Heaven Not Hell

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Some folk go through life collecting prizes and awards. I don’t. Never have in fact. The last one was “Best Dressed Tourist,’ in the 2011 Haslemere Rugby Club Under 14's 'Ken & Barbie' Tour. So, it was a something of a Blue-Riband, memorable event when Crumble passed the finishing line first on Friday evening in an unexpected and well received win over pretty stiff opposition to win the much coveted “Hell or Heaven Best Chef Award.’ I kid you not…… it pays to be a winner.

your correspondent in a previous winning guise on the 'Ken & Barbie Rugby Tour,' but as I was reminded on Friday evening, I only won because I brought two outfits... day and evening.

your correspondent in a previous winning guise on the 'Ken & Barbie Rugby Tour,' but as I was reminded on Friday evening, I only won because I brought two outfits... day and evening.

The back story to the event was that a good chum had accidentally bought a ‘Chef comes to your house and cooks with you evening,’ at a silent auction at Twickenham. (Note to the unwary….. don’t ever fill in a form for fun and carelessly leave it on the table when you leave to watch the match….. they will track you down.) Being a good spirited soul my chum honoured his ‘commitment,’ and kindly included me on the guest list. A brisk start saw us kick-off at 5pm with the first glass of fizz and straight into the task at hand, boys cooked under the benign supervision of Andy from Culinary Temptations ; and girls chit-chatted as they do whilst we toiled. I of course was stiffed with the starter which may sound like a breeze but there was the small technical challenge of it being a goats cheese soufflé. Unfortunately, I don’t much like eggs and I definitely don’t like goats cheese….. issues…

Winner!

Winner!

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With one of our number delayed at Geneva airport the field was reduced to just the three of us, starter, main and pudding. I very much approach cooking in the same way I would building an Airfix kit. Follow the instructions to the letter and without deviation. We have form here. The Crumble boys never lost the annual St Edmunds School Airfix modelling competition and I wasn’t going to let the side down. I had though, very stiff competition with my fellow guest doing the main course who was doing a blistering job with his Moroccan lamb and was easily more technically accomplished than was I. His marinated courgette had me worried and to be frank, it was the best thing I tasted all night but then he had cous-cous on his menu. Well, you’re never going to win when you have to present something that even at it’s best has the consistency and taste of hamster droppings. I mean, who ever really orders that thing? My host was, at least to begin with, all over his big task of creating and serving chocolate fondants with caramelised banana and honeycomb. No easy thing there. Obviously, his competitive spirit came through right from the get-go and to be fair, he was doing an amazing piece of work …. right up until the combined impact of too much enthusiasm with the early opening of the Tattinger followed by a ‘taster,’ of the Yamasaki Japanese whisky, (first for me and actually, not a bad dram), dulled his timing and technical edge to produce some disappointingly droopy, but nice tasting, chocolate fondants. Droopy but nice tasting could be an anthem for middle aged men.

So, the goats cheese soufflé won the day and what a fun and memorable evening it was. Winning was a bit of a surprise but was welcome and uplifting nonetheless. I’ll take every win I can get at this stage.

Home Alone

they arrived....

they arrived....

If you have ever suffered from abandonment issues worry not. You are neither unique nor are you alone.  I’ve been scraping by for the last five days myself. She left with a cheery wave last week to spend a week with her sister detoxing, (whatever that is), and promising to return, ‘glowing.’ ‘You could get out of a hot bath glowing,’ I muttered as she disappeared in a cloud of dust down the track.

So, it’s been just myself and the boys, (the dogs that is for the Crumble boys are well off and away doing their own thing). So we’ve been here on a boys-will-be-boys self-catering hell-raising week at the homestead. In a manner of speaking that is. Hell-raising in this instance is outrageous behaviour such as leaving the washing-up until the morning, leaving loo seats up all over the house all the time and listening to Radio 4 until I fall asleep.

As Mrs Flashbang was leaving she said, ‘I’ve left some things in the fridge for you.” That was a nice touch. Unfortunately, when I arrived home this evening I realised that all the ‘things,’ had been either eaten or binned because they were either unsuitably healthy or just morbidly tasteless. I had though, forgotten to go to the supermarket today. The resulting rummage around the cupboards and freezer was somewhat disheartening. Given there were things in the freezer labelled before the Internet was invented that was a big no-no. The cupboards revealed things previously unknown to me although I should be absolutely honest and say the last time I looked in there was around 1995. Really though, what in the flying fuck are Cannellini Beans, Bijoux Verts Lentils and Aduki Beans? Is she secretly trying to finish me off by covertly feeding me cat food? I can’t tell you how much my heart soared when I spotted a good old fashioned and honest tin of baked beans at the back. There it was, almost hidden in shame in the darkness when all of us boys know it should be at the front, gleaming with pride and shouting, ‘I’m a tin of baked beans and I’m proud of it.’

My Sabatier Cook's Knife. Bought in 1989 at Peter Jones. if she ever legs it, the Cook's Knife stays; (hopefully not embedded in my abdomen).

My Sabatier Cook's Knife. Bought in 1989 at Peter Jones. if she ever legs it, the Cook's Knife stays; (hopefully not embedded in my abdomen).

Then, the dilemma. Do I go for the failsafe backstop of beans-on-toast or do I risk the out of date chicken fillets in the fridge? “Well,’ I thought to myself, “I have two boys. They do scary, boy stuff all the time. I’m not going to let two chicken fillets that are two days after their sell-buy date turn me into a big Jessie. I need to look my boys in the eye.’ I did what every Dad on his own would do. I made the all time best ever-chicken sandwich, (or ‘stack,’ as us cool Dad’s know them).

Whilst I was chopping and cutting it took me back a wee bit to the days when I got seriously into cooking. When I was on my own it became slightly obsessive. I even did a couple of cookery courses and delighted in entertaining in what I like to think, became a culinary hotspot in Islington for good wine and food and all done from the smallest of kitchens. My flatmate at the time and I used to argue and bicker like two old queens over important matters like sauce consistency and the crispiness of our crunchy roast potatoes, (I’m a Delia man as far as they are concerned). The passion for cooking dissipated in time though, mostly because I married a better cook.

not the best chef in Islington

not the best chef in Islington

I do think, men tend to focus on single issue challenges, climb that particular mountain and then move on to the next. When for example, I rediscovered fly-fishing, which I had not done since my younger days I tore into it with passion, commitment and unrestrained enthusiasm. Having drained the bank balance somewhat, and having achieved a modicum of success I drifted away from fishing for trout in the chalk-streams and took on the bigger and more industrial challenge of salmon fishing. That had a whole lot more deleterious effect on the bank balance but the reward for success was commensurate with the challenge the Atlantic salmon present. Salmon fishing is just special and really, you do not have to catch a fish to benefit from the joy of chilling while standing in a river casting a fly, even badly, while embracing the peace and unending theatre of nature that surrounds you. It is so very cathartic.

Another example of a rabid obsession was the Annual Airfix Modelling competition at the boy’s prep school. I don’t think the Crumble boys had a losing year. They did the modelling but it was a great excuse for me to go and buy all the bits I wasn’t able to have as a kid. Front and centre was a paint spray gun. Oh how we all wanted one of those when I was young. You get a very nice effect with a spray gun rather than brushes. Your helicopter landing to pick up wounded soldiers on an LZ with flashing helicopter lights, a starlit sky and sound effects really comes to life with the spray painted cam work and the desert floor moulded out of plasticast. Not that I took it seriously or anything.

Spitfire pilot being rescued in the Channel - very cool model. Think that was our finest modelling moment in the barn.

Spitfire pilot being rescued in the Channel - very cool model. Think that was our finest modelling moment in the barn.

So, what will be my next challenge? Do you know, I am not so very sure. I started the year with a whole bunch of resolutions, none of which are even close to being started never mind completed. We are at the time of year when I start to feel the old familiar tight knot in my stomach, when my mind begins to wander and I find it difficult to concentrate. Those same feelings you feel when you fall in love. I can sense those big salmon are coming to the end of their long journey from the feeding grounds and are heading to the Tweed. I find myself watching clips on YouTube and checking out salmon fly retailers, (not that, like all fisherman, I need any more flies), yet I have nothing booked.

Bliss

Bliss

Is this the year I break the dependency and move on? It is, with such weighty matters as these, that we gentleman must grapple whilst our wives disappear to apparently, detox. I fear I have no answer at present but at the very minimum, this rambling post has allowed me a break from my more weighty posts which I’ve been playing with about Dunkirk and St Valery and I do want to get those right, if not this.

I'm Here To Help Son

So, one of the Crumble kids fancies himself as a bit of a dude in the kitchen. He's planning Beef Wellington for 18 in his student house for his birthday dinner party tomorrow. Crumble Men don't flinch at a challenge. He asked me about veg. Discard the cookery books son, your fathers here and I'm here to help. 

Read on: 

What Are You Doing Darling?

Ambling through middle age with a curious approach to life and living leads me to asking many questions every day, a bit like toddlers are apt do. For example, on Sunday I was standing in the kitchen at home reading a text from son no 1 who had just illuminated the world of summer cocktails for me by forwarding the mix for something called a Pearl Harbour. Concurrent with this son no 2 was outside undoing a padlock, for which we’d lost the key, with his lock picking kit. Does that make me a good or a bad father?

And this morning, having read that the head of Pret A Manger has told his staff to give free drinks to people they like, I was perturbed when Tony from Latvia gave me a free green tea. Delicious Monika from Poland has never done that. What does it mean?

But the thing that has baffled me most is the report in the Telegraph that a chef flambéing a  beef stroganoff at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford was responsible for starting a major fire when flames were sucked up through vents. “It was a flambé which was the problem,” said Mr Grange, the manager. Accidents happen but what on earth would possess the Telegraph to then helpfully publish the recipe in some sort of Arsonists Cookbook manner thus arming over enthusiastic Dad’s up and down the land to self-immolate themselves after watching the Master Chef final? Picture the scene in the leafy environs of middle England,

 “What are you doing darling?”

“Oh, just knocking up a recipe I read in the Telegraph on the train dear”

 “hmmmm…. Why are you drinking cognac, bad day darling?”

“No dearest, I’m not drinking it, that’s to set the stroganoff on fire, just like they did at the Randolph Hotel; you never told me cooking could be fun. This is man’s work”

 “Right darling, I’ll just call 999 now before you get started….. just to be safe.”

 60% of house fires incidentally,  start in the kitchen