Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Going home! Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fair - this w/e

I'm so excited because this weekend I'm jumping in the van and going back to Bury. This is where I spent most of my school life, discovered the great art of bunking, mixing pre-alcopop 'refreshers' in the Abbey Gardens, going midnight rambling and looking for as much trouble as a little old market town could provide. I loved it and can't wait to spread some of the cocoa love there.

If you live anywhere near and you need a pick-me-up of the chocolate variety, we'll be in the Abbey Gardens by the kid's entertainer (reminiscing on those gruesome Thunderbirds moments...).

Thursday, 20 November 2008

LONDON LEG: Supper #47 - E1

Dinner in a high-rise - my idea of heaven. As a child, driving into London with my family, I would gaze yearningly at every tower block we'd pass. They looked so exotic to my country girl eyes. I loved the thought of living in such close proximity to so many others. My cosy sense of urban life had my imagination running wild with thoughts of intensive, relentless domesticity; of wall to wall carpet, 24 hour central heating and fish fingers and chips. My family all thought I was nuts and yet, decades later, a part of me still feels like this. So when I got an invite from Andrew to bring choc pud to him and his friends in his retro pad in Spitalfields I was there with big jangling bells on.

I was told to leave the van at home as parking was an issue so I wrapped up the night's offering and jumped on the 35 bus. Eventually, after some mind-numbingly confusing 'short cut' I should never have even attempted, I emerged at the foot of the big, ugly, but still kinda glamourous Denning Point on Commercial Street and got buzzed up to the 9th floor. I tried to share a lift with a Bangladeshi family but they weren't up for it at all, in fact I suspect that they hung back just to avoid joining me. I tried not to take it personally.

The door swung open to a glorious cacophony of swirling green, yellow and brown carpet. Could it have been more perfect?! I don't think so. I chased it from room to room, transfixed by its gaudy tone and flouncy ways. I could barely lift my gaze to shake hands with the people in the flat - it was just so much to take in. I was taken into the kitchen for a drink. All the windows were steamed up with the fug of cooking. All over the table were strewn packets of Tesco Finest sausages and bottles of red plonk. I clutched my half pint glass of wine and made off with the host to explore the place a little more thoroughly.

THE SET UP: Andrew rents this flat from the family of an old lady who died. All her stuff is still there - the tables, chairs, retro kitchen and, my personal fave, the fully kitted out open-up bar. I think this is what sold it to him; yes, the vistas are marvellous, but what's really dazzling is the glasswear in that cabinet. For a moment I even forgot about the carpet.

WHO CAME: Me, Andrew, his girlfriend, his brother, his brother's girlfriend, Eleanor, Eleanor's flatmate, Gen and Lucas.

WHAT WE ATE: Bangers and mustard mash with buttery cabbage & bacon and onion gravy. It was just what I felt like on such an horrific, wet night. The whole flat was moist with warm, cooking smells and I felt as if in a big, bright protected bubble held aloft in the sky.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: A lot of the guests are in TV production so we had tales of who was doing who and where, Charlie Brooker, new ideas for shows with Martin Clunes, a dog and a gimp mask. My host opened up to me about his 'bulimic urges' for chocolate which found him purging at the gym rather than down the loo. We got the real reason behind the Schweppes and Tango commercials and someone suggested playing the biscuit game (which biccy would you be and why?)...I went for a Penguin, though the game never really got off the ground as Lucas was busy discussing some woman at work's rack and how he stares at it - not because he wants to dive in, more out of fear of suffocation.

THE PUD: On such a cold and hostile night I pulled out one of the classics - hot chocolate fudge pudding, a dessert that I was raised on and which still gets the most squeals whenever I make it. This time though I decided to spike it with some Aztec flavour - chilli, cinnamon and vanilla. It was great - all that molten richness lifted completely by the spices. Andrew's brother said it was the most drug-like food he's ever had and, I have to admit, the place did turn from manic, Oxbridge raconteuring to hazy, glazy submission in one fell spoonful.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Slow Food Festival this weekend

Jimmy's getting geared up for another Slow Food Festival at the end of the week. From Friday - Sunday we'll be down by the Royal Festival Hall; making hot chocolate, rolling truffles, and generally helping people find something great to happy about....what the hell would we do without it?

See you there!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

LONDON LEG: Supper #46 - Cheam

I met Jake a few weeks ago as I trawled round Tower Hill with a camera crew filming me. They wanted to gage strangers reactions to the Choc Star Tour proposition. In full waitress mode I charged around with a tray of freshly baked - still warm in fact - ultra fudge brownies; wafting them before people, hoping to stop them in their tracks. Jake was one of the many who stoppped, one of the several who agreed to have me round for supper and, so far, the only one who actually came up with the goods and invited me. "I'll have to clear it with my other half first" he warned, "she might be suspicious".

I returned home and Googled him - as promised - and discovered that he had run for Mayor this year and was mad about motorbikes. Great combo, I thought and we made a date. Monday found me horrified by the weather. I read about Miami in the paper and felt a deep, anguished pang for my old life over there - how every morning you wake up in that city, in that state, being reached for by the most glorious and enticing light. Here I must make do with alternatives - chocolate is the obvious choice and on a day like that there was only one thought on my mind: chocolate bread & butter pudding.

It's best to make it at least 24 hours before eating so by Tuesday evening when it was time to steer Jimmy out into the suburbs those slices of bread were fully engorged with the rich, chocolatey custard surrounding them. I might well have broken into it en route and enjoyed the thing uncooked - I was that craven of its velvetty layers. Jesus, this girl needs some sunshine real bad!

THE SET UP: I have been asked to come at 7.30 for 8. I feel I've done pretty well to arrive at 8. Jake comes out into the street and guides me into a space opposite the house and tells me that they've all started without me. Wow, that's a first - but as I follow Jake into their house to be confronted by a table full of strangers that old magic descends. I can't really explain it other than to say it's a bit like acting; it's kind of other worldly, exciting, addictive. I can tell immediately that this is a table of laughs and that feeling at home would be easy.

WHO CAME: The really jolly neighbours, Ray and his wife, Jake, his girlfriend Ruth, her 30 year old son who's living with them, a friend of Ruth's from work and me.

WHAT WE ATE: Jake is cook tonight, he and Ruth take it in turns but I can tell that he gets a real macho pleasure from putting food on the table. This is adorned with a gold shiny strip of paper that stretches right the way along it and is peppered with bottles of wine, most of which I have to decline on account of having to get Jimmy back to SW9. Halloumi awaits me as I take my place at the end of the table. I love Halloumi in an extra special way. As I attempt to stuff the grilled cheese into the warm pitta pouches and then into my gob I hold back in order to converse with this table full of new people I suddenly find myself sitting with. "So what's this all about then? I'm intrigued", they ask me. "What do you actually do?". I gulp a slither of the tasty rubber cheese down and explain myself: London suppers, different backgrounds, chocolate as common ground, etc. They seem satisfied with my response and the eating and drinking continues.

Out comes the main course - a spicy beef stew with mashed carrot and butternut squash and a potato and roast carrot melange. The vegetarians down the end got stuffed oyster mushrooms; only Ruth's work mate is allergic. Jake laughs it off and pours more wine. I feel right at home: nice hearty cooking, the wonderfully maternal Ruth to my left, Jake the patriarch playing the raconteur and the neighbourly couple just oozing reassurance.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: Pretty varied. From Ruth's son's drum n bass dj-ing exploits to Ray's prize winning sunflowers. Turns out most of them hail from Wandsworth/Battersea and I listen with delight as they talk about being Rockers "cos it was cheaper' and swapping boyfriends down at the Monday Club. "We didn't go out to get drunk in those days" says Ruth, "We went out and had a drink."

Jake and Ruth first went out when they were 15 and now years, marriages and many mod/rocker antics later they're back on. And Ruth has come to be accepted by Jake's other family - the bikers. I wet my pants a bit. "What do you mean!" I demand to know, "Can you hook me up with a dinner invite?!". "Could be tricky, they're very closed - especially after what happened last year". I vaguely recall a motorway murder. I remember Hunter S. Thompson's 'Hell's Angels'. My imagination starts running wild. Jake reveals his biker name to be 'Pyro' and what he does to car drivers if they mess with him on the road. I shimmy inwardly and increase the pressure. "I'm not promising anything - I'll see what I can do". And then, a ray of light - " I do have a friend who's a pole dancer. A bloke."

Oh well hell, that'll do! Bring him on! Can he cook, and then we eat and then have pud and then can he put his outfit on and dance for us?! I almost forget about the damn bread & butter pudding in my reverie and curse having to drive because I need some of that Rioja.

THE PUD: It's all bubbling at the sides; a great moist, dense bed of chocolate hotness. It smells like heaven. I mean, all these cold choc puds are great in the summer but what the hell's the winter for if not for eye-closing aromas like these? Ruth serves us all. Ray tells me he used to be a 3 Kingsize Mars Bar in a sitting man before he became diabetic. I feel bad. He doesn't and launches at the thing with vehemence. The cool double cream rivulets through the folds and we all enter our happy place. Apart from the work mate who's not really into chocolate, but hey, all the more for Ray!

Monday, 10 November 2008

LONDON LEG: Supper #45 - SW16 (Mystery Meat)

Well last Wednesday was a bit of an eye opener. I was invited to join a group of twenty-something Trowbridge transplants on their regular 'Mystery Meat' meet. Gwen, Anna, Ella, Annabel and Jemima started up this weekly supper club when Anna returned from her family's farm one weekend with three braces of pigeon. Being the game bunch that they are they decided that from then on they would take it in turns to surprise one another with a different beast or cut, with the winner having to head for the corner shop with £1 to buy the pudding. So far they've had snout, heart, tongue, cheek, testicles, rabbit, turkey and that old favourite, chicken. How quirky and retro I thought and leapt at the chance to join them.

THE SET UP: I turned up with Gwen, sans Jimmy (bad parking round there). We picked our way along the dingy streets of Streatham and filtered up a hill to a house. It was like entering studentdom again - just wall to wall momentos of good, cheap times. Anna was prone on the sofa underneath layers of duvet. In fact most of the floor space in the TV room was occupied by some kind of bedding; it was like it was set up for a permanent slumber party. We went through to the kitchen so Gwen could prep her mystery meat whilst Anabel's dad wandered about applying liberal amounts of Deep Heat to some shoulder ailment. More stuff - a cacophony of it, occupying every work surface, every wall, every shelf. I found it reassuring and cosy and happily headed off to the utility room to wedge the night's pudding into a packed fridge.

WHO CAME: As well as Gwen, me, Anna and Annabel's dad, Dave, one by one fresh faced girls would enter the scenario: Ella, just back from the Embankment cafe she worked at, Jemima, returning from a day of textiles, the sweet French girl and Annabel who hadn't been home since the previous morning and who'd still managed to squeeze in a date with someone else before arriving home.

WHAT WE ATE: Gwen thought it would be amusing to recreate one of the dishes from Jemima's mum's WHSmith exercise book, circa 1982 - Tasty McBrides. She carefully pottered away in the background while everyone else ploughed merrily through the two bottles of red wine on the table. The plate arrived to a fanfare and was accompanied by a special 'Mystery Meat lamp' in order to show it off properly. We all sank our teeth in to these odd little bites. Yum! said everyone reaching for more. I gagged a bit and barely finished one piece. The truth was that the mystery meat in this scenario was Spam. Ever since Spam fritters at school I've never been able to cope with it. It flooded my gag reflexes still further as Gwen explained the recipe; of fried Smash, onion powder, grilled Spam and other horror stories. These girls were insatiable for the stuff though and soon the plate was empty.

Then came the main attraction - a great, hearty robustness of a stew, it was lousy with bone marrow streaming through the sauce. Soon the guessing began and in moments the real meat revealed itself - Oxtail, bought from William Rose on Lordship Lane. I asked why she didn't get it from Brixon market but Gwen thought it best to keep it super legit in matters of tail.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: The talking was non-stop, from Dave's move to Thailand to the Trowbridge Pump festival that happens on Anna and Ella's farm in Wiltshire. Annabel kept on coming out with whacked-out stuff like how she feels like she morphs into Angel Delight when she's having sex. Dave would turn a blind eye and concentrate on his electrode machine which he decided to hook me up to. I sat there clutching onto Ella as he delivered mini-electric shocks into my arm. I'm not sure why. I learnt about the only male lap-dancing club in Europe which just happens to be there on Streatham High Street (they've all been). Then Jemima taught us Cumbrian - who knew? There's a whole damn dialect of it and I want in on the action (she said she'd hook me up with some Lake District folk). Games began - starting with everyone having to describe someone with just one word. From a table full of people I'd never met I got calm, still, serene, curious and alert - I think I might just have been a bit stunned post-electro probing.

THE PUD: I pulled the pud out of the fridge, turned it out and showered it with glass-like shards of amber caramel - a chilled pralined truffle terrine. It was slight hell to cut up but once apportioned was nyammed up quickly. They all seemed to like it a lot, but to be honest I think the £1 option from the corner shop might have been just as warmly received - they're just those kind of girls and as I left that night I felt a small pang for living a life of cosy chaos, surrounded by your best friends, up to the eyeballs in clutter and debauchery.