Saturday, 16 February 2013

February 16th - Student kitchens and pink Champagne

Dear Nigel,

I could have done with your help in the kitchen this afternoon - not the usual culinary expertise, more another pair of hands with a tea towel whilst I set to with the washing up. I do own a dishwasher but it's tucked away in a shed  - long story. Anyway, the upshot of it is I get home from a very long drive to Aberdeen and back to be greeted by something resembling the Manhattan skyline.

 Too tired to be angry I am intrigued by the sculptural dexterity with which Will and Tom have managed to balance almost every pan and piece of crockery I own in quite a small area. There are skyscrapers consisting of two mugs and three glasses in each, all balanced on top of each other, and stacks of pans showing off the remains of their contents. I use my forensic skills to try to work out when, or if, there might have been any washing up last done...I could have sworn I'd left the kitchen 'fairly' spotless last Friday. Tuesday's crepe pans seem to be here, and, judging by the number of plastic milk containers (and surely four pints a day is adequate) that pushes it back to about Sunday. Not quite a week then. A weeks' bill for the cattery is starting to look like a bargain in comparison.

 Am I alone in experiencing this kind of student kitchen in my own home every time I go away? Tom isn't even off to Uni yet, unlike the older four,and still he seems to be getting in training. He's grown the long curls and developed that lolloping gait that involves the head visibly rising and falling as I run along beside to try and keep up. Sentences involve few words uttered in a single tone, and apparently everything in life (such as picking up a cup of tea) involves a huge amount of effort on his part. The student kitchen seems to be part of the tradition too. And where does it come from? I don't believe any of these nice, well-fed kids ever came from homes with wall-to-wall salmonella and homemade rat-trails.

The morning sun takes me out into the garden and I am heartened to see the first flush of pink champagne rhubarb with its crinkled leaves of lime and acid yellow, more like the inside of a tightly-balled lettuce at present. I take my well-travelled old terracotta forcer and plonk it over one of the crowns. I am excited. This is the time of year I like best, rediscovering things once again. The crowns were new last year, a house-warming present to myself, and I had to stop myself from snapping off the sticks for cooking. The first year it is always wise to leave the rhubarb intact and let it die back into itself and store its goodness for the future. It will make stronger, better plants this year and be worth the wait. Soon I will be able to give Sophie and Molly, the way my Granny did me, a stick of champagne rhubarb each  and a pot of sugar to dip it in. Uncooked, sharp, indigestible... Wonderful!

You are making little prune puddings with caramel sauce (pg 69) as 'nothing makes (your) heart sink like a restaurant order of one pudding and four spoons'. I'm with you here; there's something very satisfying about finishing every scrape of your own little pudding, deciding whether to dive into the succulent middle, with its Agen prunes soaked in sherry, or to carve off the outside and baste in the brown sugar and cream sauce while the scalding fruit cools.

I'm not cooking today. I'm nursing a full-blown cold and refusing to cook. I had one of those judge-me-if-you-dare moments at the checkout, feeling as i was, like s***: My yummy friend Caroline was in front of me with her trolley of out-of-season asparagus, blueberries and smoked salmon; and me with every cold comfort food known to man (or more likely woman) in mine - Green and Blacks chocolate, extra-thick yogurt with fudge sauce, Heston's Earl Grey hot cross fact, nothing remotely healthy at all. Mostly eaten in bed and washed down with plenty of Blackcurrant lemsip, with as many synthetic additives as they care to add to it and to my anaesthetised taste buds.

Your dinner is Chicken with potatoes and dill. It looks like a good mid-week alternative: a basic chicken and mushrooms in cider, you cut down the work by adding the potatoes to the cider mixture to cook. The cream and dill are added right at the end to the reduced sauce. I have tended to reserve dill for eating with fish so I'd like to give this one a go. On another day.


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