Patio Daddio

Boy, do I enjoy Guido’s sausage.

God this blog is getting utterly predictable. And, talking of utter predictability – The British Weather. It’s a sad but indisputable fact that in my warped mind there’s a delicious connection between Summer time and sausages.

I’ve always been in love with our Summer. It’s quirky and it’s unfathomable. It’s an enigma. It has a life all of its own. The sun can turn up unexpectedly and scorch slap bang in the middle of February then, for the whole of August, I’ll be wearing a plastic poncho.

Well this year it swept in right on cue a few weeks ago only to blow straight back out again.

“It’s here again,” said Guido staring up at the sky last night. “Up there, behind those whispy clouds is the sun, and it’s shining bright,” he said, pointing upwards with his index finger.

I took off my glasses and looked up hopefully. I half expected a big old drip from our leaky gutter to drop straight into my eye. I blinked. He was right. There it was.  I could immediately imagine sipping white rum, orange curaçao and a twist of lime.

There’s another big phenomenon when the sun eventually decides to shine in Bermondsey. In the first flush of a warm June I can guarantee the same thing always happens.

“You know what?” Guido stood on the steps to our loft.  “I’ve got that balmy June feeling,” and he said it like he meant it in a way that might involve sausages.

This was good.

“I’d say conditions are pretty terrific tonight.”

There was a pause.

“I’m going to get it out.”

This was better than good.

I accept that on a cold night when Guido says the words – I’m going to get it out – it usually involves at least one of us having to take all of our clothes off. But what he meant last night was he’s got a rickety old handmedown hibachi grill his father used to burn on the beach in Malaga. It’s seasoned by time and decades of spatchcock chicken and burnt old bamboo kebab sticks. It’s the foolproof and well oiled secret ingredient to Guido’s perfect barbecue.

I telephoned our friends Ted and Gary.

“Brace yourselves,” I said, “Guido’s getting it out.” I could almost hear them salivating down the line.

Ten minutes later they showed up at our place with Brian their super intelligent Jack Russell. All three of them were panting with their tongues hanging out.

“Where’s his big sausage?” asked Ted hopefully.

Guido lit the hibatchi.

Then there was a tap tap on the back gate. It was Bethany and Ethel, our hungry neighbours from the laundrette next door.

“I could tell by the smell of smouldering wood chips Guido had got it out,” Ethel said. “I’ve brought you a bottle of my homemade hooch.” She had the mesmerised look of someone with a blackened pork chop praying on her mind.

I should have known Guido isn’t really like other guys who grill. Until last night I’d never had smoked oysters with roasted garlic butter and romano, toasted vegetable quesadillas with kale pesto, then baked barbecued bananas and vanilla ice cream.

I’m really loving the start of Summer.

I just hopes it sticks around long enough for Guido to get his sausage out.

You grunt, I’ll groan

Ever heard of the expression about the morning after the night before?

“So,” said Guido looking at me sort of smugly as I walked through the cafe kitchen this morning. “Tell me, just what exactly were you doing under the sheets in our bed late last night?”

I never usually have to be asked to explain.

Guido was simultaneously scrambling eggs in a very hot frying pan, cooking bacon under a flaming grill, and toasting waffle batter. And with great aplomb I might add. As I’m someone who can barely do one thing at a time, I always admire someone who can do two. Let alone the ability to do three.

I cast my mind back to last night. I was struggling to remember anything because, if I’m completely honest, I was trying very hard to resist the temptation to eat the eggs. Guido scrambles with unsalted butter and a splash of cream.

I looked at him blankly. I blinked obliviously. From what I could recall, we’d both had a quick kiss and a grope then one of us had flicked the lights out. Then we’d gone to sleep. It’s with great regret I have to tell you he hadn’t passionately wrestled my Justin Bieber pyjamas trousers off. Trust me, I would’ve remembered.

“What?” I asked.

Then I had one of those horrible creeping thoughts. The kind you get when, although you know you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, you can’t help keep thinking you should feel guilty about doing something.

“Well,” said Guido, “you sure were making a lot of strange groaning noises from the dark side of the bed.”

He was still stirring and flipping and toasting.

“Really?” I asked innocently. “I seem to recall I was having another one of my highly enjoyable dreams about George Clooney and me. We were in a gondola.”

I’d just made that up. George and I have done a lot of terrific things together but doing them in a gondola was unexplored territory.

“I see,” said Guido, “I expect with all of that groaning it must have been a bit of a nightmare. Doesn’t say much for George’s charisma after all.”

I laughed.

“I suppose it could have been worse,” I said, “I could have been grunting like you usually do when you’re fast asleep.”

I’d just made that up too. Guido sometimes snores noisily with his mouth open wide enough to catch a fly but I’d never heard him grunt before.

He stopped multi tasking.

“Grunting?”

I started walking.

“Grunting? You’re just making that up,” he stopped doing what he was doing, “you’re making that up just because I said you were groaning.”

I kept walking.

I sat down in the cafe and ordered a big frothy cappuccino. I even pushed the boat out and had marshmallows on top. I could smell the faint whiff of a burning waffle and I could hear a lot of crashing and banging and shouting coming from the kitchen. There may even have been some loud and intentional grunting.

I got out my iPhone and Googled – Groaning In Bed. There were some accompanying pictures too. It was quite a eye opener I can tell you. Then I Googled – Grunting In Bed.

Let’s just say I’d much rather be groaning than grunting.

The moon in the gutter

Late last Guido got his big hose out. Don’t go there.

He was washing out our courtyard when he made a big puddle in the gutter. The moon came out and shone there so it felt like suddenly the sky was upside down.

Then the telephone went, ring ring. It was my mother, Cruella.

“Darling, I need some urgent help,” she asked me breathlessly from her end of the line. “I’m in a suite at The Park Plaza Hotel in the middle of a completely delicious love affair. I’ve met a muscular thirty-three year old American vacuum cleaner salesman. He’s from a place called, Brookings.”

All I heard were the words – vacuum cleaner salesman – which came as a shock because the last I’d heard she was dating a Sheikh.

“He keeps telling me how wonderful Brookings is but I don’t know what to say about it,” she said, perplexed.

I chewed my lip. I assumed the hunk was laying some place nearby, completely exhausted.

“I’m not sure where that is,” I said, “but I think it might possibly be Montana.”

There was an awkward short silence from my mother. It was obvious she didn’t know where Montana was either.

“Look,” I said,”just tell him you have a love of wide open spaces and the great outdoors.”

There was a click on the line as she instantly hung up.

I did that Google Map thing. Brookings turned out to be a city in South Dakota. As you can tell issues with geography are hereditary.

The telephone went, ring ring again.

This time it was my friend Marc. In the past he’s had an intense relationship with an Italian guy called Secondo. The bust ups and make ups have been legendary. They split up in London a few months ago but now they’re apparently planning a passionate rekindle in Naples.

“Boxer shorts or thong?” asked Marc excitedly, “I don’t know which is best to wear for the big reveal?”

I had a feeling the question was rhetorical. I suggested whichever he thought was easiest to pull off. Then he hung up too.

“I’m worried about my mother,” I said to Guido. “She keeps having affairs with men half her age.”

Guido crunched a Dorito.

“I’m worried about Marc,” I said. “He’s going to try to find love with a mad Italian but in the final analysis I think he’s pinning too much on a thong.”

Guido crunched another Dorito.

“Well,” said Guido, “maybe that’s what it’s all about. The journey, the trying to figure it out. Perhaps in the end there is no answer to life’s great romantic questions except that not everyone ends up with who you think they should.”

I tried not to visualise my mother in bed. I couldn’t help wondering if the hunk was trying to explain the finer details of vacuum suction as she blabbed bizarrely on about the wild beauty of Montana.

Not to mention the twists and turns of Marc’s love life. For some reason it reminded me of a plate of spaghetti vongole – easy to throw together but prone to end up a horrible tangled mess.

Maybe Guido was right.

I looked at the gutter again. The moon was still there. Perhaps the world was upside down after all.

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.

Hot dude with a pizza

Last night Guido and I were in bed. Three of us were under the sheets – me, Guido and a soggy four cheese pizza. Not that I was complaining.

“It was early morning in London,” I said, “and an unidentified woman had fallen asleep on an Underground train when suddenly, Bam! I’m not making this up. The traveller I’m telling you about actually dozed off on the Victoria line last Saturday whilst holding a pizza.”

Our conversations in bed are nothing if not highly relevant.

“And the pizza, which she appeared to have only eaten two slices of, had just slid from the box onto the floor.”

“Man, that’s so tragic, but tell me,” asked Guido somewhat irrelevantly, “was it a thin crust or deep-pan base?”

Unfortunately for the woman, the BBC reporter James Longman took a photograph of her and then posted it on Twitter. It was 8am at the time so either the woman was on her way home from a night out or she habitually eats pizza for breakfast. I’m not in any way being judgemental. The picture went viral.

“There’s something very voyeuristic about that photo,” I said.

I tried to visualise myself in her shoes, slumped unconscious in public, totally oblivious to all my surroundings. Actually, it wasn’t too difficult for me to imagine. But if anyone was going to Twitter me up on the Underground I’d want to know about it beforehand.

“Talking of voyeurism,” I said nibbling a corner, “I’ve discovered an Instagram site you’re going to love, it’s called Hot Dudes Reading.”

You won’t be surprised to discover the site delivers exactly what it promises on the tin. It features photographs of random but hot dudes, in public places, who just happen to be reading. That’s the sum total of the action. I’ve become quite obsessed with browsing through it and so have the other 900,000 followers who routinely view it. Whether these dudes know they’re being photographed or not is open to debate but the site has spawned a best selling book, also called Hot Dudes Reading. And now some of the pictures on the site feature hot dudes reading the book, Hot Dudes Reading, so go figure.

The words, hot, and, dude, are always guaranteed to prick Guido’s interest.

“How would you feel if a photograph of you were to go viral?” asked Guido.

I sat sucking some melted cheese.

“That completely depends on what the photograph captured me doing at the time,” I said wisely. “why, you got some ideas?”

Guido is always full of surprises.

“Well,” said Guido, “how about publishing some on the internet of you in bed in a variety of interesting poses wearing absolutely nothing except a slice of strategically placed pizza. I’m thinking – Hot Dude Naked With A Pizza In Bed.”

Going viral wasn’t my first thought. My immediate concerns were (and in no particular order) my stomach, dough consistency, and what would my mother say.

“Yeah,” said Guido nodding, “Cruella could be a major sticking point, especially if I had to explain to her that over a period of time I’d gotten you fat solely for the twisted gratification of persons unknown.”

Anyway, here’s the picture and I don’t mean me spread-eagle on our mattress smeared in a spicy topping.

Personally I’d much rather be a hot dude reading.

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.