Beverley Nicholls held three dinner parties a year. Not wishing to emulate his lifestyle, although he was very privileged, I do share his passion for food, and good company.
This week I shall host a small dinner party. That’s always exciting. My circle of friends is small, and most are beautiful ladies. Not sure why, I don’t feel like a lecherous old man, although that is just my own opinion. In any case I love my friends, even though I no longer have any desire to physically ravish any of them, however attractive they may appear.
It was a random decision. I knew I was going to be alone for at least a week, and my place needed to be tidied. That’s the first requirement: I must be motivated, spurred into action. A good friend says of me ‘he will do anything for others, but rarely does anything for himself’. I’m getting better; I now shower, shave and dress in clean clothes every day. I also try to keep my place tidy. There’s the rub!
However tidy I try to be it’s always untidy. Waste-paper baskets remain crammed, I know there’s a lump of uneaten brisket festering in a slow cooker in the kitchen; that I can’t be troubled to remove. Or perhaps I know it will be too much trouble? Books, papers, odd pieces of equipment, remain where I placed them, ages ago. I am a slob!
That’s one reason for a dinner invitation. I’m then motivated to tidy up my place. That always takes me much longer than expected, but I’ve learnt to start cleaning at least three days before the big event.
Slowly the tension rises. Planning a menu, I flick through the Web and my collection of books, ignoring the recipes provided by celebrity cooks; they are always too expensive, even if you can get past the turbot (excuse me fishmonger, do you have any turbot today?) and caviar, or truffles. Not sold in my local shops. They will then spend money on all those ‘extras’ that make the dish, usually costly items that must be used before they decay, and which the chef suggests just need to be sprinkled over the dish at the last minute. What shall I do with the stuff I don’t use for that menu? Wait until its grown an overcoat then add to the compost? Yes, that’ll do.
Menu planned. It’s now time to go shopping. My favourite butcher has just gone out of business, they pushed up his rent and rates beyond reason, and he’s scarpered. The other favourite is closed on Monday. I want a shoulder of lamb. Stupid of me really. This country now sends all its lamb abroad often still alive, to be slaughtered in the halal fashion by a man who’s never yielded a knife before. I shudder for those poor creatures. Upshot of farmer’s greed is that we can no longer buy our best lamb. It’s a disgrace.
I like shopping. Unfortunately my basic menu plan is corrupted as I waddle from one shop to the next, laden with more and more interesting titbits. Starter was to be smoked peppers on soda bread. I’d found the Spelt flour at home (used by the Romans, y’know). It has now turned to an array of antapasta dishes we can share. That’s quadrupled preparation time already. No ricotta to be found anywhere but I do find buffalo mozzarella, and pasta shapes going cheap. OK, there will be some modification. Buying the lamb must wait until tomorrow. I’ll put it into a slow cooker (suitably cleaned and sterilised), with loads of garlic and herbs. Hope I can get it boned. It’s a job I never relish, as I’ve never got one of those vicious knives held in the fist, in a stabbing action, used by butchers.
Pudding? I’ve invited three women, so it must be chocolate. A mousse, perhaps? I found a bottle of creme de menthe in the cupboard. I wonder if they all like peppermint chocolate? Not sure. They are a fickle lot, and I have to retain a memory of the likes and dislikes of each one. No mushrooms. No pork or beef, although she will will eat lamb and venison. Hmm. Fish can be difficult, and I normally have to ask as I issue the invitation. Shellfish is relished by some, hated by others. Best left, and anyway I’m thinking about pudding. Something chocolate. Hmm.
I bought some Sicilian cheese from a street market in Manningtree yesterday, so some goat cheese, a lump of Cheddar, a few biscuits and grapes will see that sorted.
Nibbles to start: I have Quinoa crisps and olives. We’ll see if they work. Coffee maker better come out of storage, and I can then offer a selection of capsules. I’ll be prepared for the environmental sneers.
However the local supermarket (Waitrose!) has 25% off wines. I buy seven bottles: all are organic, online to be collected tomorrow Status restored. They will all bring wine, making ten bottles for four of us. Should be enough. They will all walk home, to be sober up!
Entertaining is so much fun!