Thursday, 17 April 2008

Supper #4 - Hastings, East Sussex

Once again I found myself darting across the countryside, trying not to be late but understanding the hopelessness of this desire in the light of Jimmy's slow moving ways. The drive from Dover to Hastings (via St Margaret's Bay to check out some raw chocolate making guys) is bellisima! Romney Marshes are great green basins full of hedgerowed pastures and contented looking, sun-glazed livestock. I charged past. Through heady fields of rape and over railway crossings, past Pop Larkin style clapboard farms and the Victorian mansion blocks of Rye....into a much larger than I'd realised Hastings.

All I had to guide me to the night's supper was a tiny map, frozen onto my laptop from my last contact with wi-fi. I pulled up and shoved the computer into the face of a slightly nervy looking woman. Her young son took control and explained it all to me - but this town is massive! I lagged up a whacking great hill to a point that looks out over a massive gulley of huge, new houses and all leered over by one of Duncan Bannytine's health clubs. I swooped down into this sea of suburbia, past driveways named after 20th century US presidents...Hoover, Eisenhower, Roosevelt...but no sign of Truman. When in doubt crank up the chimes. Children stood mesmerised and smokers stopped puffing as "Colonol Bogey" filled the evening air and then, from far away came a figure running towards me, arms flailing. The music had worked: we had contact.

THE SET UP: My inner child - which is never that far from my outter adult - leapt with joy at the sight of the night's supper location. It is an enormous, swanky, mock-Tudor spectacle and the kind of place I yearned to live in when I was growing up. To me, living in a modern house with wall-to-wall carpets, fitted kitchen and central heating was the epitome of exotic. And I've never quite shaken this idea off.

Charlene and Chris welcome me in and up to their huge, well-equipped kitchen. I am immediately offered a glass of 'Vin d'Orange' - something that Charlene has had aging in her fridge for a couple of months: Seville oranges languishing in rose wine, seeping their citric bitterness into the liquid and producing a drink so refreshing and lip-smacking that I'm inclined to start a batch up as I travel around.

WHAT WE ATE: Then I am offered homemade cheese biscuits, peppered with cayenne and rolled in sesame seeds; tuna 'mousse' crostini and clay-like, heavenly goat cheese dip. All made by Charlene. I glance around at the shelves heaving with cook books and am beside myself to have it dawn on me that I'm in the company of a couple of serious foodies. Now I know this trip isn't necessarily about just foodies, but by God it's a treat when I happen upon some!

Over on the granite island sat a great piece of porchetta, resting. Porchetta is one of my favourite things in the whole world. When my family lived up the mountain in Italy we would pester our parents for porchetta pannini every time we were at the market. Thick slices of this dense, pale meat, seamed with crushed fennel seeds, garlic, salt and pepper and shoved into a floury ciabatta....the business.

Charlene's recipe is from the Zuni recipe book and came in big, pullable chunks. Large nuggets of this well-roasted pork that went so well with the almost caramelled roast fennel, potatoes and onions. Chris opened a chilled bottle of Gavi and we chewed the cud and the grub.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: Food blogger inhouse politics - the whys and wherefores of posting and being blackballed by precious foodies; Chris' nerve-wracking dash through JFK with a couple of Lobel's strip steaks in his bag; William Curley V Paul A. Young V L'Artisan du Chocolat; what to do with the horse meat in their freezer (apparently raw is a good option since it's the only meat that doesn't carry bacteria); how Nigel Slater should really not stray from food writing and onto the screen and this continuing theme of the joy of exchanging goods for goods without money always coming into it.

THE PUD: I made them one of Willie's Cloud Forest cakes - using a whole bar of his chocolate, ground almonds, the basics and topeed with a glossy ganache. It is a sensational cake - very dense, almost truffle like but with a lightness and a depth that keep it primal but not too heavy.

MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: We're all pretty exhausted and their little girl has a habit of waking at 5.30am so we had some jasmine tea and then I was led up to a very comfy room, complete with a TV, trashy mags and a basket full of guest size lotions. Imagine if hotels really were like this!


Deborah Dowd said...

So glad to find the link on Book the Cook! Your road trip post is making my mouth water, and I am tempted to try my own version of the rose/seville drink since the temps will be in the 80s here today! Great blog!

Petra Barran said...

Lucky you being somewhere warm...but England sure is green right now so I don't mind the wet.

Goood luck with the Vin d'Orange!