Poor Brian, I thought. I reckoned he was going to be far more careful where he chewed in future.

“At least you conceded I had none,” I said.

“Well, none I was willing to tell them,” said Guido. He had this annoying smirk on his face.

There was a long pause.

“I could have mentioned that you chatter on and on inanely for hours in bed after switching the lights out whilst I’m struggling to get some shut eye,” he said. “And you reveal intimate facts about our sex lives to persons unknown across the globe via your blog.”

There was another long pause.

I found myself thinking about the varied and diverse uses for maple syrup. Then I made a mental note.

I really must keep my mouth shut in bed.

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At Guido’s table

When you live with a chef, sometimes, you can’t help but feel guilty. I think it’s something to do with all that relentless chopping and slicing and deglazing he does for me. Well, last night I thought, to hell with fricassee. Give the kid a break. Take over. Keep things simple but honestly nutritious.

“This is a genuine surprise,” said Guido laying the table nervously. “The last time you cooked it was definitely a meal to remember.”

And for all the wrong reasons folks.

I fastened on my apron with a fanfare like all the good chefs do.

”Oh don’t worry,” I said breezily, “I’m keeping things simple this time so thought we’d go for something really light – like a tomato soup.”

Guido sat down at the kitchen table. I could sense his anticipation.

“You know, the first item of furniture I ever bought was this table,” he said.

For some strange reason, he knocked wood.

“And a table seemed to me like the most important thing in my life. It talked to me. Food. Family. Friends.”

The first item of furniture I ever bought was a bed. Let me tell you it didn’t talk to me. And I wasn’t thinking of family or friends either, I was thinking about only one thing.

Hot Sex.

I was living in Camden at the time and I was dating an accountant called Coleman. He had a semi-detached house in Kensal Rise so we’d regularly rip each other’s clothes off in North London. I certainly don’t remember a lot of sleeping going on. Of course that relationship flatlined long before I’d met Guido. Which is a relief because if I’d written a blog about getting into bed with an accountant every night I’m guessing it wouldn’t be half as exciting as telling you about how Guido dips his crudités in the nude.

“I’m keeping this simple,” I said resting a tin of soup by the stove, “It’s a classic recipe… Heinz.”

I pulled back the ring pull and decanted the contents into a pan. I held it up and squinted at the instructions. Heat slowly and stir until hot. This sounded complicated. I was beginning to regret not going down the Chopped Salad route.

”Do you think you’ll be serving any accompaniments to go with it?” Guido asked hopefully.

I let out a sigh.

”Well, I was going to open a box of crackers,” I said, “but if you want to test me to my culinary limits I could try simultaneously buttering a bap.”

Honestly! What next, an Ox on a spit?

”Let’s stick with crackers,” said Guido smiling sympathetically. I guess it takes a chef to know pressure, with compassion.

“Voila!”

I poured the steaming soup into bowls and set one down infront of Guido. I watched him gingerly pick up his spoon and dip it in and then taste it.

“Well, what d’you think?” I asked.

He swallowed. He made a funny sucking sound with his tongue. He closed his eyes. He paused.

”You know, I think this might possibly be one of the best tins of soup I’ve had heated for me in my entire life,” he said.

I suggested whipping up something more exotic next week. Like a cheese on toast. But, Guido says I really shouldn’t try to run before I can walk.

Zen, and me

Last Wednesday was World Pasta Day. Guido looks for any excuse to get his Ragu out. I’d have written a post about it but there’s only so much cannelloni one person can consume without having to lay down straight after.

“You should try to find your inner Zen,” said Cara. She teaches a yoga and meditation class at The Fish Kettle cafe every Sunday morning. “Food isn’t a substitute for happiness.”

Only a woman the width of a Twiglet but who still bends at right angles like a pipe cleaner could offer you such advice. Personally I’d just love a hobby which meant I didn’t have to lose twenty pounds at the end of it.

Readers will know I’ve been down the weight loss road before. It has pot holes. Need I remind you of – The Banana Diet?

“It’s not your body which rules your life, it’s your mind,” said Cara.

She was eating a plate of Guido’s homemade heavy cream scrambled eggs on rye at the time. I’d rather have his muffin.

“Take me, for example,” she put her fork down, “before I discovered transcendental mediation my life was a void. It was a juxtapose. My entire being was an orgy of hidden horrible turbulent depths. I felt like some nightmarish water spout was going to suck me right up and spit me out into a barren wasteland on life’s shore. God, these eggs are terrific. I have no idea how Guido cooks them.”

I sipped my full-fat latte.

“In my opinion it’s the chicken who did all the hard work,” I said.

Listen, she’s not the only one who can hypothesise you know.

Cara slid a book across the table. Even though it was upside down I could still read the title – Meditation For Beginners. My heart sank. I was just hoping it was more comprehensible than the Spanish For Beginners book Guido bought me. He got really cranky when I inexplicably started making up Andalucian words. Anyway, yesterday on the way home from work I took the book out and started reading it on the London Underground.

I peered up over the top of it and could see that there was a Hot Guy In A Hoodie (HGIAH) sitting right opposite.

I stared at the page.

Get into a comfortable position.

I tucked my arms in. I wiggled down into the seat.

I looked back at HGIAH. He had beard.

I stared at the page

Close your eyes.

This made looking at the HGIAH far more difficult. It was also going to make reading the book completely impossible. So, I only shut one eye.

I squinted at the page. At first I thought I read, stop breathing, but realised that was utterly ridiculous as I would drop dead.

Stop thinking about your breathing.

I wondered if HGIAH was thinking about water spouts.

Focus on your inhalation and exhalation.

After a monent I realised I was panting erratically. This pricked HGIAH’s attention. He leaned over next to me rubbing his beard. He looked perplexed. He pointed to my book.

”Personally, man, I think it’s the body that rules your life, not the mind,” he said.

He had aura and he had depth.

If he hadn’t got off at Victoria Station I reckon we could have discussed the life enhancing aspects of a muffin.

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.

My mirror has two faces

Sometimes there’s a difference between what sort of a person you believe yourself to be and the sort of a person everybody else thinks you are.

I try to be a good person. Really, I do. As a general rule I’m outwardly pleasant to most of the people I meet (except for the klutz who pushed me in line for the bus this morning). However I’ve never formally introduced everybody to what I call my bitter and twisted inner voice. It lives happily in my head and it really isn’t very pleasant at all. I still say good morning, or, hold the door for a complete stranger whilst smiling sweetly, but sometimes I’m thinking – God what a horrible suit, or, could you hurry up please I really don’t have all day you know. I’ve always thought that’s how everyone’s head operated. I’ve assumed they’re all doing exactly the same straight back at me in equal measures (I see you’ve not managed to lose any weight then, still can’t believe you’re screwing that hot chef, and so on).

Last week I was asked by a tutor friend of mine to give a presentation about creativity to an evening class full of enthusiastic mature students at a night school. Rather than names on badges I noticed they’d been specifically asked to write two words on a sticky label to reveal their personalities. During the coffee break I found myself chatting to a blonde called, Vivacious Fun, and a guy with a very intense stare called, People Person. It struck me how they really didn’t live up to their labels. She wasn’t the life and soul of the party, and the guy with the stare turned out to hate everyone in the room.

I told Guido all about it when I got home to the café.

“When I began high school,” I said, “a sheet of paper with our names on it was passed around my classmates and we were told to write underneath two words to illustrate our first impressions about one another.”

“Why do I get the feeling this is one of your stories which ends horribly and you’ve been mentally scarred by it for the rest of your life?” said Guido warily.

“Well, naturally I was heartbroken to read that someone had scribbled under my name, Total Wacko,” I said shrugging. “But what could I do?”

“I guess their first impression about you was wrong,” said Guido diplomatically. What else could he possibly say?

“Yeah, but, no.” I said. “You see it’s true, underneath I am a total wacko so whoever wrote that was actually very astute for an eleven year old.”

“All I know,” Guido said lounging on our sofa in a pair of super tight boxer shorts, “is if I had to write two words on a sticky label that best described me right now I’d be totally honest about it. No kidding. No lies. Total undiluted truth.”

I knew Guido was trying to make me feel better.

“I believe you,” I said, “so what would the two words be?”

I cynically braced myself for something altruistic like, Amazing Chef or Under-rated Footballer, or as is much more closer to the truth, Sex Maniac.

Lucky Guy,” he smiled.

That’s the great thing about Guido. What you see is what you get.

The next big thing

These days it’s getting ever harder to keep ahead of the curve.

“Did you know it was a pastry chef in Greenwich Village who hit upon the novel idea of deep frying croissant dough without causing it to go lumpy?” asked Guido toying with his spaghetti at dinner last night.

It does make you think that people who roll pastry for a living really do need to get out a bit more.

“He succeeded where so many before him failed,” said Guido in all seriousness. He called this hybrid invention the Cronut. “Apparently queues formed outside his café at dawn when the word got round.”

Which just goes to show what sort of people live in Greenwich Village.

There are very few things in life I’d happily stand in a line for. I tried to think of one reason why I might do that at dawn and quickly reached the conclusion it wouldn’t be for a croissant.

“My initial plan was to cook exactly what I’m doing here at The Spanish Onion and then replicate the menu at the new café in Denmark Hill,” said Guido. He twisted his spaghetti pensively. “But I’m beginning to think I ought to be more ambitious. Maybe I should try to get ahead of the curve like everybody else.”

Into this manic food reinvention frenzy I give you Kristen Tomlan, a former interior designer (there’s hope for me yet folks). Kristen has long thought that the best part about making cookies is the dough. I’m only with her up to a point. I don’t make cookies myself but I’ve always found licking out Guido’s bowl rather appealing. A few years ago Kristen bought a tub of raw cookie dough at the supermarket. Whilst passing the sticky goo around between friends she had an epiphany. She worked out a brilliant recipe using pasteurised eggs and heat treated flour which meant it was safe to eat the batter in large quantities. I’m so relieved I never made this discovery myself otherwise I’d probably be the size of a small house. Now she’s selling it on-line and is about to open her first shop.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” I said to Guido. “Nobody fries French toast like you do but I’m not sure the people of South London are ready for the raw version.”

Now I’ve gotten over the initial shock, I’ve started referring to the Denmark Hill café as, The Denmark Hill Project. This should not in any way be confused with The Blair Witch Project although I predict it too may involve a considerable amount of screaming. We went to have a look at the premises on Tuesday. At the moment it looks like exactly what it is, which is an abandoned Turkish kebab shop.

“Don’t worry, we’re all looking for the new and the exciting and the innovative,” I said to Guido later in bed, “so it really doesn’t matter if you’ve not yet thought of the next big culinary thing.”

Guido kissed me and switched out the lamp. I lay there thinking immoral thoughts about what the two of us could get up to with some cookie dough. And whilst I wasn’t exactly sure where that placed us both on the curve of life – I was just happy I was somewhere on it with Guido.

Think about this

Late last night when Guido and I climbed into bed things started to get heavy almost straight off. I think it was only marginally to do with the very large and thick wedge of home baked raisin and apple pastry plait and the full fat cream which I’d scoffed just before I’d gotten between the sheets. As you will now realise, The Banana Diet is off the menu. Though I’m making a mental note as I type this. Visit pharmacy tomorrow to buy some more Pepto-Bismol.

“It’s times like this it really makes you think, doesn’t it?” said Guido staring at our bedroom ceiling in deep contemplation like he’d gone into some sort of a trance.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the paint is still flaking off it.

“I mean,” said Guido with a thoughtful hmm… sound at the end his sentence, “what’s it really all about?”

Great, I thought, it’s almost midnight and the last thing I wanted to do was start to contemplate life as we know it under a duvet. So I lay there silently next to him waiting for some kind of hidden clue about where this conversation might be going to take us. In the end I just said what I always say to Guido when I can’t figure out what he’s talking about. Which is – why don’t you roll over and I’ll give it a rub? It usually moves things along a bit.

“Who would have thought one man’s life would be defined by what he decided to put in his mouth?” said Guido completely ignoring me. Though if I’m honest I suddenly perked up. I had the feeling this conversation had the potential to turn into something really quite promising after all.

“Think, just for a moment, about some of the special people who have made their mark,” he said.

The air should have been full of Mahatma Gandhis and Winston Churchills but for some strange reason the only person running through my mind was Judge Judy Sheindlin.  But Jim Delligatti, who sadly died aged 98 last week, certainly hadn’t been on my list. If you’ve never heard of Jim, 50 years ago he single handedly invented the Big-Mac. He created the formula of having two lots of everything – beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a special sauce – all in one burger.

“The dude was a legend,” said Guido flicking out the light. “A true hero in the world of beef in a lightly toasted brioche bun. I can only dream of coming up with a recipe which might one day be so iconic.”

I closed my eyes in the darkness. Despite the fact I’d just eaten a luscious slice of sticky dessert merely 15 minutes before, I felt weirdly empty. I opened my eyes. Big-Mac 550 calories, fries 230 calories, milkshake 530 calories. Total 1290 calories. That’s more than half an average Joe’s daily calorie intake in one sitting. I closed my eyes again and tried to think only about bananas but it didn’t seem to work.

I really couldn’t tell you what Guido’s legacy will be to the culinary world but if it has anything to do with what I write and what you read on this blog then I think it’s definitely going to involve a salami sausage. And if he took the lead from big Jim Delligatti, there will probably be two of them. Now, that certainly was something to think about.