Saturday, 21 June 2008

Supper # 34 - Exeter, Devon

Charlie invited me to supper anytime I was in Devon . She told me they lived in a madhouse, which obviously had my ears pricking up no end. I rang them up when it looked like I might finally have a handle on Dartmoor and they called me in; out of the wilderness and into the fire. Well, not into but close to. Mark, Charlie's husband greeted me wearing a pair of sturdy looking gloves. "For gardening?" I asked. "No, cooking" he said with a grin and then strode round the back of the house to tend to dinner: paella cooked on the family tripod BBQ. How exciting!

Charlie was an exemplary host. She furnished me with a very chilled glass of prosecco and then gave me a tour of the house, explaining all the quirks to look out for in the bathroom and offering the use of the washing machine. But I was too busy being awestruck to think about laundry - they live in the most fabulously retro house I've ever seen. It was built in the '50s as part of a Barnados home and then bought by Charlie's mum in the '70s.

THE SET UP: This house is pure Margot & Jerry nirvana. There is an avocado bathroom suite with a dual purpose loo roll dispenser and ashtray. Imagine that! And a dining room that just yells Robert Carrier at the top of its lungs, complete with hostess trolley. Charlie and Mark live there with C's mum and their two kids, Eddie and Eleanor. They pitched up here from London, wanting to get away to bring kids up and enjoy the good country air.

WHO CAME: Mark, Charlie, Me and C's mum.

WHAT WE ATE: So this BBQ had the look about it of being handled by people that knew what they were doing. Turns out Mark is a wine expert and Charlie really knows food. This meant that when C chose the wine Mark kicked up a silent stink and as Mark poked the barbie, Charlie kept a watchful eye from the sidelines. I was thrilled to see that both of these cats meant business in affairs of the palate. We ate paella from a big, hot pan. It bulged with throbbing little chorizitos, juicy shrimp and hunks of chicken. It was sprinkled with pimenton dulce and lemon wedges stood at the ready.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: The sad lack of decent food/wine shops in Exeter, how frickin' pricey Totnes is, how deprived Cornwall is at its centre (the worst in Britain, apparently), what they miss about London (good restaurants, Borough Market, 'culture'). We then discuss fave eating spots in London and I wax lyrical about my beloved Brixton and my much missed Hawksmoor. It turns out that this lot head for the hills with their rucksacks at least twice a month - they're proper stalwarts on the camping scene and have attracted many an admiring glance for their tripod cooking device and other exemplary features of outdoor living. Where are we all heading, I ask them and they opine on the possibility of flying long distance - or at all - becoming an unbelievable notion to future generations. Maybe we'll only be able to get to the British Isles and camping will be the norm. The idea of my bartering trip and how people have latched onto it is an example of this low level way in which attitudes are changing.

THE PUD: I make Bananas Foster on the tripod, feeling slightly guilty not to have pulled out some fabulous molten creation out of the bag for them. They insisted I go with the easier option though: easy pud = all the better for enabling cerebral discussion and not being distracted. I acquiesced and slung some nanas into a babbling pan of rum laced caramel. When soft and full of flavour I served them up, each bowl topped with spiced hot chocolate sauce and rum whipped cream. It was lovely - although we couldn't see much.

MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: The baby was booted out of her cot for the night and I was given her room. I went to bed reading Vanity Fair and fairly passed out in the cool, dark and peaceful room.

The next day Charlie introduced me to her and her mum's wonderful collection of cookery books. There was everything in there - Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David, Silver Spoon, Floyd, Keller, Claudia Roden...and of course, Robert Carrier. This is the best cook book collection I've encountered on my trip and I poured over them most hungrily...

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