The twisted grape vine

Thursday night we ate out in Covent Garden and, just as I was ordering the wine, Guido explained to me that I’m not exactly the cheap date I always thought I was.

“You do know that there’s a weird psychology going on when it comes to drawing up a wine list?” said Guido scrutinising the food menu. I could see his finger stop at the line with deep fried calamari on it.

Whenever the two of us sit down in a restaurant something strange happens.  The waiter always hands Guido the food menu and I always get passed the wine list. I like to think these guys have a sixth sense. An other worldly and boozy professionalism only sommeliers can have, where they’re able to suss out which one of us is the foodie and which one of us is – the complete lush.

“What are you talking about?” I said, slipping on my spectacles.

I always slip on my spectacles when I read a wine list. I think this makes me look more intelligent. I go through the silly charade of slowly pondering as if I’m someone who knows what he’s looking at. Sometimes I’ll even throw in sound effects by sucking my finger nail and making an extended hmmm… sort of noise. I think this adds gravitas to the process of weighing up the subtle nuisances between a flinty French sauvignon and a fruity Chilean one. The spectacle thing is a waste of time. I’m actually short sighted rather than long sighted. This means when I’m concentrating hard to read anything for real (particularly the price I might add) it all looks blurred and out of focus and back to front like I’ve just developed dyslexia.

Trust me, white wine is always on the left hand page and red wine is always on the right hand page. If you flip it over, the poor old blush is usually hovering all lonely on the back whilst the expensive fizzy stuff is right down at the bottom. It’s there as a sort of hopeful after thought for customers on a desperate first date or a boring Valentines Day meal when splashing the cash is going to bolster you’re chances of some sex later.

“Establishments don’t really list the cheapest wine from the top down you know,” Guido whispered. He was still mentally debating about the squid I think. “The second wine listed has actually got the highest mark up. That means in reality it’s way, way, more expensive than the cheap house wine at the top,” said Guido.

Now he tells me, I thought. I’ve been playing this wine game for years. I always order the second one listed. This is so I don’t appear to be a complete cheap skate by picking the first one, but apparently the restaurant will already have worked this out using a twisted kind of reverse psychology.

Suddenly the staff wearing aprons, scribbling orders into note pads and juggling plates had all just become mini Einsteins.

“Are you ready to order?” the waiter smiled, his pen poised, ready to analyse.

“We’ll both have the deep fried calamari,” I said, “and bring us the cheapest bottle of plonk you sell. I don’t mind where on the list it is.”

The squid was outstanding, and after the second bottle, so was the wine. Whatever it was.

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.

Food for thought

If you’re fortunate enough, as I am, to enjoy eating sweet and salted popcorn in bed then you’ve probably had to accept one of the unpleasant side effects. Unavoidable food residue between the sheets. Let’s not get hysterical; we’ll call them bits. Any I discover I’ll happily throw into my mouth without a second thought. This is despite the fact that I already know they’ve potentially been stuck at some point, and some place, to my naked husband. But in my opinion it’s the sugar and the salt that’s more problematic. Bad for your blood pressure? Trust me, that’s nothing compared to the havoc a few grains can do in your pyjama bottoms.

“I think I’m going to have to issue an urgent Directive,” I explained to Guido. “My Directive will seek to ban all dangerous food substances from our bed,” I propped up my pillow for added emphasis. “Obviously not all food, just the ones guaranteed to cause serious trouble in the dead of night.”

“Like what?” said Guido. He looked worried. As well he might, as he was holding an opened jar of olive tapenade and a packet of crackers in his hand at the time.

“Well, I’m still working out the detail but off the top of my head I’m considering anything which involves crumbs or hot gravy,” I said.

I noticed there was a moment of noisy and defiant crunching from Guido’s side of the bed.

“You mean you’re probably ruling out, all bread types?” he said whilst liberally spreading a biscuit. “But, but…” he said stuttering.

He said the word but twice as in, incredulous, which I’m guessing was how he must have felt at the time.

“But… you, me, and a stuffed ciabatta, we go way back. We’ve got history together.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. Suddenly saying everything twice was catching. But just because you love a sandwich filling doesn’t mean to say you have to get into bed with it.

“But do you remember what happened right on this spot when we ate French brioche?” I asked.

I can always tell when Guido’s thinking. He stops chewing.

“Well if I cast my mind back,” he said, “I recall it wasn’t the brioche that was the problem, though I will concede that it was an overly runny gruyere on the toasted side that ended up staining our blanket.”

Guido was splitting hairs. I could tell there was the potential for my Directive to be challenged at a later date. It was going to have to be cast iron solid in its drafting. I made a mental note to reluctantly change the wording from hot gravy singular to include hot gravy slash melted cheese plural.

“Well you know what happens to unpopular Directives,” said Guido, “the people protest, they mobilise, they rise up.”

I was momentarily distracted by the thought of Guido rising.

“Then before you know it they’re eating a Hawaiian pizza wherever they damn please and to hell with the consequences.”

Guido was becoming positively Churchillian. Give him an inch and he’d soon be eating a full roast and giving me the V sign.

“You wouldn’t want your Directive to be seen as rash, illogical, or open to criticism would you?” said Guido stuffing his face.

I found myself inexplicably nibbling his cracker. Anything for a quiet life..

Fake Nachos

Apparently these days it’s hard for people to figure out anymore between what’s real and what’s just journalistic fantasy.

Neil Armstrong Convinced Moon Landing Was A Fake,” I said as quick as a flash to Guido in bed late last night. I was acting like the finger on the pulse on-line news junkie I’d clearly turned into.

I looked out at the twinkling stars through our loft window. Maybe that giant leap into lunar dust wasn’t as big as everyone thought it was at the time.

“Well if anyone should know then Neil would,” said Guido.

I scrolled down to the next factual news item on my iPad. Whatever was breaking I was going to be all over it.

Woman Grows Third Breast,” I said as a matter of urgency. Female readers please take note.

I wondered how that might be possible but then I saw the very convincing photographic evidence. It was undisputable. Wearing a standard bra was certainly going to be challenging for her.

“I think some sad and lonely guys surfing the net might get pretty excited by that,” said Guido barely looking up from the Tex-Mex cookery book he had propped on his hairy knees.

I kept scrolling.

Kim Jong-un Voted Sexiest Man Alive,” I said. I re-read that headline a couple of times just to make sure I’d read it right the first time.

I looked at Kim’s picture. Hmm. You’ve really got to be into leaders who want to rule the world. Personally, I think you’ll have to count me out.

I could tell by the way Guido was fiercely flicking the pages of his cookbook that something far more important was running through his brain than the sexual magnetism of a despot.

“Utterly fake,” he muttered as he stared at a recipe, “you call this cooking?” Never before had I heard so much concentrated tutting in the space of only a minute. “I mean, just look at this,” he said holding the book a thumb print from my face, “Nachos in 5 Minutes, have you ever heard anything so completely ridiculous?”

“Utterly unbelievable,” I said. I even tutted in a display of total solidarity but frankly I was still struggling with the concept of living my life with three breasts. However, despite the fact that it was gone midnight the thought of melted cheese over potato chips in only five minutes was definitely appealing. I didn’t care if it was fake or not. Hey, count me in.

“There’s no chopped tomato, herbs, spices, Scottish Cheddar, or even a fresh mashed avocado.” There was another loud tut. “Anybody who makes food like that must be mad or desperate, or both.”

For some strange reason I found myself thinking about the sex god now known as Kim Jong-un again. I blinked. Throw in some nachos and I still wouldn’t consider it.

By the way. Here’s the recipe. Fake or not.

Nachos In 5 Minutes (Unbelievable But Completely True)

Open one jar of shop bought salsa sauce and one jar of shop bought guacamole. Tip the contents of a large packet of Nachos into a heat resistant bowl and sprinkle with grated cheese, some pickled jalapeño peppers (from a jar), and a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (from a jar). Melt the cheese under grill for about 4 minutes.

Navel-gazing

Naval-gazing:

Dictionary definition. Noun. “Self indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view.”

Jean-Paul’s definition. Verb. “Self indulgent or excessive examination of my husband’s oddly shaped belly-button, at the expense of any other parts of his anatomy.”

There are very few times when there’s anything worth watching on Saturday morning TV. It’s moments like those, with an opened packet of Oreos in one hand and a cup of hot frothed milk for dunking in the other, that God created our sofa. From my favourite position on it, propped up on a lumpy cushion, I get a really terrific bird’s-eye view of Guido’s body laying on the rug. I particularly like it if he’s only got on his underwear whilst he’s energetically pumping stomach crunches. It’s weirdly hypnotic.

“Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine,” said Guido counting them out this morning.

I was feeling exhausted just watching. As you probably guess I’m not a stomach crunch kind of a guy. I tried it once and I wasn’t able to get my head off the floor.

“What happens if you lose count?” I said peeling back the top of one of my cookies and slowly sucking the white centre off with my lips, “do you have to start all over again?” I asked optimistically.

“Sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two,” said Guido completely ignoring me.

I got myself comfy. I even put my glasses on so I could get to see better. Here’s a little tip for you. Magnified vision is vital if you want to properly examine any part of a guy’s hairy anatomy. And I’ve got to tell you, the view I had was better than a sun set on St Paul’s Cathedral Dome on a mid-Summer evening.

Today, as I was feeling even more bored than usual, I started mentally scoring his bits out of 10. Arms and thighs are exemplary. Big tick. I’d say 9/10 (though I suspect it’s because of all the chopping and squatting he does.) Abs are a tight six pack. Another happy endorsement. Anyone who sails past sixty stomach crunches without requiring an oxygen mask deserves 10/10 in my book. I accept his knees are a bit on the dodgy side, so a 3/10, but hey nobody’s perfect. It is however, when you home in on Guido’s belly-button things begin to go decidedly down hill. And when I say downhill, what I mean is turn odd.

I consider my own belly-button one of my more successful attributes. It’s a perfectly formed aperture which is just big enough to comfortably fit a M&M into it. Guido’s looks like his has just been severed and should still actually be connected to somebody. I got on my knees beside him to get a better look at it. Surely it couldn’t be as bad as I remembered it. However, being totally impartial on the scoreboard front, he was hovering just below zero on account of poor aesthetics.

“Eighty-eight, what the hell are you looking at, eighty-nine?” asked Guido still crunching.

“I’m just scoring your belly-button out of ten and it’s not looking good,” I said. Unfortunately just as I said that a small piece of Oreo cookie crumb landed in it, disappearing inside.

Irate:

Dictionary definition. Adjective. “Feeling or characterised by great anger.” 

Jean-Paul’s definition. Verb. “Feeling or characterised by biscuit or cookie throwing.”

Nude

Last night our friends Gary and Ted came round to the café after closing time to eat linguine and play poker. Just to clarify. The linguine and the sauce was homemade. The poker was much more messy. Gary and Ted shuffle ruthlessly and constantly win. Ted makes Cool Hand Luke look like a pathetic loser.

“Did you know,” I said, “being naked surrounded by a group of people makes you feel good?”

Everybody stopped staring at their cards. If you’re ever looking for a conversation stopper, do try it.

“Honest to God,” I said, “I heard it on the radio earlier whilst I was in the bath.”

There’s been a serious study. It’s been published in (and I’m not making this up) the Journal of Happiness Studies. They’ve come to the conclusion that taking off your clothes around strangers is probably good for you.

“You’re making this baloney up,” said Ted. I could tell by his nonchalant use of the word baloney that he had the makings of a great hand.

“No, honestly,” I said. I made a cross my heart sign with my spoon. “Anyway, if it’s in the Journal of Happiness then it’s got to be true, right?”

I’ve never actually read anything published in that Journal before but I definitely do like the sound of it. The next time I’m having a down day I’m going to look it up and start thumbing through it enthusiastically to see where I’ve been going wrong. Putting clothes on in the morning, by the sounds of it.

“Apparently 850 British people were asked to fill out an online survey,” I said, “and it was found that those who spent more time naked were happier with their bodies.”

I thought this was terrific news. Who cares that the rest of the world is going down the pan. Just strip off and everything will be fine. Shout it from the roofs I say!

“Wow,” said Gary. “Perhaps the next time we come over to play cards everybody should take all their clothes off before the first round.” He paused. I think he was weighing up the pros and cons of how this might affect any winning streak. “Though I do realise this could make it difficult to concentrate if any one of us was holding a Straight Flush in their hand at the time.”

“It’s possible,” said Guido sagely, “that the people who were surveyed were happier with their bodies in the first place so were more likely to spend time naked, and it’s not that being naked made them any more happier.”

I don’t know about you but I had to get Guido to repeat that sentence three times before I understood what the hell he was going about. Maybe it’s just me, but I think he should just stick to linguine.

“Okay,” I said, “it’s fine for you, Mr Einstein with a six-pack. But what about the rest of  us who spend half our lives on The Banana Diet, and the other half sucking everything in.”

Relax. There is light at the end of this tunnel of nudity. Apparently the findings also suggested that seeing other people naked could be even more beneficial than being seen naked yourself. A brief surf of the net, for purely scientific purposes, confirms this is correct.

These guys at The Happiness Institute really know what they’re talking about.

Warm like the sun

“When I was a little kid I used to be terrified of the dark,” said Guido tightly tucked up next to me in our bed last night.

As he is now just short of about seven feet tall this is a very hard concept to get your head round. I suppose he was tiny once upon a time. As I’ve said to his mother Rosa, many many times before, it must’ve been a gynaecological miracle just giving birth to him. After all of those hours of squeezing and panting I think they should’ve erected a commemorative wall plaque at the hospital.

“I’d cry out and my Pappa would come up and turn the lamp on and he’d try to reassure me that everything was really alright.”

“I can imagine Juan bounding upstairs,” I said, “what did he do, pacify you with a dummy dunked in sangria?”

“No, silly,” said Guido. “He’d lay me down and tell me to close my eyes and imagine I was on the hot sand on our favourite beach just outside of Malaga. Then he’s ask me if I could feel the glow from the sun and I’d say yes and he’d pull the blanket up around my neck and switch out the lamp and then everything would seem to be okay again.”

“That’s so sweet,” I said, because it was. “Mental imagery can be such a powerful tool you know. I use it every time I look at myself naked in the mirror. I just pretend I’m Joe Wicks. If you threw in a wok and a high protein stir fry, frankly you’d be hard pushed to tell us apart.”

“Weren’t you afraid of the dark?” he asked.

“Not really no,” I said, “I was far too busy trying to drown out the sound of my mother chasing my father around our house with a frying pan. They spent almost all their brief and deliriously happy marriage trying to kill one another.”

Suddenly outside there was the sound of an ear drum exploding bang. It was loud enough to make Guido leap from bed to look out of the window and drag all of the blankets across our bedroom floor with him.

“What on earth was that?” he said.

“Oh, it was probably just Ethel in the laundrette next door. One of her barrels of hooch explodes from time to time depending on gas content. Either that or it was one of the night buses backfiring. Come back to bed would you?” I said, “and bring the bedclothes with you, its freezing in here.”

It was very cold in London last night.

He climbed back in beside me.

“You feel like an iceberg,” Guido said. So he snuggled up behind me and put his big hairy arms around my waist and nestled his chin on my shoulder. “Is that better?”

“Yeah,” I said. And I made the same, mmmmh…, kind of moan I usually only specially reserve for when I’m eating a slice of his homemade shortbread. It’s crumbly with a chewy chocolate and caramel topping on it. It’s totally orgasmic. I’ll divulge his recipe someday and you’ll all realise exactly what’s been missing from your lives all these years.

“Close your eyes,” Guido said, “and imagine you’re laying on a hot sandy beach in Andalucía. Can you feel the glow?”

I closed my eyes. Let’s just say I could definitely feel something.