I left Whitstable and headed for Woodchurch, just beyond Ashford. As soon as I got on the hands-free I veered off my route and wound up going the long way round. This may become a theme for me. Eventually I rolled up to another house in the middle of a major refurb.
THE SET-UP: I met Ian at Big Chill a couple of years ago. We were neighbours - whilst we were scooping ice cream and serving brownies he and his mates were dishing up fat chips and wicked dips and some pretty hilarious customer chat. We've stayed in touch, not least because his wife, Beatrice, is a business powerhouse who has helped me with some juicy nuggets along my way.
They're into doing houses up and then moving on. Here I find them recently moved into this beautiful, sloping 14th century pile. They found it musty and damp after being lived in for years by an old woman who only occupied a couple of rooms. Great big open hearths hold coal fires that have dried it all out and now the smell is pure leather and wood.
I'm offered champagne as soon as I'm through the door and we settle down for a catch up. Their little boy gurgles away and I hear about how Beatrice nearly didn't come back from the hospital after having him last year. Cripes.
Before long we are descended upon by loads of neighbours desperate for some choc action from the van. They've seen Jimmy on the box and keep asking if we're famous. They run off with glee when presented with ice creams and then I get to work on the evening's pud: chocolate, almond and orange frozen terrine. It's one of the best recipes ever - really easy and so succulent in a truffly, iced chocolate kinda way. You could easily lose your mind with it and grab a whole slab of the stuff and just suck it down....I'm salivating as I write this.
WHO CAME: Ian, Beatrice and me
WHAT WE ATE: Ian had been marinating a tangy zucchini salad in the larder all day. He has adapted to recipe from something similar he had in Key West. I love Key West with a mighty passion and am crazy about all those lime and cilantro flavours. It was like a vegetable ceviche but with a sweet edge (although Sweet 'n' Low or some other sugar replacement was used on account of B being on Atkins).
Then we had Saltmarsh lamb from a field a couple of miles away. The thing still had grass on it and needed nothing but a few cloves of garlic wedged into it. It was a deep, dark colour and all the better for being nice and rare. Butternut squash, parsnips and broccoli went beautifully and Ian and I had a British style gravy whilst Beatrice went for the French pan oils and blood combo.
THE PUD: A triumph. It's always important to me that French people like my gear and I think that despite the Atkins situation, Beatrice might be making the odd foray into the freezer for regular reprisals....cool, with the clouded crunch of shortbread and something more definite from the toasted almonds...a deep, dark chocolate succulence (as I keep saying) with a jolt of brandy and a shimmer of orange. Heaven.
DINNER TABLE TOPICS: How the two of them met (at a party in the '80s - her in a green velour minidress, him fresh out of the force as an undercover cop); Ian's involvement in the Brixton riots (had his trews set on fire - everything still intact); Beatrice's student days in London when her housemates had to find a compromise between the French way of roasting beef (30 mins) and the Brit way (3 hours); the widespread cowboy practices of food traders at festivals - questionable """"Vegetarian"""" food and super cheap bangers and Mash being passed off as gourmet. Being worthy and righteous is all well and good but if you want to make serious dollar at the festis you cut corners in a ruthless fashion. I don't know if I have this in me.
MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: A sumptuous collection of brocaded linen arranged on a big, soft bed with an electric blanket! If April is chilly then here's a good reason to make the most of it. Beatrice told me I'd probably have a lie-in and she was right - I slept and slept in a way that would embarrass Rip Van Winkle (well, til 9.30am).