Wednesday, November 26, 2003
I've been thinking about canapés. God alone knows why, because the complication & expense cannot be worth the reward; but they are fun. Amuse-gueules, soups served in shot glasses, that end of things. Confit of quail, served on toast. Sheer folly, but I now have a handful of quail cooling gently in goose-fat in the larder. The big question is, what does one spread on the toast? Redcurrant jelly would be unsophisticated, which heaven forfend. Cumberland sauce might do it. Or bread sauce, maybe? I shall just have to play, and run tests on willing friends, if I can find 'em. Must be some out there somewhere...
Meanwhile, my poor Misha-cat has suffered an ingrowing toenail, which caused me to suffer paroxysms of guilt. It was a great horrid claw of a thing (well, duh, yeah, she is a cat, cats do have claws, y'know? - but this was gross, distorted, vast) and I can't believe I hadn't noticed it. Especially as it was on her left front paw, which is the one she uses to attract my attention: via the face and neck, largely, while I'm in bed, and the paw not quite paddy, just not quite. So I gazed at it in dismay and wondered if I could just clip it off and tug it out where it had curled under and grown into her pad, but thought best not, so off to the vet we went. Who chuckled benignly and fetched his clippers, and did exactly that. And told me not to fret, he couldn't remember the last time he'd looked at his own cats' claws; and then he went into some tale about a pony's tail and a tangled cat, which I didn't really listen to because I was still fretful and ashamed. Misha was fine, but it's always me that suffers when we go to the vet.
So then I ran away to Stafford, which is a very long way from anywhere else, for this year's FantasyCon; and did a reading and a couple of panels, and met a lot of new people, and ate some good food and drank monstrously and generally had a thoroughly good time, spoiled only by the bad back and the bad conscience. It's not so long since I was assuring my agents that I could deliver a respectable chunk of the new book before Xmas, and the whole by June; but I am just starting to wonder. As ever, there is too much else in my life; I need space, time, an empty canvas, and I keep filling it with teaching, cooking, partying, other things to write. Not sure if it's a self-destructive urge or just self-indulgent, but it sure is urgent. 'Shit, I've got a book to write; quick, let's find a lot of other things to do...'
Posted by Chaz at 11:55 PM GMT [Link]
Monday, November 17, 2003
I've been in full-on cook mode for the last few days. I wanted to try out a lamb cassoulet with confit of duck on the side, so I invited a few friends round for Saturday night. Simple, straightforward stuff: every now and then it occurs to me that I probably go over the top with dinner parties and that perhaps people are actually a little embarrassed by the profligacy, or else they have to go home and swallow spoonsful of bicarb to settle their outraged stomachs, and neither of those is ideal. So no starter, Chaz, nothing fancy, maybe a bit of cheese afterwards, something like that...
And then I remembered that I have this bottle of cinnamon schnapps with genuine gold flakes floating in it, that I rescued from my bewildered sister's shop in Orkney. Been waiting for an opportunity to test that out. So no starter, but a quick shot of schnapps before dinner, that's not extravagant...
And then I found a recipe for Cape gooseberry upside down cake; and I love upside down cakes, and I love Cape gooseberries (or Chinese gooseberries, or Chinese lanterns, or ground cherries, or physalis). And okay, they're a bit expensive, but no one's going to think about that and it's a very traditional English kind of pudding, so good, we'll cancel the cheese and do that instead...
And then my friend Simon the GP comes round with something a patient had given him. This happens to doctors, apparently, they get gifts from grateful survivors (and, rather more unexpectedly, from the relatives of the deceased - 'He'd have wanted you to have it, doctor.' Uh, why? In the circumstances?). This particular gift was a six-pound trout. Simon's a foodie, but he has a large family who aren't, and he never gets to cook. So here I am with a trout larger and fresher and more wild than I've ever seen before, let alone handled, and I have a dinner party planned and people coming. Well, what else could I do...?
So we start with the schnapps, which is surprisingly good; and then before the cassoulet before the pudding we have cold poached trout with a cucumber mousse and a sort of watercress relish on the side (okay, I confess: it was meant to be another mousse, but I was experimenting with vegetarian alternatives to gelatine and it didn't gel). I had the pan to poach the trout, this vast old steamer that a friend gave me recently, and even that I had to bend the fish to fit it in. And I'd never done poaching-for-cold before, and people had always told me it was so easy: boil the liquid, they said, put in the fish, give it just two minutes and then turn the heat off and let it cool in situ. So I did exactly that, in water with a glass of wine and an onion and a lemon and some herbs and pepper, and people are exactly right, it was perfect. And I thought it looked so gorgeous it really needed a proper plate to sit on, to be presented to my admiring friends; so I shopped town and found the last real fish-plate in the city, and bought it, and brought it home, and as I was unlocking my front door it fell out of my bag and smashed on the doorstep. So I said a few things, and then I went back into town and did a whole nother level of shopping, degree-level shopping, and hunted down a very much prettier (and very much more expensive) plate, and fetched that home with the utmost care, but one of my guests doesn't much care for the baleful glare of a dead fish so we didn't really bother with the presenting bit. Still looked good to me, though heaven only knows when the plate gets used again. How often do you come across a fish so magnificent, so deserving? I may have to take up fishing...
Posted by Chaz at 12:22 AM GMT [Link]
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
If there's one thing I hate - well, all right, any time anyone starts a sentence that way you just know that in fact there are dozens and dozens of things that they hate, and of course that's true of me too, I've always believed it's true of everyone. But one among the many things I hate is cyclists on the pavement. They tell me that it's safer for them than the road, and I'm sure that's true. No doubt it would be safer for motorcyclists also to use the pavement; it just wouldn't be safer for us pedestrians. Actually, I could take you to places here in Newcastle where motorcyclists do use the pavement, and I'm right, it's not at all safe for us pedestrians. Nor is any pavement, where the pushbikes think they have a right to run. I was walking home from the supermarket yesterday, came to a corner and headed to the kerb, looking for the traffic - and suddenly I was slammed into from the side, I was falling into the road in a tangle of metal and legs and yup, here came the traffic, just a foot or two from my head. I'm not clear if it had time to swerve or if I was just lucky not to have fallen further, but happily it did miss me. And my glasses. So I recovered those, which was about the moving I could manage immediately, and found I'd been knocked over in the most literal of senses by a boy on a mountain bike. And okay, he was a child - but twelve years old or thereabouts, very much of that age where he ought to be playing with the traffic or staying at home. And his parents were right behind him, and they picked him up and fussed over him and over his bike and gave me no more than the most perfunctory 'Are you okay?' - to which I confess my answer was even more terse. Because no, I was not okay. I'd skinned my knees like a little kid, ruined a good pair of jeans, wrenched my bad shoulder and very thoroughly twanged my slipped disc; and actually they were lucky that I was so shaken up and in so much pain, because I was also very, very angry and their precious boy would have learned some interesting new words if I'd actually been competent to speak. If I'd been a little quicker to get up, his bike might have gone to play in the traffic with or without him astride it. But I wasn't, I was slow; indeed they were gone before I was on my feet. Which is the other reason I wouldn't allow cyclists on the pavement, because they're so bloody rude as well as dangerous. As it happens, of course, they're not allowed on the pavement, it's against the law. But then so's parking on the pavement, and everyone does that too. I'm just going to have to start a campaign, form a single-issue political party, make a bore and a nuisance of myself. Or go for direct action, chain myself to the bumper of the next car that parks outside my gate, or hurl myself under the wheels of the next bike that comes along. Except that I've done that, of course, and it's no fun at all. Sigh...
Posted by Chaz at 12:43 AM GMT [Link]
Monday, November 10, 2003
I was talking heretofore about heroes, and how I'm not supposed to have them any more, and yet I do; and, what, just a couple of weeks after I do the Steve-Bell-and-Terry-Jones thing, suddenly I'm doing it again. And you'll forgive me, I know name-dropping is supposed to be a bad thing, but what the hell. Into each life a little excitement's gotta fall, and there's no point keeping a log if you don't log the fun stuff.
Preamble: this is not the name-dropping, we haven't got there yet, but Sean O'Brien has been a mate of mine for years now, I've known him the better part of a decade. He's a friend, a drinking-partner and someone to have an intellectual argument with any time I fancy losing in that very thorough way that leaves you mentally lying sprawled in the gutter with your teeth knocked loose; but he's also - in my estimation - the leading poet of his generation, and on his way now to becoming a genuinely important playwright also. So I was something more than flattered a couple of months back, when he asked me to go round to his place and help with a read-through of his new play, Keepers of the Flame.
I love to read aloud, other people's work as well as my own, poetry or drama as well as prose. This was both, it's a play in blank verse about art and fascism and Mephistophelean deals; it was a pleasure and a privilege to be a part (well, several parts) of the read-through, and I entirely enjoyed myself.
I also got invited to the guest night when the play opened at Live Theatre in Newcastle this week. Which meant I got to go and have a drink first, and then watch real actors go where I had gone before (and treasure a little private whisper in the back of my head that just knew that I was better...), and then hang out again after while the cast came through to party.
Which meant - and so we come to it at last - that I got to speak to Alan Howard. Who has been my idol of a classical actor these twenty-some years, since I saw him play Richard III with the RSC; and he's still the best Richard I've ever seen, and this was my chance to tell him so. I am, of course, not worthy, but sometimes you've just got to go there anyway.
Posted by Chaz at 01:10 AM GMT [Link]
© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.