Monday, February 26, 2007

Another Birthday, Two Hangovers, and a Whole Lot of Cooking...

This week it was Spouse's turn for birthday festivities, so I had invited some friends and family for dinner. As it was the start of Lent last week, I had decided to forswear alcohol for the duration. Less out of any spiritual reason and more out of the feeling I need to dry out somewhat.

I should have known this was a non starter, as I think this every year and every year Spouse's birthday inconveniently falls on the wrong side of Lent.

It didn't take me long to break my vow of abstinence, as on Friday night my lovely luscious sister arrived to see us. Lovely Luscious Sister, really is that. When we were growing up we used to joke that she could wear a black bin liner (indeed she probably was, it was the era of punk) and look good. And the same still applies today. I should of course hate her for this but I can't because she is far too lovely and luscious to be hated, and if I did I wouldn't be party to her very entertaining and erudite discourse. So of course as she is so lovely and luscious I love her without a hint of envy (oh, ok maybe one or two, but I can live with it.)

LLS being a fully paid up member of the drinking red wine elite that is my family of course brought some with her. When I feebly suggested I shouldn't be drinking both she and Spouse chimed in with, but it's Friday. Which was enough for me to shed principles to the wind and dive in there. And as Spouse has a healthy supply of a rather nice 1996 rioja that he bought cheap from Majestic, it did seem a bit of a waste not to join in.

As a result I was not unnaturally soon pretty wasted myself. As luck would have it I had gone on a cooking blitz the previous evening and made soup, a chicken dish and a fish pie, so my lack of cooking ability didn't matter, as I could just produce the chicken dish from the fridge and put it together with some couscous. Instant cooking. Easy when you know how...

What was not so easy, was focussing the next day. By the time we hit the sack, far too much red wine had been consumed, we had all watched V for Vendetta through an alcoholic haze, and then Spouse and I had insisted that poor LLS stayed up to watch our favourite moments in film. What you haven't seen Last of the Mohicans? we cried, you MUST see this - quite what she made of watching five minutes of one of my top five films (mind you it was the best five minutes, when Daniel Day Lewis exhorts Madeline Stowe to stay alive whatever she does), I don't know, but being lovely and luscious she was of course very polite about it.

Luckily for her, we couldn't find the Thirteenth Warrior - an obscure (and some might say rightly so) film about a bunch of 9th/10th/ who knows? century Scandinavians who rope in Antonio Banderas who plays an Arabic scholar, as their thirteenth warrior in the fight against evil bastards who want to destroy them. Much murder and mayhem takes place before the epic ending (and arguably again the best five minutes of the film), in which all the Norseman stand up one by one at the start of the battle and repeat a litany that begins, Lo there, I see my father. Lo there I see my brother, and my mother and sisters, and all the warriors that have gone before. etc etc. The last line belongs, naturally to Antonio, who gets to follow up the penultimate line about all the warriors going to join their ancestors in the halls of Valhalla, where they will stay, (and here comes Antonio's ine) "forever". I'm sure it's a direct lift from some Norse poem, but who cares...

However, LLS was spared that and politely declined to join us for the end of Plunkett and Maclaine (another fairly obscure but wittily brilliant historical Restoration drama). I love it not only for how fabulous Robert Carlyle is (and let's face it when isn't he?) but also for the fact it contains the Earl of Rochester who is one of my literary heroes. He's more effete here then in Johnny Depp's brilliant portrayal in The Libertine (another obscure and underrated film), but he's joyously wickedly corrupt nonethelesss. Having watched Robert Carlyle rescue Johnny Lee Miller from the gallows (if you haven't seen it, it has to be one of the best gallows rescues you're ever likely to witness), Spouse and I eventually staggered to bed at 2am. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Saturday of course is our day of purgatory, when we are punished for all our sins by dragging the children out to their various classes. So much as I longed to lie in bed, I did get my weary hungover self out of the sack, and feeding children at a reasonably civilised time, and then set off for the ballet run. LLS very kindly came with me to keep my company and I managed neither to keel over of be sick while we watched no 3 (who was having a severe attack of nerves about the show and didn't want to come) skipping about.

Once back from ballet, I cooked pizza for the children while starting to prepare a cheesecake. This as it turned out was a very good move, as my reactions were dulled to the point of ineptitude and I had to reread the instructions several times over. I should of course have been following the recipe my mother had given me over the phone in Sainsburys when I rang up to enquire what ingredients I was likely to need, but sadly I was lacking a pen at the time, and my memory isn't what it was, plus I'd knocked out several more thousand brain cells from my non abstinence the previous night, so I doubt I'd have remembered anyway.

The cheesecake recipe was luckily fairly easy to follow, but I made the mistake of using a rather shallow dish, so when I poured the filling in, most of it ended up on the kitchen table. Still, at least that bit was done.

I thought about cooking the duck I had bought the previous day, but decided it was too soon. So I left it till later. A nearly fatal mistake....

At 3.15 it was time to toddle off to take no 3 to her next show rehearsal (cue more wailing and tears), say goodbye to LLS and head into town to buy Spouse a birthday present. It is an interesting fact about the way relationships change that, in times of yore, before we were sprogged up, I would have spent many hours thinking what to get him, and devoted even more to buying him the precise thing he needed. I was never late with presents, and always had a card. Spouse on the other hand took years to remember that my birthday was in July not June, frequently got to the day empty handed with a promise of good things to come, and on one occasion even made me a birthday card out of wood, with hinges which bore the merry legend, Happy Birthday you old Bat.

As time has gone on, however, the roles have reversed somewhat. Now it is more likely then not Spouse who has gone out scouring the clothes shops (usually with no 1 &2 in tow to veto his choices) and lavishing me with the sort of gifts I had hitherto imagined were bestowed on more worthy huswifs then me. And as for my efforts - particuarly since no 4 has been on the scene, they grow yearly more pathetic. I did get a card with the sprogs, and they all bought him presents at the British Museum, but other then that I was completely empty handed come 4pm on Saturday. I was also right out of ideas, which didn't help much either.

I had agreed with bil and sil that we would get both series of The Green Wing between us - but I kept forgetting which ones we'd agreed to buy. Cue my third phone call to them while in HMV to try and remember. And as soon as I put the phone down I forgot again (it's those bloody brain cells I lost on Friday night, I knew I'd be needing them).

In desperation I also got him Life on Mars (probably more for me then him to be frank, I could watch John Sims for hours...) plus a couple of CDs and some books, although the book I was after Mark Gatiss's follow up to his brilliant (but probably obscure if you don't like the League of Gentlemen) Vesuvius Club, seemed to elude me rather. I did track down one copy in Waterstones but they said it was in the stockroom and then let slip the paperback was coming out in June, so I think he'll have to have it for Father's Day instead...

My shopping done, it was back home to start preparations for our guests. Given that the children had spent all of Friday night/Saturday morning playing with their cousin, which entailed taking out not only all the clothes in the dressing up box, but also all my posh dresses which were worn, swapped and then discarded all over the house, I was fairly disheartened to see the amount of work required to make the place vaguely acceptable for dinner party guests. Fortunately they happened to be bil and sil and our best friends, and they all know that a domestic goddess I am not. However, I do like to at least pretend.

So at 5.30 while Spouse had gone out to pick no 3 up I was desperately trying to make some order out of chaos, and throwing things at the children to take upstairs. Most of it has ended up in our bedroom - the repository of all things that belong nowhere else when you have guests arriving imminently - where it all still remains until I finish this blog and get on with sorting it all out.

By 6.30 things were looking somewhat better, but the table wasn't set in the dining room and I suddenly realised I didn't have an ironed tablecloth. Trying to work out if I a) had time to iron one and b) could still dress the cheesecake with blackcurrants (from the garden natch, and frozen months ago), and deciding I didn't, I cheated and grabbed a cloth which has definitely seen better days and covered up its deficiencies with a non iron one, which wasn't quite big enough for the table but served brilliantly as a cover up.

As Spouse set the table I got on with the important business of decorating the cheesecake, before he pointed out that I had forgotten to top and tail the blackcurrants before I froze them. So they all had to come off and Spouse did it while I got on with preparing the duck. First bit was easy - simply shove the pieces of duck into a roasting tin and leave it to cook. However, the orange sauce I was after took some doing, and as usual I didn't have all the right ingredients.

My first error was to peel the oranges and chuck most of the peel out before reading that I needed to use it in the sauce. Damn.

I then realised that having used duck pieces rather then a whole duck I didn't have giblets to make stock - an apparently vital ingredient in the sauce. I improvised and poured off the juices that had come from the duck. Of course they were enormously fatty, so when I put them together with arrowroot for thickening I had a terrible moment when I thought I was just going to be serving everyone lumps of fat. Fortunately I was able to pour off the worst excesses, but then was left with minimal amounts of sauce, so I had to fall back on that old favourite, aah, Bisto (which I should have used to begin with) to bulk it up. The final touch was supposed to be curacoa, but we didn't have any, so I shoved in some brandy instead. I have no idea what it was supposed to taste like, but it seemed to go down ok, so I think I got away with it...

Despite our efforts to turn the evening into a disaster, remarkably everything after that worked very well and I was even able to overcome my principles (and hangover) one more time to join with the bachanalian fest that ensued.

We had invited mil for lunch on Sunday, so asked bil and sil if they wanted to come too. At 12.30 as we waved them off in a taxi, full of bonhomie and good cheer, this seemed like an excellent idea.

At 7.30am when Spouse woke me, bright breezy and still drunk on birthday cheer, l lay in my pit groaning and wishing for the second day running I had practised abstinence.

As the kids had gone to bed far too late, no one was up in time to do the usual birthday breakfast in bed routine, so Spouse was reduced to making his own breakfast, and me a cup of tea while I festered in the bath till I guiltily remembered I had forgotten to wrap his presents. AND all I had to do it with was Christmas wrapping paper.

After we'd opened presents, drunk tea etc, I went back upstairs to find Spouse's moment of bright breeziness was but that, a moment, and he had retired to bed again. The children were all safely doing.... something.... so I thought it seemed like a good idea to join him, as the room was still spinning somewhat uncomfortably.

I lay there for half an hour before I suddenly remembered I hadn't put the joint in. Or peeled the potatoes. So reluctantly I stirred myself once more and did both before crawling back upstairs again.

I managed to doze off, but then woke up in a fit of guilt coupled with the sudden realisation that no 3 had a party to get to by 3pm and I had better get my skates on if she was going to get fed by then. Mil was due round at 12.30 and I was still peeling the rest of the veg when she arrived.

As I had left over egg whites and lemon from the previous evening I decided that lemon meringue pie was the thing. It is years since I've made it so I was squinting through my hangover at the cookery book for inspiration. It all seemed way too complicated to follow after a heavy night, especially as I suddenly realised I was supposed to cook the pastry base first - the pastry base, you understand that I hadn't even prepared yet.

While I was getting that underway and making yorkshires, bil and sil arrived - having decided that faced with the prospect of marking or having lunch with us, there really was no contest. Sil very nobly offered to help clear up - such was my bewildered state I was rendered completely incapable of clearing up the chaos I was leaving in my wake. Unfortunately in her enthusiasm she chucked out the lemon juice I was saving for my filling. Never mind, the boys cried, we'll go hunter gathering and get some more. Not to worry, I responded I think Spouse chucked out my saved egg whites as it happens. No I didn't he said. Ah, no he hadn't - I discovered them hiding at the back of the fridge. So he was allowed to go hunter gathering after all. The downside was that as our fridge has gone a bit mental of late and is behaving like a freezer, said egg whites were frozen, but I did manage to overcome this difficulty and make the meringue.

Eventually, and somewhat miraculously, given my hazy grasp on reality, lunch was ready, and for once even my yorkshires worked. We also got to the table just before two, so no 3 could go to the ball too. I shoved the lemon meringue pie in the oven just before we sat down, forgetting to check the temperature required. Bearing in mind our oven gets very hot, and I recently had to chuck some flapjacks as they were on too high, you'd think I would have learnt by now wouldn't you?


It will come as no surprise to hear that as sil helped carry plates back into the kitchen, she said Is something burning?

Oh shit. It was the lemon meringue pie.

Fortunately, we rescued it just in time - the meringue was fairly brown, but not too cinder like.

Someone somewhere seems to like me.

Even if I can't keep my promises...


mad muthas said...

saturday=day of purgatory
i hear you!

Nic said...

Jane, I was wiping tears away as I read this - I know I shouldn't laugh at someone else's chaos, but it does take my mind off my own!!!

Lucy Diamond said...

I hope you've recovered by now, Jane. Phew. At least it's all over for another year!