Food for the soul

I’m one of those people for whom music can trigger very vivid memories. Which would explain why whenever I hear The Gypsy Kings track “Bamboleo” it makes me want to rip all my clothes off.

I was reminded of this fact last night but first let me rewind you, by way of a silly explanation, to when I used to regularly stop by The Spanish Onion cafe during my lunch break. This was before Guido and I were dating, simultaneously removing each other’s clothing, or liberally spreading condiments onto each other’s bodies on a regular basis. Though I was definitely thinking about all of that. I was younger. I was thinner. I was still hopefully amoral.  I was also totally unaware how a tiger prawn fried in garlic butter could change the course of two gay men’s lives. Yet there Guido would be – behind the chilled glass counter with his big chopper – whipping up something utterly delicious for me. Of course all I’d be dreaming about was him whipping everything off me.

The reason I’m telling you these sordid details is because, in the background, The Gypsy Kings CD would be playing loudly. Naturally all that plucking and strumming would work me up into a post lunch frenzy. So there you have it folks, it was inevitable; sooner or later all my clothes would drop off.

Fast forward to last night and let’s just say familiarity breeds familiarity. That predictable but comforting end of week routine where Guido collapses on our sofa wearing nothing but his underpants. By the way, one leg of our leather chesterfield is still broken and is now propped up precariously with a can of chopped tomatoes. Anyway, I lay next to Guido debating whether it would be completely revolting if I added spray cream and vermicelli sprinkles to sliced banana on toast (by the way, it’s not).

“I guess this is what we’ve sunk to on an ordinary Saturday night,” I said, “you letting it hang out in all directions and me stuffing it in,” I licked my lips. “I mean, what the hell is next for us?”

Guido shrugged.

“This is what domestic bliss looks like kiddo,” he said waving his arm enthusiastically across the empty room, and I don’t think he was joking either.

I let out a long “hmmm” noise.

“Are you happy Guido, I mean, are you really happy?” I said staring at the ceiling pensively whilst considering another slice of toast. It was tempting.

“Oh God. We’re not going to have one of those conversations, are we?” said Guido sighing.

So I waved my arm just as enthusiastically as he had across the other side of the room.

“I mean, when you see me at the end of a long day, do you still feel the same way you did all those years ago?” I said picking a stray piece of banana stuck between my front teeth. Let’s just say it felt icky.

“Look. Why don’t we listen to some music and have some wine?” said Guido deftly changing the subject, “or is that too predictable for you?”

I hear a cork pop and the music start.

However after that my memory is kind of blurry. I’m not sure which came first. The wine or the music. Suffice it to say, you can probably guess what happened next.

Recipe for disaster

I love my husband. I really do. How he’s stuck with me all this time is nothing short of miraculous because when we first met I really don’t recall dating him with the same conviction he did me. I just thought I’d suck it and see for a fortnight to find out how we got on. I never realised all these years later that the same man and a full jar of Nutella would still make me so very very happy.

However. 

There’s always one area in a marriage which will cause an argument. And for us it’s when I “help” in the kitchen.

When I was single I didn’t starve to death. I knew how to burn toast and incinerate a can of beans. But when someone keeps telling you, you can’t cook, it slowly erodes your confidence. You begin believing it. So any mention of “help” and Guido will shudder but grudgingly assign me a task, well let’s call it – a damage limitation exercise. Like scrubbing a potato.  I, on the other hand, like to imagine myself as the late, great, Antonio Carluccio.  Chucking any old rubbish into a crock-pot with gusto, but still creating a culinary masterpiece. In reality this is probably more like a disturbing episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.

The problem with frying is that one minute everything’s sizzling away looking just like it should do, but, take your eyes off it for just one minute to read a short text message from your mother and it’s turned into a sort of molten lava. And no amount of stirring or scraping will resuscitate them. Well that’s what happened last night, so I did what any novice chef would do with a skillet smoking dangerously and on the verge of bursting into an uncontrollable fireball. I tossed it into a sink of freezing cold water. For those of you who’ve never done this, please don’t try it at home unless you have the fire brigade on quick dial.  Apparently it has a very similar effect to what happens in the core of a nuclear reactor when they expose the plutonium rods. There’s a big whooshing noise and steam erupts with enough piston power to generate free energy for most of the East End of London.

Confronted with this unfolding scene, Guido began to look and act just like Gordon does. He went a weird crimson colour and you could see the veins in his neck all pulsating like he was about to throw the mother of all tantrums.

At this point I had a horrible flash back to the last time I “helped” grilling an aubergine so I knew what came next. After the vein throbbing comes the teeth gnashing and the feet hopping and there’s a lot of colourful language. Let’s just say if this blog post was a podcast it would have an “R” for restricted rating.

Well, I defy anyone to remain calm under such trying circumstances. So I did what I did when I was single and had one of life’s catastrophes. I ordered Chinese. I had sweet and sour pork and Guido had a stir fried chilli beef. It arrived in fifteen minutes and was absolutely delicious.

You know this “cooking from scratch” thing – I really don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be.

And then there were three

Brian moved in with us a week ago. Brian is owned (if dogs ever actually belong to anyone) to our friend Gary but, on account of Gary’s extended shifts at the airline, we’ve agreed to look after him (if dogs ever actually think they’re looked after) on a purely temporary basis.

That was a very long sentence to describe a week which has seemed to have been very very short. Just like Brian’s incredibly small Jack Russell legs, which I have to say can move very very fast.

I feel like Brian has lived with us for a month, if not a decade. He’s set himself right at home. I’ve half expected to see him wearing slippers, throw on a smoking jacket and pull up a chair by the fire. In fact he’s made himself so alarmingly  (disarmingly) comfortable he’s now like a part of the furniture, or at the very least a sort of furry foot stool or writhing hot water bottle. That is except for when Guido or I move towards the back door and Brian will leap up like grease lightening with the kind of enthusiasm for extended exercise I could only fantasise about. Since he’s lived with us I think I’ve lost more than five pounds. If he stays long term I may shed so much weight I could be in danger of completely disappearing. I’ll be like the incredible shrinking man taking the dog for a walk. I’ll have to wrap myself in bandages – invisible man style – so I don’t get run over by a London bus when I take Brian to the park.

Boy, does Brian LOVE the PARK. Did you see how I shouted that one out by putting the words, love, and park, in capitalisation and bold? If this blog could add bells and whistles it would be ringing and resounding.

Pre-Brian, when I used to go to the park with Guido, it would usually involve me lolling on the grass on a rug reading House and Garden or eating a muffin or slurping an enormous ice cream. Invariably there were ants. Often there would also be perverts lurking in the trees. The perverts I could live with but the ants were a right royal pain in the arse. That’s, ass, to North American readers. Well when Brian and I go to the park now there’s no laying around. He wants me running and jumping about like Usain Bolt. Its absolutely exhausting. Sometimes Guido will come with us too and throw a frisbee or a ball, or both, and then after an hour when we get back home to our loft Brian will be all frisky and wagging his tail but Guido and I will be like we need to get hooked up to oxygen masks.

“How long do you think this temporary Brian arrangement,” as Guido has started calling it, “will last?” said Guido flopped out on our sofa and drinking a beer straight from the bottle this afternoon.

Brian was sighing periodically at Guido’s feet.

I was also drinking a generous glug of white wine – for purely medicinal purposes you understand?

Brian didn’t look happy.

I don’t think he approves of our reckless habit of drinking alcohol in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. I guess proper hosts would at least have offered him a glass.

Pie-gate

Sometimes in the morning I’ll be in bed asleep upstairs in our loft and my eyes will go from being tight shut to wide open in a nanosecond. It’s because at that moment I get the scent of cherry pie coming out of the oven downstairs in the cafe. Well, that’s what happened last week – only rather than cherry it was apple and raisin with a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Trust me I can tell the difference between a baked cherry and a baked apple. It’s taken years of sniffing to get it down to such a fine art. In fact, if anyone is ever looking for a professional pie sniffer then look no further than me folks because I’m your man. Eating pie is, of course, the obvious progression and, whilst I’ve never actually entered a pie eating competition, pass the spoon.

Anyway the reason I’m telling you this baloney is because something rather awkward has happened between me, my husband and a piece of crust. Yes, to coin the phrase by the late Princess Diana, “there were now 3 of us in this marriage”. Whilst thankfully my marital competition has proved to be completely edible, Guido has started referring to this weird episode as, Pie-gate. You know where I’m going with this one.

Baked especially to sell front of house, it was about the size of a cartwheel in circumference; cut into 16 perfectly proportioned slices. The surface was golden and crispy and was oozing lusciousness from every possible angle. Guido, surely, wouldn’t miss just one solitary slice?

Yes he would.

No he wouldn’t.

Yes he would.

No he wouldn’t.

There isn’t that much that turns my brain into indecisive mush except possibly Bear Grylls topless and a sugary filling, but there I was like Dr Jekyll transitioning into Mr Hyde in a cake shop. I picked up a knife and I cut. I hesitantly looked left. Then I craftily looked right. I checked for any possible witnesses to this unfolding crumb scene and then; and then I just ate it in greedy guilty gulps. It was like feeding time at the monkey house – both hideous and hysterical all rolled into one. As you can see I live a gloriously hedonistic lifestyle for a professional pie sniffer. I looked at the remaining pie. There was an obvious gap. Hmm. I had a light bulb moment. If I just moved all of the other slices 6mm to the left then 16 slices magically became 15. I let out a deranged Mr Hyde cackle of laughter. It clearly takes a while for his maniacal sugar rush to wear off. But who am I to judge.

However, the real test was to come 2 hours later.

“When I cut this here pie,” said Guido holding a cake slice confrontationally, “there were 16 slices. Now there are 15. Care to elaborate?”

I glanced over my shoulder like he was talking to someone else. However the problem is, when I lie, I blink excessively. It’s a dead give away.

“I have no idea,” I said blink blink, “what you’re talking about.” Blink blink, and double blink.

“Really?” said Guido.

He knew, that I knew, that he knew.

“Absolutely,” I said blink blink blink, “Pie, what pie?” Blink blink blink.

And I know what you’re all thinking. But let he who is without sin, cast the first slice.

Love lost and found

My parents got remarried yesterday. I’ll spare you every minutia of detail. But suffice it to say there would have been enough drama in the run up to write a blog post every day for the next twenty five years.

What I will tell you is my mother wore pink chiffon (now I know where I get my interest from) and my father wore his usual blue crushed velvet number. Which he was still ominously referring to as his “marriage suit.” Let’s hope this (number 4) really is its last outing. It’s a miracle of modern tailoring, and his ability to suck his stomach in for extended periods, that he still fits in it. After they exchanged vows my parents stared into each other’s eyes. It was actually quite moving. Outside the Registry Office Guido said I threw a box of confetti over their heads with particular gusto. I guess it was the relief it was all over. Then we took a cab to Boulevard Brasserie in Covent Garden where we met a whole bunch of their friends. I’ll give them this – my parents sure know how to throw a terrific party. They both looked very happy; like people who, whatever they have found again, had been given a second chance.

Today, in stark contrast to love (re)found, was love horribly lost. This morning I met Gary. We drank a coffee and split a double chocolate chip muffin at the cafe. I’ll be honest. The conversation was difficult. We spoke about him returning back to work at the airline. He was keeping busy working extra shifts – he said. I asked him if he was eating properly. He was trying to but keeping busy working extra shifts – he said. I asked how he was coping. He was coping by working extra shifts – he said. Everytime I mentioned Ted’s name, Gary wept. You cannot simply wash away all those years of loving together in four months. Bereavement is such a lonely torture.

“Somebody told me that how I feel will never change,” said Gary, “but how I deal with those feelings eventually does.”

As he left I hugged him and said we’d meet for lunch. He was busy working extra shifts, but he’d try – he said.

Later, when Guido finished lunch service, I asked him to come upstairs with me and we decadently had sex right in the middle of the afternoon. It was sex of the making love variety – as opposed to the sex of the jumping off our chest of drawers enthusiastically holding a tube of spreadable cheese variety.

I guess you could say Guido and I are neither a love lost nor one newly found. We’re in a category all by ourselves that’s called an ongoing “work in progress.” But what I do know is, whatever we’ve got, I never want it to end.

[Apologies for the technical glitch. And to any readers who get this post twice]

The secret life of plants

Last night Guido and I were in bed. The lights were out. Guido was laying next to me boring me to death about how difficult it is to roll out a decent sweet pastry pie; whilst, bizarrely, all I could think about was how long a rubber plant’s tentacles might grow.

You see, I’ve discovered a wonderful Instagram account called “Boys with Plants”. To be clear. The photographs on that particular site have nothing to do with boys – they are all men – but it definitely involves plants. Some men have their clothes on, some (tantalisingly) do not. Every branch or leaf is strategically but super tastefully placed; if you catch my drift.

“When you embellish interior spaces with houseplants, you’re not just adding greenery,” I butted in abruptly. Guido was right in the middle of describing how he dusts flour on a work surface then kneads vigorously to a dry paste. “These living organisms interact with your body, mind and home in ways that enhance the quality of life,” I said. Spookily I sounded like a member of Royal Kew Gardens and if you visit “Boys with Plants” you’ll realise just how happily you could become one of their latest devotees too.

“Yeah. Anyway,” said Guido, “getting back to my pastry pie mix…”

Place several plants together, and you can increase the humidity of a room, which helps keep respiratory problems at bay. Studies at the University of Norway document that even using plants in interior spaces decreases the incidence of dry skin, colds, sore throats and a hacking cough. And if anyone had bothered to tell me any of this before Winter I’d have just stripped right off and caressed the nearest Begonia.

“Just imagine if we had a fully erect fiddle leaf fig in here,” I said. “At night, photosynthesis ceases, and plants typically breathe like humans, absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide.”

Well at least I thought that sounded like a good idea, though, if I’m honest, it did have a touch of The Day of The Triffids about it.

“Look,” said Guido rolling over, “you’re a complete disaster area with house plants. You either starve them to death until they crisp up and wither or flood the hell out of them. You’re like the horticultural equivalent of a serial killer.”

That was harsh. But realise there are at least six feather ferns out there who would agree with him. I tried to imagine holding a big prickly cactus between my legs and, frankly, I think it would take far more skill than knocking up a buttery pastry which crumbled easily. So I battled bravely on.

“Okay,” I said, “but how would you feel about being photographed flexing arm muscles whilst grappling with a Monster Philodendron. If you’re feeling shy I’d be willing to throw in a Chrysanthemum.”

Guido rolled over groaning. Sometimes talking to him in bed can be such a tough gig. I could certainly tell selling this – naked with plants thing – was obviously going to be way more difficult to pitch than the – naked with maple syrup thing. So I closed my eyes.  I tried to clear my mind of any mental images of Guido slowly taking all his clothes off and then getting to know a big Geranium better.

But it’s amazing what a fertile imagination can do.