18 January 2005
This is application season. Before the end of the month I have to have applied for my usuals, the Northern Rock award (on the grounds that they really, really need to give it to me sooner or later, or else lose all credibility) and a regular Arts Council grant (on the grounds that I really, really need one right now, or else I lose all solvency). Today, though, I spent on a Wingate Scholarship application, for money to pursue my grand Taiwan fantasy sequence. I donít expect to get it; even if I were shortlisted (and it is a damní good application), awards come down to interviews, and I am no damní good at interviews. Why they would ask a writer to defend his work verbally, I am not clear; we are writers because weíre good at writing, not at talking. But hey, thatís the system. And I do believe in engaging with the system; I think itís crucial, that genre writers constantly apply for mainstream awards. Sooner or later weíll break íem down, to the point where the prejudice crumbles.
Itís just too bad that so many applications fall due in the month where Iím trying to do this major rewrite. I canít put them off; nor the marking for the university, although these things steal days from my proper work.
Never mind. Letís talk about food. I donít know if I made this up, or if people have been doing it for years, for generations; I also donít know what to call it, except perhaps a posh version of cottage pie. Whatever, though, itís rather good to eat.
Next time you make a ragú (oh, all right, a bolognese sauce; or any variation of that theme of mince, onions, garlic, tomatoes, stock and red wine), make twice what you need. Next day, take the residue and spread it over the bottom of a buttered ovenproof dish or casserole. If youíre me, add lots of button mushrooms. Make a very thin cheese sauce (butter-and-flour roux, say a not-very-heaped tablespoon of flour to an ounce or two of butter, a pint of milk and a carton of single cream, with a fair amount of strong cheddar grated in). Put a layer of finely sliced potatoes and then a layer of fennel atop the ragu, and pour over some of the sauce. A little salt and pepper, and then layers again; and so on, finishing with a layer of potato and enough sauce to bring the liquid up to the same level. Put on the lid, or cover with foil, and slide into a medium oven. Slip a baking-tray into the bottom, to catch the overspill (and there will be overspill, if the liquid is anywhere near the lip of the dish).
Then leave it alone for an hour and a half. Have a look at it at that point, and if the potatoes are soft already, take the lid or foil off. If not, give it another half an hour. Once itís cooked to that degree, let it have another half an hour or forty-five minutes, till the top is crisply golden; if you lose patience, use a grill, but itís better if you let the oven do the work. Then serve and eat. Yum-yum.
© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.