Monday, 23 June 2008

Supper # 35 - Wadebridge, Cornwall

THE SET UP: Rose and Ben are old friends of my mum's from the blessed Sixties. Whenever I see them I feel a magic transportation back to this hallowed time. They were at the epicentre of it - hanging out with all sorts of groovers and shakers and having so much fun. From London they moved to Scotland, then down to Somerset and now to Cornwall where they groove and shake in a much more low key fashion.

When I get there it is drizzling. Has been drizzling all day so that their garden heaves gently with the gradual weight of a million tiny raindrops. Ben ushers me in to the cosy stone cocoon of their kitchen and I am given a large glass of wine immediately. Rose is delighted and geed up, all ready to have a good old gas and hunker in for the evening. We stand round in the kitchen as Ben prepares beautiful little packages of prawn paste with perfect, rolled flat slices of bread and miniature omelettes. In they go to the awaiting wok, roiling and moiling with hot oil.

Ben used to play the guitar. Used to chase musicians all over - to New York to see Taj Mahal, down to Memphis, N'Awlins, Nashville - and Bob Dylan concerts chart decades. Now his hands work better with food and his creations rock the taste buds just like his slide guitar filled up your soul. Rose is mad keen on Scrabulous and gets incensed when a far away college kid accuses her of cheating. "I can't help responding though", she says "it's silly, I know but it really maddens me".

I set to work on a hot chocolate rum souffle and more wine gets devoured. I already feel like I don't much want to leave.

WHO CAME: Rose, Ben and me.

WHAT WE ATE: Deep fried prawn rolls with a tangy cucumber relish and hot, hot rice wine dip. Then we have a real 'fusion' number: Vietnamese spatch-cocked quails glazed with a deep, sticky hot sauce, wok-cooked pak choi and minted boiled potatoes just dug up from the garden. We grab those toothsome birds with both hands and fill our faces with flavour that punches like it means it. I go in for more, Rose elects more wine instead.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: We talk about my mum, Rose, Suzanne and Vicki; four London girls drawn together at school in 1964. Each had a different kind of family - tricky Jewish dad, predatory youthful mum, strict Catholic housekeeper, but Rose's house was a safe haven for them all - especially on that fateful week when each of them was expelled on a different day, ending with Friday when there was no one left in their gang to 'exclude'. And about Perthshire in 1981 when they moved up there: nothing doing for dinner except mince and tatties - even onion and garlic were hard to obtain. RnB would send for lentils, tahini, pasta, chilli and try and cobble together food with some flavour.

THE PUD: The hot chocolate souffle comes out of the oven looking swell. All puffed up with somewhere to go. We take it to its fate at the centre of the table and plunge in, pulling out a quivering, spoonful of heavenly warmth. On top we pour a hot chocolate sauce and sit there eating it in moaning delight. The dessert wine Ben pulls out seems so right.

We stay up talking and talking. I drill Ben for information on his really fruity sounding family history - of Cecil Beaton' first gig as photographer at his parents' wedding, his racy grandmother, Frieda, who would receive four letters a night from Edward VIII - blathering, soppy, childish letters - at the height of their relationship. He tells me not to repeat most of what he tells me, I'm gutted because it's fascinating.

MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: I ascend the old wooden stairs with a large glass of water and fall asleep watched over by Ben's mother in her unbelievable wedding dress.

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