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.

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.

The cafe is now closed

Thursday the café closed at one o’clock in the morning when the last of the Christmas party revellers finally packed up and staggered out into the street. For the final thirty minutes of opening time there was a group of about twenty-five customers, including Guido because I can distinctly remember hearing his voice wafting through the floorboards, give a rousing rendition of, I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts. I’m guessing a lot of alcohol had been consumed.

Guido arrived upstairs in the loft about an hour later and fell into bed next to me with a half drunk bottle of Monopole Champagne and two lukewarm turkey legs. I wasn’t complaining.

The café always closes over Christmas and New Year because all of the commuters stay home and the locals are way too busy at this time of year having a nervous breakdown trying to figure out how to switch their own ovens on. I have to tell you it’s actually nice to, for at least just a couple of weeks, live the kind of life that I assume normal people do. I’m guessing that doesn’t involve the constant roar of an industrial sized cappuccino machine frothing hot milk all day long, and listening to Guido’s daily analysis of that particular day’s most bizarre sandwich filing request.

“I’m warning you, ” said Guido, “it looks like an atomic bomb has been detonated downstairs.”

“Oh we can clean up in the morning,” I said as I nibbled a leg and drank straight from the big bottle.

I didn’t care about the mess because this year our Christmas had just got even better.

My mother, Cruella, has hooked up with a rich young Sheik in a Belgravia hotel for the next five days and Guido’s parents, Rosa and Juan, despite being three suitcase busting limits over their baggage allowance, were last seen boarding an aircraft at London City airport bound for Andalucía. Frankly I’m surprised the plane managed lift off. So now it’s just the two of us left here alone in Bermondsey.

“Perhaps we could just stay in bed for the entire time like John Lennon and Yoko Ono did when they had their protest at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam,” I said.

I silently imagined what Guido and I could get up to between the sheets to help promote world peace. I’m pleased to report that initial thoughts were extremely appealing and no it didn’t involve a salami sausage.

“Yeah, we could just lay here and contemplate our lives as we know them,” said Guido. He always strangely gets a bit like Albert Einstein when he’s drunk. “Or were you planning on suggesting something more energetic?”

I told him I was definitely open to all offers but I’d have to pace myself if it involved mince meat.

I chewed on the last of the turkey. We sipped the remainder of the Champagne between us and then Guido switched out the lamp. I could hear strange gurgling noises emanating from the darkness. I wasn’t sure if it was me or Guido or if our loft’s highly delicate but temperamental plumbing system was about to spring a leak as a surprise Christmas present.

Then I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers and I did what I always do. I hoped for the best.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Wild capers

Guido and I have been staying with his Uncle Gustave. His property is just outside Puerto Pollenca. It’s a gorgeous old stone farmhouse with a big dusty yard with chickens roaming around, and one very serious and anxious looking turkey who clucks a lot. Let’s just say you’d cluck a lot too if you were a turkey and it was just over three months til Christmas.

Once I’d turned up at the celebrations for Cousin Carlos (with the two left feet), Uncle Gustave decided to take me under his wing. I think it was something to do with the fact that I insisted on wearing my Vivienne Westwood suit to the party. It’s bright, it’s red, and it’s a big plaid tartan. But it’s more than that. It’s made of wool, it was thirty one degrees in the shade, and I was sweating like a hog. Is your new husband, Uncle Gustave asked Guido tentatively, a lunatic? Well, yes but I do feel now we’re related everyone should know I’m a complete basket case. Anyway, late on Saturday night Uncle Gustave decided to step in. With the help of Google translate and a lot of hand waving he told me he was going to take me out on one of his infamous hunting trips.

Much later in bed, as I listened to Guido’s deafening snoring, two important thoughts kept whirring around my brain:

1. This bedroom would look so much better with a Ralph Lauren throw and matching lamps, and;

2. Had Uncle Gustave ever seen the movie, Deliverance? It could explain why his turkey looked like he was constantly on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.

So bright and early with sun up at seven a.m. the following morning I heard a rat tat tat on our bedroom window. It was Uncle Gustave’s bony old knuckle. Guido was still completely unconscious when I left so thankfully he was blissfully unaware that I was climbing onto the back of a clapped out old scooter with an arthritic octogenarian and a completely null and void travel insurance policy.

“Rapido!” waved Uncle Gustave, “Rapido!” What will be will be, I thought. I’m not religious but I said a brief prayer.

Of course I needn’t have worried about killing anything, or shooting my foot. Our “hunt” involved a pair of rusty and blunt old scissors and a half dozen wild caper bushes. They were just where you’d least expect to find them. A tumble down bridge, a deserted finca, a fountain in a local square and Uncle Gustave’s neighbour Rita – with the bell tower. Ring a ding.

But who’d have thought that he’d be to salted pickling vegetables what I am to saving South London from random and thoughtless wall papering?

In the yard tonight Guido wrapped freshly caught hake, garlic butter, and a sprinkling of capers in foil. He set it over hot coals on the bar-b-q. Then, after dinner, I happily listened to him and Gustave talking Spanish. Every so often Guido would take his uncle’s hand, or they would gently embrace, or they’d just raise their wine glasses in a knowing toast.

Watching them gave me that warm tingling feeling. The one that makes you feel everything is good in the world. And that if only once in our lives, everyone could get the chance to go hunting with someone just like Uncle Gustave.

Real men wear Speedos

Guido’s cousin, Carlos (With The Feet), is twenty one years old next week. On Friday we fly to Palma for a big family celebration and I’m already bracing myself.

Every time I meet Guido’s Spanish relatives they sound like they’re speaking Klingon. It’s very disconcerting unless you happen to be James T Kirk. On my first trip there Guido told me that if I was ever in any doubt about what to say to anybody I should simply smile and repeat the following sentence over and over. Esta tiene un sabor muy bueno!  To readers unfamiliar with the Spanish language that means, this tastes very good! Which is all very well until you find yourself in a room full of Klingons but no tapas.

So in this lull before the storm I feel a little bit like the NASA guy who sits in Cape Canaveral moments before lift off. He’s the one with the headphones pointing at the big electronic tracking screen shouting, “T Minus Blah Blah Blah” and “Ground Control to Major Tom – We’re Good To Go.”

Well here on the launch pad in South London, although the countdown has begun, we’re still stuck on amber. I’m not sure Buzz Aldrin ever had trouble with his Speedos, but the pair I removed from my closet last night to pack for the beach just won’t fit. Somehow I’ve gotten too big. And you can read into that whatever you please.

“I’ve told you a million times already,” said Guido dipping his finger into the peanut butter jar, “you’re too big, they’re too tight.”

I looked down at the piece of cloth stubbornly stretched mid-way between my knees and my thighs. Where there’s a will there’s usually a way yet clearly there wasn’t a way that wasn’t going to involve lubricant and a shoehorn. The question, does my bum look big in this, loomed large in the room.

“But,” said Guido licking his finger slowly, “what I’m looking at is still aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.”

Houston, as they say at NASA, we have a problem. I honestly didn’t think I’d gotten any bigger myself. The Speedos must have shrunk.

“We may have to go to Plan B,” said Guido raising an eyebrow. He had a worrying sparkle in his eye.

I knew what was coming. And be afraid people. Be very afraid.

There’s a beach in southern Majorca called Es Trenc. Let’s just say clothing requirements are kept to a complete minimum there and when I say a complete minimum what I really mean is, it’s optional. The last time Guido and I went to Es Trec we were the only people on the whole stretch who had any clothes on. Unfortunately we ended up on sunbeds right next to a German couple who insisted on paying ping pong on the sand all afternoon. It’s hard to convey in words of one syllable what I saw that day. Lifeguards should’ve issued us with a warning. Something like – this ping pong game contains scenes of a graphic nature and may be injurious to health. Wear a helmet.

So today I played it safe and bought a replacement pair of Speedos. They make me look super slim. I managed to get in them and Guido’s already managed to get me out of them.

We have ignition. As they say at NASA.

 

Crimes against ice-cream

This week in London something unexpected happened.  The sun started shining. The temperature hit 76 degrees. Unpacking my beachwear was absolutely out of the question until I rushed to do what any other self-respecting, utterly vain, and VERY white gay guy like me would do. I got a spray on tan.

Now, I’ve no problem whatsoever having skin a fluorescent tangerine shade but I definitely think I’ve got Guido worried about our wedding photographs. But I’m so grateful he doesn’t care at all about his own skin tone because when the outside temperature soared it triggered one of his astonishing money making brainstorms.  Selling homemade ice-cream out of the café window.

I’m very open minded – but when it comes to ice-cream I’ll admit I’m totally vanilla. Of course I’d do everything to help sales, especially if it involves eating, so happily agreed to blind test Guido’s new recipes.

You won’t be in the least surprised to hear that we did that in bed last night. And it got Guido noticeably excited under the sheets with his wet scoop and a black satin blindfold. If you catch my drift.

“Tell me honestly what you think,” he asked as I stretched open as wide as I possibly could before snapping my lips shut.

“Hmm…,” I said, “this tastes remarkably like one of your smelly old socks,” I said, because frankly it did.

I lifted the blindfold just to make sure I wasn’t actually sucking on a damp one. Apparently this particular recipe was Wild Garlic and Honey flavour so that gives you an idea what the content of our laundry basket stinks of if you’re ever in the unfortunate position to have to lift up the lid. So you have been warned. I put the blindfold back on feeling strangely relieved. I had high hopes for the next mouthful.

“What do you think?” Guido paused tentatively as I took a big lick.

Avocado and Sour Cream flavour tasted just like avocado and sour cream but Curry with Mango flavour tasted of bleach in my opinion. Tequila flavour I could tell straight off. It was totally intoxicating. But I absolutely can’t begin to describe to you what Brown Bread and Orange flavour was like. I obviously had to take a peek. Bizarrely it was exactly the same colour as my new skin.

“Ok,” said Guido, breathing a heavy sigh of relief, “that’s the tasting over but can I say I’m getting pretty hot and turned on staring at your naked and helpless body wearing a blindfold.”

I felt what I could only assume was a spare spoon proding me through his tartan shorts.

“I have a suggestion,” he said, “why don’t I keep you blindfolded whilst I feed you the rest of this tub of Tequila flavour and just see what develops on the sensation front?”

I’ve done something similar before in bed with Guido though on that particular occasion it involved the two of us and a lobster. I have to tell you it certainly was an interesting way to pass an hour or two, so if you’ve got the time and the inclination I can certainly recommend doing it with a sorbet.

Just so you’re aware. Apparently Fake Tan flavour sales are outstripping Smelly Old Socks two to one. I’m not at all surprised; they’re a funny lot in Bermondsey.

If I’m honest I’m just really disappointed this stuff hasn’t made the customers change colour yet.

El café de cebolla espanola

I ask Guido all sorts of questions all of the time. They’re are not exactly difficult or complex so generally he doesn’t have to think too long or hard before he answers them.  These can range from what I would consider an important question like – Do you think Melania Trump knows how to boil an egg? To the insignificantsilly and bordering on downright trivial question like – Do you think I’ll get an extension approval to my credit card limit so we’ll be able to survive financially until the end of the month?  So as someone who’s normally doing the asking, I was naturally somewhat surprised to find myself on the receiving end of a question in bed last night.

“How would you feel about changing name?” Guido asked from the darkness of his side of the mattress.

I made an immediate attempt to categorize Guido’s statement into my own important, or, insignificant, silly and downright trivial range of questioning.  I lay there pondering.  (I decided this was a question I would provisionally categorize as downright trivial but, depending what happened following any further probing, I felt it had the potential to possibly be escalated to important).  I wasn’t sure where Guido was taking me.

A question about changing my name could be a precursor to a conversation about our impending marriage.  This was exciting. I tried to stay calm.  If Guido’s line of questioning did turn out to be about anything remotely marital I was already making a mental note to ask him a follow-up question of my own like – How would he feel about New England candle lanterns and white rose petals strewn on the guests tables? (This is a question I would categorize as HIGHLY important). I lay there thinking.  If agreeing to change my name would expedite a wedding then I’d be more than happy to drop the “Smith” and become “Vasquez”. That was a complete no brainer.  Vasquez sounds so much more sophisticated don’t you think? (This is a question I would currently categorize as insignificant).  I tried to play it completely cool.  I thought about how I would sign my name and whether I’d join up the e and the z and if I was called Jean-Paul Vasquez if it would mean I’d get a higher credit card limit on account of the fact that it sounded financially so much more sophisticated.

“Well,” I said casually, “I’ve never really thought about it that much,” lying through my teeth. “But, hey Guido, why do you ask?”

Guido turned the lamp back on.

“I think a Spanish name could lend a certain sophistication, don’t you think?” (This is a question I would categorize as spooky as I had already started to use the word sophisticated myself – though I do realise I’d just introduced a new category called, spooky).

“I think it would roll off the tongue,” I said, my mind unavoidably drawn to thoughts of  flickering scented candles and strewn petals.

“El café de cebolla espanola,” Guido said in full Andalusian mode,“Yeah, you’re so right, it does roll off the tongue.  The Spanish Onion Café really does sound kinda tired now.” He flicked the lamp back off. “Worth considering changing it – don’t you think?” (This is a question I would categorize as getting the wrong end of the stick and sits somewhere between highly irritating and frustrating depending on whether you are planning a wedding or not.)