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.

 

Guido pops up

Tuesday night Guido and I were in bed. Lights were out. I was tucked up fantasizing about how Alexander Skarsgard and I might both crash land in the Amazon jungle together. I wondered if he’d mind wearing a loin cloth and if he’d consider swinging through the trees towards me, preferably with his legs wide open. You Tarzan, me Jean-Paul.

“I’m thinking about getting out and popping up,” said Guido unexpectedly.

In the blink of an eye I’d gone straight from a Brasilian rain forest to a lumpy mattress in Bermondesy. I stuck my leg over the edge of the bed and happily yanked off my Justin Bieber pyjama bottoms.

“Okay,” I said, “But I hope you’re cool with just a quick one? I’ve got a ten o’clock tomorrow morning with a Russian in Chelsea who wants to discuss designing a replica of Ceasars Palace Casino in his basement. I could really do with the shut eye.”

“What?” said Guido. There was an embarrassing pause. “I said I was popping up, not getting it popped up.”

I got back into bed frankly feeling quite disappointed.

“Did you read that article in the local newspaper about the pop up brothel around the corner which got busted by the police?” As you can tell our neighbourhood’s real classy. “Well,” said Guido pensively “naturally it got me thinking about rock buns.”

I’d no idea what the hell he was going on about.

“I’m talking about starting a pop up bakery, silly,” he said. “Selling artisan bread and cakes direct.”

You’ve got hand it to him. Guido’s ideas always sound amazing laying in bed in the dark at midnight. Unfortunately it’s in the cold light of day his plans sometimes turn out to be more fruit cake.

“Ted and I’ve been talking about it and he’s willing to help.”

“How much?” I asked sceptically.

“Oh he’s very enthusiastic,” said Guido.

“Yeah,” I said, “But how much money? Has Ted any idea of the cost of flour these days?” I was talking convincingly like I did.

“Oh I couldn’t accept an offer of money,” said Guido.

“Why not?” I said.

“Well he didn’t offer any actually,” said Guido.

Ted’s our semi-retired millionaire city banker friend and best man with the dodgy legs. Him and Guido bonded on a bakery course at Peggy Porchen. Nobody plaits a croissant like Ted. Well tonight Ted and Gary and their super intelligent Jack Russell, Brian, came round to the cafe to play poker and talk dough. I’d half expected Brian to be trained to shuffle, cut, deal – and now knead.

“I’d do spelt loaves and poppy seed rolls,” said Ted winning the first hand with a Royal Flush.

“Hmm,” said Guido getting pensive, “I’d do chocolate roulade and Victoria sponge. Let’s keep gluten-free on the back burner for now.”

“And what would Brian do?” I asked just for a laugh. Brian looked up at me confused. I guess he’s not mastered the perfect doughnut yet.

“Oh he’d just entertain customers,” said Gary. “We’ve already taught him to effortlessly balance a muffin on the end of his nose whilst simultaneously walking backwards.”

Picture it.  A seven foot Spaniard, a guy with nobbly knees, and a dog walking backwards, all selling bread and cake from a rucksack on the Southbank. Goodness, Martha Stewart sure would be proud.