Tuesday 30 April 2013

Tales of extraordinary kindness

Writing continues unabated in my kitchen.
The toothpicks holding my eyelids up have been photo-shopped
A little while ago I lost my baby son's red medical book somewhere between my flat and Bloomsbury. A week or so later, the book was sent to me along with a letter to my son that stated where the finder had found it (Gower street) and suggesting that my son give it to his parents for safe keeping. It would likely be safer were my son to take care of it himself. I was struck by the kindness of this stranger and by his beautiful handwriting. Before writing back to express my thanks, I googled him - he has an unusual double-barrelled name - and discovered he is a well known British actor. Perhaps he was stepping out of RADA when he stepped on the red book. 

There are two Zimbabwean men whom I have yet to meet, who have gone out of their way to help me get my book "After the Rains" to more readers, particularly in Zimbabwe where I most long for it to be read. The first, Roger, works with books in Zimbabwe. He has introduced me to many of his contacts who have gone on to help me and has selflessly dispensed frank advice from his cache of expert knowledge. The second, Jason, runs a Zimbabwean website. He has similarly helped me, with a review and even running a competition for the book. Another lovely Zimbabwean woman, Les, offered to stock my books in her shop in Zimbabwe in order to support another Zimbabwean charity. Given it is a feat similar to roller-skating up Snowdon via Crib Goch to get ones books into Zimbabwe, I was overjoyed by her offer. She too has gone out of her way for me in a variety of ways. I recently met Les, what a hoot, her kindness has led to friendship. 

Six weeks ago my baby son was born. Friends from church immediately offered to help. Two friends, Cleverson and Fatima regularly brought round food to cook for us. Fatima has been coming round every week to cook delicious food. When she leaves, the children rush in to see what delights are in store. Cleverson is very busy running the church venue in Soho amongst many other things and Fatima is in the midst of exams and assignments but they chose to help us nonetheless.

Why am I writing about these kindnesses? Kindness seems to be a rarer and rarer demonstrative gift. So often I am struck by the lack of it: on the tubes and the buses, in the shops where people seem to be impatiently focussed solely on their own needs. On the roads fellow drivers are mostly pushy and selfish. Thus when kindness is demonstrated, it glitters like gold and ought to be celebrated. If only our streets could be paved with it.

Friday 12 April 2013

Nutty Pesto Pasta (posh version, super posh version and student version)

I have decided to publish a recipe every now and again (I daren't pretend I will stick to some weekly routine) due to friends often asking for recipes after they come round for a meal - yurrer, yurrer, I hear you say, all 'cooks' who publish recipes state that they have been forced to do so by popular demand. Well in my case it's true! I never use recipes in the traditional sense (unless I am baking Mary), rather, I tend to read recipes and magpie bits of them and then make the rest up as I go along. I began experimenting with cooking (amongst other less healthy things) as a teenager and it (and I) grew from there. Our friend Roy, doodler extraordinaire and head honcho from bubble up tv http://www.bubbleup.tv/came round last Tuesday and asked for the recipe for Nutty Pesto Pasta - easier than pie - pasta is always easier than pie. Pie is not easy, never mind the saying. Here goes:

Posh version: Basically you need good quality pasta - I like the giant shells as when you lift one to your ear, you can hear Lake Como calling you - a jar of pesto and some cashews or hazels or almonds. Use about a jar per 500g of dry weight posh-looking pasta - crush the nuts and sprinkle over. Voila! The pesto idea belongs to the Italians, the pasta, the arguably the Chinese and the Italians too. Why not get some Italians and Chinese in a room with some Chianti and whatever Chinese booze and get them to argue the toss? There are three versions: posh, super posh and student, to suit all budgets!

- Boil the pasta until it is el dente (not 'all mental' students, this means cooked but with a little 'bite' in the middle). I don't know how long for, I never time things (unless I am baking Mary) follow the instructions on the back of the packet.
- Chuck the pesto in - all of it. Nothing worse than a mean coating - take note skinny chicks with no hips.
- Crush a couple of handfuls of nuts with a pestle and mortar if you have one, or put them in a tea towel and bash them with a rolling pin until they are partly crushed - not smashed to smithereens like Aunt Agatha's bowl was last Christmas, the demise of which you blamed on the dog.

Super posh version: Make your own pesto!
You will need an electric mixer for this one, plus fresh basil, pine nuts (or cashews)
- 2 good handfuls of basil leaves
- 2 handfuls of pine nuts - or nuts of your choice
- A teaspoon of crushed garlic - or less if you are not so into it/not into it
- Salt 'n pepper 
- A squeeze of lemon juice (put Squeeze on the cd player too - Cool for Cats is the business) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pblSU5M1d1Y
- 3/4 hearty slugs of good quality olive oil from the Tuscan hills (or wherever, Waitrose as we are super posh, will do)

Chuck it all in the blender or mini Kenwood or whatever Delia or Nigella are using and blend until it is smooth but still textured - not so textured as to be like the pebbledash that commoners are prone to coating their bungalows with, but not so smooth as to be like the wallpaper paste that the builders are using to wallpaper the drawing room in that peacock design.
Put several tablespoons of it on your posh pasta. Artfully place a few basil leaves on the top and hey pesto! Have Champagne or some kind or something not too Chablis that has undertones (another blinding band) of gooseberries like cousin Mildred. Students, you must content yourselves with leery undertones but the Undertones are for everyone! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAtUw6lxcis

Student version: It's Friday night, you will have the munchies for whatever reason. Divvy up what's left of your cash after you have visited the student bar. Snaffle some more from your drunk mates. Hit the 24 hour Tesco or Sainsbury's (not literally, try to walk straight). Grab a cheap own brand packet of pasta, ditto a jar of pesto, if you can stretch to it, buy some nuts - you may have to use unsalted peanuts - comfort yourself that now that you are at uni you will have a stab at earning more than peanuts depending on who gets in at the next election. Go straight home, follow instructions above. Try to keep it down, the noise too. Working folk are trying to sleep you know.

P.S Snack time tip! Buy a big bag of cashews and sautee (fry dear students) some in a pan with a slash (not that kind students) of oil and half a teaspoon of salt and pepper each and a good English summer drizzle of honey. Toss well to coat and slightly brown, then turn into a rustic terra cotta dish and serve when cool with beer or wine. You can do this to the nuts before you put them on the pesto if you can be bovvered.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Frazzle-headed looneys

Hello folks. I'm back. For all of you who prayed for me and sent messages of good will, I send you a jolly sackful of goody-gum-drop thanks. I had a ridiculously easy experience delivering number four. It was absurdly easy - by comparison - of course it still hurt like the Dickens but nothing like an induced, days long eek-stravaganzoid. Me, the husband and kids even took the bus to St Mary's - it seemed easier than taking the car and trying to find parking, even with the contractions. As we found ourselves without childcare, the 3 year old and the 1 year old came too. It was over in a handful of hours and the kids and husband went home to bed. I was wheeled to the wards where I was given a bed opposite a lady who spoke 24/7 on a phone and another lady who had a bus load of relations who stayed all night chattering like sparrows, scrap that, like crows. I had a histrionic moment when I demanded that either the relations, the mobile phone or I be moved. Suitably for someone who was showing signs of going round the twist, I was shown to an almost empty ward opposite, where I could not believe my lucid luck, until it filled up with wailing women and screaming babies, including mine, in the early hours. Still those few hours of silence were golden, GOLDEN, like the locks of my other two little ones when spread angelically on their pillows as they slumber, their sweet breath...do they slumber? Am I the Easter Bunny? No one slumbers in this house anymore. Sometimes my husband and I just look at each other over a room that is so messy as to have become unidentifiable as a room of any description at all, while one holds the screaming toddler and the other holds the screaming three week old as we laugh like a pair of frazzle-headed looneys. My husband has become just as forgetful and scatty as me, but together our half brains make some kind of whole. But we feel very blessed, in a slightly maddened, zonked out sort of way. What am I going to do when he goes back to work?