Boiled eggs. The ideal ending to a bluesy Sunday.
You are far too lazy and far too depressed to even consider cooking anything which requires more than three ingredients. Frankly, the idea is absurd. But thank you, thank you for eggs. Easy, simple, beautiful eggs. What could possibly tarnish these precious planetary orbs?
The term ‘dippy’ springs immediately to mind. Let’s have dippy eggs for supper. DIPPY? They are not stupid. They are bright and brilliant, eggsclamation mark. Thus, if you are one of those philistines who uses this derrogatroy label to describe your boiled eggs, I suggest you boil yourself and indeed your attitude along with your prospective dinner. Little sister, you have henceforth been publicly disgraced.
Of course, an egg, smart or dumb, is not an egg without soldiers. All in a row. With identical suits of black armour. It has to be my mate, marmite. For those who are too rich, too cultured, too “Rome daaarling” for poor man’s soldiers, spears of asparagus are the next best thing. Either way, these troopers are defenceless, doomed to a digestible fate. A fate which is inextricably linked to the consistency of the yolk. More fiercely debated than the philosophical question of ‘the-chicken-or-the-egg’, the correct method of boiling the perfect egg is hotly contested. It has become, courtesy of Delia Smith, an art.
Whether you are, by nature, hardcore, mellow or somewhere in between, we are all aiming for that ‘pierce-and-ooze’ quality that our brave little soldiers can paddle in. Step one is easy: water in pan. Boiling? Cold? The jury is out. What you are more concerned with is how to get those delicately suicidal eggs out of the fridge and into the pan all in one piece, without burning the skin off your fingertips. Spoon them in, roll them in, catapult them in but for goodness’ sake do not allow them to touch the metal bottom. The dubious crack that oozes white pus signals game over.
Two bald ovals bump and bubble like silly twins riding the dodgems.
Minutes on the clock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
Timing is everything.
So is the eating. The real question is, are you a Fisher or a Whittaker?
Egg eaters the world over will fall into one of these categories which relate to the method of attack used by my grandparents’ respective families.
If you are a Whittaker, like my grandfather, you will possess a merciless demeanor and a guillotine sharp knife. In the manner of The Queen of Hearts, Whittakers wield their blade with a firm hand and emit a bloodcurdling “Off With His Head” as their target is struck. A resounding crack of terracotta shell and it’s all over. Beheaded and bleeding sunshine, your victim awaits enemy invasion. Alas, your valiant soldiers meet a similar end, drowned in golden glue.
Or maybe, like my grandmother and the Fisher clan, you advocate a rather more nonviolent demonstration which does away completely with the savage knife. Instead, Fishers commission mirror shine spoons which skip happily to assistance. Concave meets concave. Gentle tap. Carefully and with love, Fishers peel the jigsaw pieces away to reveal a milky moon. A smooth edge sinks into pale skin with ease, uncovering the roof of a golden pool. Here, off duty soldiers bathe and melt in a snug jacuzzi, laid back, relaxed, perfect.
Whittaker or Fisher, we all mourn the empty, melancholy shell. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t manage it but you can. So, without hesitation, put Humpty Dumpty back together again with a condescending pout. Hurrah!
Scrambled. Poached. Boiled. Fried. Sunny-side up. Sunny-side down. Raw with meat. Chocolate and sweet.
The Mother Earth of Sweet.
Generalise if I may, it seems to me that the sexes are divided once again by chocolate. Men, for example, forever insist on cooling their precious bars in the fridge. Is this a bid to hide a secret habit that might cause emasculation or is it because, as they claim, chocolate is like revenge: best served cold? Whatever the reason, this behaviour is idiotic. Chocolate should be revered, respected. Chocolate belongs in the cozy cupboard next to the desperate times, desperate measures jar of Nutella that doubles as a drinking glass. After all, no household is truly complete without a cheerful mish-mash collection of Nutella glasses void, of course, of spoon hacked hazelnut traces.
The best chocolate is chocolate. Everything else is an imitation. That includes Bruce Bogtrotter chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate biscuits and chocolate ice cream. Don’t even get me started on the overwhelming disappointment that is hot chocolate. Give me a river of chocolate. Give me an ocean of melted cocoa. Do not give me warm brown water with sodden pink and white marshmallows bobbing amid islands of artificial cream that prides itself on being ‘squirty’.
Give me a bar. The bigger the better. Let me indulge, devour, polish off the whole lot in one sitting. An illicit slab of finders-keepers, all-mine, get-your-own cocoa ecstasy. Break off a triangular square of mouthwatering joy and like an alchemist, transform chocolate cubes into liquid gold. You are the protagonist of your own chocolate advert. Cue a close-up of sultry lips enveloping praline heaven while long-lashed lids melt shut in an expression of indulgence. Switch off your sense of sight to heighten the taste. Close your eyes, trust me. Honeyed taste buds will luxuriate even more as swirls of sweetness coat every inch of your mouth. Maximum gratification is attainable through savouring each and every chocolate chunk. That means lollipop sucking not chomp guzzle swallowing. If the latter occurs, it is advisable to relinquish the remaining mahogany block to its gold foil and purple paper.
Chocolate bars are selfish. Choc-boxes were created for sharing. This doesn’t mean, however, that you will be more inclined to generosity. Take, for example, the dinner party fiasco. The polite box of chocolates offered dutifully at the beginning of an insipid meal, largely surrendered in the hope that your hosts will return the favour at the end by laying the chocolate tray atop the wine stained table cloth. When it’s your turn to host, a subconscious battle rages within you throughout the duration of the meal, cunning plans reveal themselves to help postpone the awkward moment when the fleeting chocolate prize must be sacrificed: stall guests with coffee, ply them with heavy food, let the wine floweth, enthral them with riveting conversation, anything but chocolate. Keep them away from my chocolate. Then the inevitable: a satisfied pat on pregnant tummies, the leaning back in the chair, the irritating smack of indulged lips. Finally, the typically English suggestion-demand: “Oooooh, I wouldn’t say no to something sweet. Round that delicious meal off nicely”. Wink wink, nudge nudge. Need I say more? Acquiescent hosts give in at the first hurdle, while others will ignore the hint with a pedantic air, nose lifted ceilingwards, saving the treat for themselves.
Rounded cardboard corners are stroked lovingly then prised apart to reveal silky treasure, a pair of heart-shaped rubies glittering boisterously amid cadences of sepia: chestnut, coffee, beige and ebony, caramel, tan, hazel, mahogany. White chocolates join the growing list of extinct species while milk chocolates are hunted relentlessly but manage to endure to the bitter end. Camouflaged against safe black plastic, dark chocolates crouch tentatively, hoping to escape consumption until, like the unpopular schoolchild waiting to be picked for the team, all the best have been chosen. Never, since the introduction of Michelin starred restaurants, have menus been so diligently studied. Eager eyes peruse classic and exotic combinations in search of the perfect partner for their too-sweet tooth. Wrappers twist and sing only to be tossed recklessly in the direction of the rubbish bin. The lucky few bounce off the rim like a basketball and are recycled in a betting game between two competitors who both claim imperious authority in the AIM-SHOOT-SCORE department.
That joyful moment when the rejects are finally plucked from a near empty top layer, chomped hurriedly and swallowed alive, in the manner of Augustus Gloop, impatient to unveil the darkened under-layer. Alas, you’re too late. The sacred chest has already been plundered. This counts as a criminal act and should be punishable by law. The culprit should be subjected to eating the strawberry creams. Unless, of course, said culprit has a penchant for fruit flavoured chocolate. See below for more details.
Research has recently revealed that the secret of relationship longevity and happiness is directly proportional to the degree of opposing preferences in chocolate. Not sure if you and your partner are ‘meant for each other’? Complete this simple test. When you next find yourself in the Willy Wonka aisle of the supermarket, bypass the astronomical selection of chocolate on offer in favour of a lucky dip style packet. Orange, strawberry, coffee creams on one side. Nutty, caramel, raisin centres on the other. They say opposites attract. This could not be more applicable to harmonious chocolate sharing. If you’re an tangy orange cream, your ideal match would be a smooth caramel or a nutty nougat.
In the same way that binge drinkers and ‘social smokers’ meet their downfall on Friday nights, the resolve of chocolate addicts is tested to its limit at the petrol station check-out counter. One for the road.
Lessen the guilt. Go organic. Choose Green & Black’s.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Time ticks forward and tocks back again in an eternal dreamscape. Seconds expand like elastic, minutes melt like butter.
No alarm. Forget-me-nots forgotten.
Golden light tickles gluey eyelashes, trickling through lids of shadow that draw the curtain on a neon universe of dripping clock-faces and red raw lobsters. Dawn patterns flicker like a flame before dissolving into the windows of the soul. Dusty breath undulates effortlessly, cleansing chakras and cascading over bubblegum lips into a shallow pool. Rippling, cooling, shivering; an ellipsis floating past a taciturn speech bubble.
A lion yawn escapes as a dreamy ‘oh’, paws and claws uncurl and flex exploring the endless plains, eagle spread. Eyes should remain closed; sight would only hinder this delicious, tangible moment. Fingertips tingle as they reach the precipice of warmth. Then slowly… divinely… your sailing hands have reached their destination:
Welcome to ‘The Cool Patch’, famous for its crystal shores and crisp breezes, surf on soapy waves of newly washed sheets and luxuriate in fleecy pillow dunes. A playground for the senses. Perfect for every member of the family: hands, feet, the Eastern side of your face.
Blushing cheeks crave the other side of the pillow, dark and minty like the underside of a rock. Legs tiptoe to the opposite points of the compass in search of icy seas, threatening to plummet over the edge of the world. This moment is everlasting, transient. Like a chilly cocktail in a thermal hand, ice cubes melt and liquify. The moon bows to the sun and so, limbs set sail anew and make their Christopher Columbus way in pursuit of glacial climes.
My bed is a cloud. Five more minutes.
Bread is a staple. Toast is a necessity.
No one can get toast wrong. Or can they?
The first test arises with the yielding of the bread knife. Even the slightest of distractions could affect the outcome of this critical carving; the tut of the kettle pronouncing boiling point, the stubborn crackle of a newspaper being bent into shape. A door stop slice will doubtless end up incarcerated behind toaster bars; the price of release amounting to nothing less than electrocution. A paper thin slice, on the other hand, could lead to inadvertent arson. Best to stick to the straight and narrow.
Twist the dial on the toaster. Two? Three? Four? Most of us prefer to err on the side of caution, selecting a safe setting three in an attempt to avoid sandpapering black dust into the bin’s reluctant mouth. The popular setting ‘one’ is used to top up the crunch factor in accordance with personal taste. Choices range from Crisp Burnt to Golden Touch, Soft and Yellow to Al Dente Crunch.
Those with a penchant for stiff as a board style toast should avoid plate to bread contact at all costs. Sweaty toast is unforgivable. For a poor man’s toast rack, one might lean the sun kissed slice against a fellow member of the breakfast table entourage; the trusty teapot can always be relied upon to support a friend in need. Otherwise, a two slice crust to crust kiss will suffice.
Toast deserves the best. That means butter. Real butter. That does not include duplicitous butter that dubs itself as ‘spreadable’. Can’t believe it’s not butter? Hit yourself over the head with a frying pan and knock some sense into yourself. As for those of you out there who truly believe that bypassing the butter will accelerate weight loss, my dad being a prime culprit, well take another look at that heavily dented frying pan.
One vies for superiority, flaunting a grandiose label from an upper-class supermarket superciliously across its chest. The other stands self-assured, humble, waiting patiently. Summer fruit flavours line up for inspection on the snow covered table: Forest fruit, Peach and Cherry. Blueberry, Strawberry, Every Berry. Fridge chilly glass shields tender fruit. Armour against breakfast swords. A victim is prised from amidst the huddle of its conserve comrades then decapitated. Crimson glucose bleeds onto sharp silver edges.
The remains of the jam are scrutinised. You could probably get a generous serving if you let your knife poke around and explore each angle of the jar. But no. Alas, the proud pot of raspberry conserve nudges its way into your hazy mind like a valiant knight through fog. The scarlet jelly sighs as metal pierces silk. Pure. Chaste. Shine meets shine. There is nothing like it. A sensible hand replaces the checkered roof over its precious contents while immature fingers click the centre of the lid. A playful pop or two signals first come, first served victory.
Having endured the flames of the furnace, toast is finally rewarded. Lashings of jam transcend into a generous caress, smooth and thick, covering the entire surface area. Crust to crust. Edge to edge. Patches of creamy white butter peep through the glimmering sugar glaze, determined to behold an aerial view of the tablecloth, newly adorned with crumbs, before being blanketed in red velvet.
Ladies and gentlemen, please raise your glasses.
Cinema Foyer. The scent of spun sugar and well trodden carpet permeates the claustrophobic space. Step up to the front of the queue. Reluctantly, you purchase your extortionately expensive tickets for the film whose name you have trouble recalling under pressure. You wait for the question that will ensure your dignity remains intact:
“Can I get you anything else?”
A pretence at unexpected consideration follows, littered with the customary ‘ummmms’ and ‘aaaaahs’ as you inspect the golden treasure that teases you through the sticky-hand glass. Refusal is out of the question. An affirmative nod stalls the usually adolescent attendant as you peruse the prices, furtively comparing them with the size of the paper bags.
A hushed deliberation between you and your guilty looking friend ensues. The debate is always the same. Medium or large? The large is only 30p more expensive, it’s ten times bigger than the medium, we don’t have to eat it all, popcorn really isn’t that bad for you, it’s like having a bowl of cornflakes…
“Okay, yes, we’ll have the (ahem) large popcorn please. To share. Obviously.”
The next part of the popcorn buying process can be quick-fire reply easy or compromisingly painful. This is entirely dependent on whom you have bestowed the honour of receiving the free counterpart of your precious ‘Orange Wednesday 241′ code. If life were fair, your friend would concede willingly to your decision to live on the wild side by combining sweet and savoury. Life, however, is not fair; a mantra drilled into you as a kid as a last ditch attempt to curtail a supermarket tantrum on the ‘I want one of those’ aisles.
“Sweet or salt?”
A jarring chorus delivered in unison cries: “SWALT!”
Raised eyebrows. The obligatory act of martyrdom fills the next minute or ten, then follows the breakthrough that gives compromise the cold shoulder.
“Make that two large popcorns, one salt, one sweet.”
You smugly decline the offer of the Coca-Cola that’s twice the size of your head; two more modest bottles of sugary fizz snuggle stealthily beside crumpled receipts and a phone that claims to be more intellectually advanced than Einstein.
Two tickets balance precariously on the yellow mountain and so begins the impossible task of surviving the journey into the womb-like depths of ‘Screen 3′ without allowing any bids for freedom or suicide attempts to take place. Those lucky or unlucky enough to escape digestion, jump ship and land safely before being stamped into gold dust.
Muscles melt into velvet darkness. A firm hand cuddles the bundle of golden crunch protectively to your chest, perching innocently on your lap like a happy child.
The first chosen few are scooped hurriedly into sweaty palms, the incongruent corners of each morsel hugging the other to form an edible jigsaw puzzle. Their siblings, nestled safely at the bottom of the bag, tremble in anticipation of their fate as appetites fluctuate and flounder.
Tastebuds delight at the miscreant piece of corn that dares individuality by dressing itself in a coat of clashing sugar or salt. Some take it too far and, having enjoyed the warmth of the oven for too long, sport an audacious black whose bitter aftertaste assumes residence at the back of your tongue.
Etiquette dictates the cessation of crunching amid the silent pauses between advertisements. Yes, that’s right, even if your mouth is full to bursting, your jaw locked around the gradually disintegrating corn and that bold speck lodged in your windpipe is threatening an embarrassing eruption of coughs. A collective inhale of breath lasts an eternity until earbusrting sound engulfs the night and stifles unappetising noises.
Before the opening scenes tumble into your field of vision, your half empty or full (delete as appropriate) bag has been demoted to the gummy floor and your tummy is grumbling in admonishment.
Good film. Should have got the small popcorn.
Do yourself a favour. Next time, just stay at home.
Paperback. Hardback. Fiction. Nonfiction. Old. New. Short. Long. Happy. Sad.
Genre genre genre.
Fingers reach out to turn the glacier brass door knob. A gentle nudge and an old oak door groans open. It is a circular, life affirming space. Books upon books upon books. Volumes disappear into a ceiling-less infinity, studded with stars. A sanctuary of whispered words. Sacred. Holy. This is my church.
Hungry hands slide over dusty shelves, fingertips caressing silk. A single finger traces the faded title embossed on the spine of a book, selected at random. Or maybe it has chosen you. Pry the book from between the grasp of its sticky neighbours who sigh in protest at the disturbance of their indefinite hibernation. Feel the weight in your hands. Warming. Heavy. Comforting. The cover. Judge it? Always. Sometimes you are wrong and sometimes you are right. Reader and read consider one another, face to palm, face to face.
How many hands have grazed and gazed at this cover? How many readers have started and abandoned it? Who has adored it, despised it, agonised over it, savoured it, or been utterly indifferent to its secrets? Once read though, books gain power. Each takes a piece of the soul of the book and carries it like a torn page in a back pocket forever.
Smell. Actively. Empty your lungs and inhale. Flick the worn pages and breathe words, wisdom, life into your heart. Sight is superfluous, your nose is perfectly capable of assimilating literature in a litany of smells: musty, dusty (novels as old as grandad), fresh, crisp, clean (just published), perfumed (glossy magazines), starchy stiff (unopened text book), inky (newspapers).
Nestled into a Chesterfield armchair (ideal scenario), heavy eyelids surrender to the all encompassing warmth that envelops you prior to sleep. Don’t fight it, put the book down, return to the journey post shut-eye. The next part is tricky. World wars have been initiated over less. To turn the corner of the page or not? I say yes. My sister says no. We argue.
Similar qualms debated the world over include bending the spine, leaving the book open, face down, and allowing pages to become ‘scratch and sniffs’ advertising your favourite Starbucks coffee or what you had for breakfast.
Sometimes I lend. Sometimes I refuse to lend. Sometimes I can only abide brand new books. Sometimes I covet second hand editions with personalised dedications; the true meaning of ‘share the word’. Sometimes I wish I could lay my hand on a book and absorb its contents instantaneously. But the pleasure is in the reading: the smell of the ink, the feel of the cover and its pages, the looking towards the top to see if you are over half way, the memories of where you were when you were reading (the summer holiday when it rained incessantly, the cafe near the station while waiting for your first love to arrive).
Books are love. We are very happily married.
Invest in reading. Get involved with goodreads.com
The best sandwiches you will ever taste are those made for you by someone else. This does not include shop bought sandwiches, even if the label boasts that the contents have been assembled ‘fresh and with love’. These sandwiches are shameful and should be sent to the head-teachers office.
Ideally, you want a sandwich that is made by someone you know well, even better by someone who you care about. Want to know if your feelings are reciprocated? It’s all in the sandwich. Appearances are crust deep and have no great significance, all of which is derived in the mouthwatering goodness of the flavour. Pay attention to the frequency and intensity of your involuntary ‘mmmmmmms’ of approval as you lift the bread from it’s cold and lettuce strewn resting plate, and attempt to stuff its entire contents into your too small mouth without choking. It is advisable to gently press the sandwich together in order to combine flavours and ensure minimum embarrassment.
Mayonnaise is not optional. It is, however, in both the sanwiches’ and your best interests to ensure that it remains glued to the interior confines of your bread of choice. White, brown, granary, wholemeal, stale, lightly toasted, warm from the oven, jeweled with sundried tomatoes and olives, half frozen, baguette, best of both. Whatever your choice, watch out for the rogue dollop of mayonnaise clinging to the corners of your crumb littered mouth. A paper napkin is customary.
The most important question when it comes to sandwiches is whether you want yours cut into…
… Squares or triangles?
Post your favourite, weird and wonderful, all time, sandwich combinations below.