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.

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.

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 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.

Tell it like it is

Regular readers will know it’s usually me who throws the occasional bomb shell into my relationship. But last night, over a particularly delicious moussaka I might add, it was Guido’s turn to drop one.

I always get very suspicious when he suggests we dine out on Greek food. There’s usually something fishy going on and I’m not referring to grilled sardines. It means he’s been mulling over thoughts. Thinking which words he wants to get off his chest.

And talking of Greeks, Guido and I have history with them. One of our first dates involved meatballs. Years ago we discovered a little faux taverna tucked away in Soho where there’s music and the waiter taught us to dance syrtaki and smash a plate and drink ouzo. Then more recently, of course, Guido proposed on one knee in The Real Greek on Bankside. So when I found myself sitting opposite him last night with a bowl of taramasalata something had to give.

“Pass the olive oil, would you?” he asked. “Oh and by the way I’ve seen a vacant café site for sale in Denmark Hill,” he said casually grinding some black pepper from the mill. “It’s looking a bit dilapidated right now but its a terrific price in a great location so I think we really should give it some serious consideration.” He dunked his pitta bread. “But anyways, how was your day?”

Guido does this. He feels obliged to verbally sandwich life changing ideas neatly between the plain old hum drum in the hope that the distraction means that whatever he’s breaking to me, he hopes I take it better. It’s a bit like tuning into your favourite TV show only to find the episode you’re watching gets substituted midway through a plot line. So when he said pass the olive oil and how as your day, what he really meant was how do you feel about packing up and starting our lives over on the other side of Southwark. Denmark Hill? He might as well have suggested Outer Mongolia. He’s obviously never been stuck in traffic there.

I wiggled my finger in my ear just to make sure that I hadn’t only been hearing the maitre’d playing his off key mandolin.

I stayed cool. I pretended to read the label on the back of the wine bottle. Take a leaf out of Guido’s book I thought. Play him at his own game. Do just what he would do by layering what you really want to say between the unimportant.

“This wine is completely delicious”,” I said, taking the tiniest of sips. I dabbed my mouth with my napkin. I cleared my throat.

 “YOU SERIOUSLY MEAN MOVE BUSINESS AND HOME? AS IN LOCK STOCK AND BARREL AND COULD YOU NOT HAVE BROKEN THIS TO ME A BIT MORE GENTLY WITHOUT THE NEED TO SANDWICH IT BETWEEN A STUPID SUB TEXT AND SOME OILY GREEK CUISINE? ARE YOU INSANE?” I yelled.

As you can tell I remained perfectly calm.

When we got home Guido suggested that I get more practice in sandwiching my words between sub text. Especially the bit where you slip in the important part between the hum drum. I totally got his point.

And I can assure you I told him exactly what I thought of that.

 

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..