Soup for one

I heard a pretty funny joke about the sanctity of marriage this week. Well, it made me laugh. I’m not that great at humor but I think I remember the punchline.

“The reason my relationship has lasted this long is that my husband and I dine out on a romantic supper twice a week. There’s music, flickering candles, great tasting wine, followed by a whole lot of flattery and then some amazing sex afterwards. I go out on a Friday and my husband goes out on a Monday.”

Stick with me, there is a point to this blog post.

I’ve been out of town working all week. The evenings away get kind of lonely. The hotel restaurant is full of people travelling through just like me. Tables for one, our heads buried in a book or in our iPhone between the starters and the main course. Occasionally we’ll look up and twist a salt shaker or crush some black pepper over a watery tagliatelle. If we’re feeling really bold we might even crack a smile at a complete stranger. Last night I took a look at the menu and jumped straight to the dessert.

If you want to alleviate the monotony of dining out alone trust me, just eat a dessert. Don’t die of shock. I had a fresh fruit sorbet. If Chris, at The Juicenut, is reading this, honest to God you better be proud of me. There was a lot of serious competition I can tell you. It was a toss up between a slab of sticky toffee pudding and a blow torched creme brûlée.

Anyway the reason I’m telling you this is because after dinner (dessert) I went into the hotel bar. I started to type a new blog entry on here which had absolutely nothing to do with jokes or loneliness or healthy option sorbets and feeling overly sanctimonious about eating them. Right after I sat down the waiter unexpectedly brought over a very large glass of wine. If I’d drunk it, it would’ve blown out all of my good work on the calorie count front – especially as all I’d religiously sucked was a blueberry sorbet all night. I looked at the big glass of wine, and then looked at the waiter.

“This is from your friend over at the bar,” he said smirking strangely. He cocked his head awkwardly behind him.

You know once in a blue moon, a guy, who I’m not actually happily married to at the time, will find me highly attractive and try to hit on me. I realise you might find that particular fact astonishing. Trust me, I do too. This sensation can be a terrific ego boost if it’s George Clooney’s Hairy Body Double, or, an absolute nightmare if it’s Quasimodo’s Long Lost English Cousin waving over next to me. Either way will depend on where I am and who happens to be doing the hitting on me at the time.

Anyway. The guy at the bar told me the joke. I laughed. It was pretty funny, but, I told him I didn’t cheat on my husband unless it’s on a Monday.

Half full

I like to talk to all the people I meet and listen to their stories. When I do, I’m always struck by how much more dynamic and high powered their lives seem to be when I compare them with mine. And they’re wiser too. Socially they know what’s in and what’s out. They wear great clothes and mix with such other interesting and intelligent people. They go places where they have heated debates. They finalise business transactions over lunches at Sky Garden and dine out at Beaufort House and then they get legless on heady cocktails at The Jam Tree. I tell Guido this and ask him why we never go to those places and if he’s completely sure he wouldn’t prefer it if we did.

“Are you kidding, who needs all that? Our lives win hands down every time,” he said last night shaking his head. He was laying on our sofa wearing only a pair of old ripped underpants at the time. “Hey, have you seen the television remote?” he yelled.

There’s a familiarity, and a distinct predictability about our lives. Let’s just say if you put bread in the toaster you know what’s going to pop up out of it. If you get my meaning. Sorry to give you yet another food analogy but that kind of neatly sum us up. And as sure as sure can be when I get into bed at night, no matter how late it is, Guido will already be in it. I can guarantee you I can predict there’ll be one of two things that’ll always happen next right after I slide between the sheets. Either we’ll have sex, or, we’ll just switch out the lamp and pull up the blanket and have a heated debate about whether French Toast tastes better with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Trust me, there’s something really terrific to appreciate about each of those separate outcomes, even if both of them leave me feeling starving hungry when we’re done.

We signed the lease for the new café in Denmark Hill on Wednesday. Now that the ink is still damp on the papers the reality that money is going to be even more tight than it was before is slowing beginning to sink in. We’ve got a restaurant to renovate and rooms upstairs to make habitable and The Spanish Onion to try to keep afloat. I’m going to have to work harder, and Guido is going to have to cook faster. Momentarily, that imaginary cocktail glass still sitting waiting for me at The Jam Tree bar was ominously half empty.

“Well for what it’s worth, I think the secret to a rich and happy life is to have an exciting new beginning once in a while,” Guido said later propped up between the pillows.

We were in bed and we weren’t having sex and we weren’t discussing the merits of fried eggy bread so there you go, maybe our lives can have some unpredictable surprises after all.

“But you know what?” he rolled over right next to me, “all that really matters is that we’ve got one another to try new things out with.”

He was right of course. And I loved him for reminding me my imaginary glass should always be half full.

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.

The ugly truth

Last night Ted and Gary came round to the café to play poker. The four of us sat in one of the dimly lit booths after closing time. We ate olives and nuts and we drank a lot of wine. Needless to say Guido and I lost spectacularly.

“I’m a little worried,” I said. Ironically I wasn’t talking about the hand of cards Gary had just dealt me. “Apparently it’s been proven,” I said crunching a macadamia, “that very attractive couples who are married are statistically more likely to get divorced.”

“Oh no, please no,” groaned Gary raising his eyes to the ceiling, “tell me you’ve not been reading another one of those ridiculous on-line surveys.”

Well, clearly I had.

“Researchers at Harvard University asked two women to judge the attractiveness of 238 men in their high school year books. They then accessed ancestry.com to uncover the men’s marriage and divorce data.”

Nobody said anything.

“And guess what? The men who were facially attractive had shorter marriages.” I sipped my wine. “Just saying.”

When I say I was worried, what I really meant was that on a scale of one to ten I was a – barely concerned two and a half. This was on account of the fact that the survey failed to go into any details about how bothered you should be if, as is the case in my relationship, your partner happens to be considerably better looking than you are. Naturally I was hoping my wonky nose and bushy eyebrows would help even out our longevity on the marriage front.

“Which just goes to show what those intellectual dummies at Harvard do all day long,” said Guido re-shuffling his deck.

“Hey, you know Jean-Paul may be onto something,” said Ted nodding, “l mean, think about it, Brad Pitt?”

We all sat for a moment silently contemplating whether Brad was hot in his year book picture. The conclusion was that he probably didn’t have braces, pimples or wore thick glasses.

“If I hadn’t met Ted I would’ve been perfectly happy to take my chances with Brad until he got completely bored of our relationship and dumped me for Jennifer,” said Gary.

I tried to think of a funny amalgam of Brad and Gary’s names but couldn’t afford (literally) to get distracted from poker. And any way, if anyone should’ve been having sleepless nights about that particular survey then I reckon it was Ted and Gary.

Ted is a handsome semi-retired millionaire silver fox and Gary is a highly chislled flight attendant with great biceps. Nobody illustrates the brace position like Gary does. Let’s just say the fact they also both look utterly fabulous together probably means their relationship is teetering on a knife’s edge.

“Yeah, well apparently the study also suggested that having a good looking partner also meant that others would treat you with a lot less compassion,” I said, “which explains why you guys never let me win at cards.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Guido later in bed, “you have to remember we’re probably the weirdest couple combination there could possibly be.” And if that wasn’t a back handed compliment then I didn’t know what was.

I lay in the dark. I wondered if Brad was in bed and if he was, what was he doing, and who was he doing it with.

Statistically I was just thankful I wasn’t there.