Revelations, Revamps and Ragu

For breakfast this morning we all sat around a skillet of bacon rashers, square sausage, ripened tomatoes and huge black mushrooms sizzling evenly in the salty goodness of which the bacon had originally arrived. We each tore great white dods of fluffy bread apart as we dipped it into the auld copper pan and tasted the full flavour of the rashers. Nothing follows bacon better than a good strong pot of tea. We indulged ourselves with tea and the family about us as we chatted and turned over the current excitement that has filled our abode rapidly over the last few months. Our task for the morning was to make a list of all the things that we are to bring along for the new place in the sun and the items that would not be suitable and might look out of place. For those that are unaware, it may come as a bit of an oul shock to discover that a devout atheist such as myself would choose to live in a converted chapel. There now, you might possibly know something personal about me at last. I have done for many years since. You do not have to believe in an entity to appreciate fine architecture, vaulted ceilings and solid green oak beams about your head. I'm sure that even Jaysus would appreciate the way in which we have put down the odd rug and thrown a bit of paint about the walls. At this point we should pause for reflection and allow Mr Pewfodder to wipe up the spilled coffee that he has just spat onto his keyboard. Strangely enough my feet are beginning to stiffen, perhaps it is the beginning of me turning into a pillar of salt. Blasphemer Chef! Aye, I'd probably go along with that.

The thing is though, solid oak furniture and the usual customary décor that befits our chapel home does not fit well with open plan Spanish white walls and clean lines, not to mention glass viewing windows facing the Med. Dilemma. Actually no. Siobhan and my daughters have offered to step in and save the day. The list was a waste of time. Everything will remain in situ at this end for our return at Christmas and Hogmanay. Why cart furniture halfway around Europe when you have women in the house prepared to go on ahead and shop till they drop? Aye, that'll be right! Even someone who has taken as many blows to the head as masel is no going to agree with that, eh? No, we are going to go revisit our past. When we moved into our tiny first home as newlyweds we had very little, but we found infinite pleasure hunting for bargains of cast off furniture and hand-me-down knick knacks. Money was extremely hard to come by and there wasn't such a vast array of beautiful items available as there is today. We were happy just being together and sharing the sofa which had been previously owned by my family (since 1756 if the stains were anything to go by) and watching the damp grow mushrooms on the window sill brought us closer together. Lean times they might have been, but happy times indeed, without question. We intend to enjoy many more happy days while we are still fit and able. Meanwhile, here is something enjoyable and tasty to keep yourselves busy in your kitchen as I go about arranging rescue for the little singing fella. It would appear that his VW camper has broken down 30km this side of Galway City and herself is busting for the loo.

He should never have sold his pushbike.

Ragu alla Contadina

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 ml)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 large handful of sweetcorn
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck centre cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 & 1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) semi skimmed milk
3 tins plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to colour. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside. At this point myself and the delightful daisyfae usually open the second bottle and swally the contents before continuing.
Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking. Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with sea salt and white pepper. Hopefully, it should look like this.


Divining the Divine

For breakfast this morning we enjoyed fresh sage eggs with smoked salmon, purple onion, capers and cream cheese on a date and oat muffin. The beverage was of course a rather smooth African roast bean coffee we found in a charming wee village in Rockingham. It's Siobhan's favourite, but tends to be limited to special occasions or when I find myself in the dog house. Today however, wasn't a special occasion... say no more, eh? At the end of his rather expensive feng shui tour of our home he had finally concluded and was in the process of returning his incense sticks, divining rods, magnetic compasses and wax paper equations back to the rather neat little velvet lined case laying open on my table. As I escorted him through to the hallway I clasped him firmly by the hand and pumped it professionally until I could hear the bones crack in his greedy huckster fingers.

His pain was most probably profuse, but the real damage was done in the cold unsmiling stare I gave him as my eyes informed him that the surname etched upon the name plate at the front entrance to my gates wasn't just similar to the man he had at some point read about in the newspapers. I walked him courteously to his rented Mercedes parked outside on the gravel of my driveway. He hadn't even bothered to remove the tiny giveaway red dot sticker at the top of the windscreen that signified that the true owner of his rather flash chariot was in fact AVIS rather than Confucius. A small detail, but one that was to cost him not only his fee, but also the ability to fasten his tie or button his jacket with such easy dexterity for at least the next couple of months. His neatly written individual invoice was photocopied with just a blank space for his 'most valued client' name to be inserted at the top for his services.

I gifted him with a dozen of my best hens eggs and discreetly whispered into his rather oddly shaped oriental ear that if he ever contacted my wife again in my absence it would most definitely be done by way of a séance. It was a tough choice, but if pushed I would have to say that he evacuated his bowels a hairs breadth ahead of him clearing the two stone pillars that stand either side of my gateway. For a rental car it was surprisingly pokey.
I smiled graciously up at my wife as she gazed down at me through the first floor window. The warmth in her own smile beamed back at me at the way in which her husband had so warmly accepted this latest stranger into our home without quibble. Since her early retirement from her career wearing a black gown and an extremely expensive array of horse hair wigs, she has embarked upon a journey trying to fill the time enriched void which had appeared suddenly upon her horizon.

A feast of amateur theatre liaisons with the local women's guild had failed to satisfy her need for direction. Too young and far too sensible for arranging Gods flowers in the village church had seen the weekly pastime go to her older, rather tweedy, acquaintance of Mrs McFadden from her chosen charity group. Well, Siobhan calls it her charity group, me, let's just say that the witches of Eastwick are still alive and relocated to the west coast of Scotland in my own humble opinion. Charity begins at home with the distribution of love and maternal instincts to those who need a helping hand in life. Not saving spotted leopards in fly ridden jungles half way around the globe so that some Nigerian prince can wear real animal skinned shoes upon his dirty feet as he spends the hard-conned cash from vulnerable people in Europe. My biggest problem? I voice my opinions sometimes when it would be wiser just to think!

Top tips when dealing with the dark side that is known as faux feng shui, make sure your house has a toilet. This can be placed wherever the feng shui approved plumber says is best. If you're lucky you may already find one in the smaller room of your house. This is good for Chi in the lower intestine and colon. In China they squat over a hole in the dirt, but that's for enlightened people only. Best start slow eh? Tip number two, a bed is good for sleeping in. Chi is strongest in the midnight hours so a bed is essential! A bed can also be used for reading, intimate relations and arguing with your spouse in.  Interestingly enough, feng shui in Scottish Gaelic actually translates to: Put your wife's unused hobby crap in the garage. We start the clear out tomorrow after breakfast, shortly before the little singing fella will call me and tell me that my presence is required and that I must leave immediately. If all goes well, Siobhan should be finished in time to cook my dinner...

Chefs Apology Breakfast

4 large brown hens eggs
4 large brown hens egg whites
1 pinch of ground black pepper
4 scallions, tops only, thinly sliced
1 purple onion
Fresh sage
Philly cheese in a tub
2 thick slices of breaded ham
2 ounces quality thinly sliced Scottish smoked salmon (please... not the cheap supermarket stuff, it is not authentic. Ask for salmon taken from the waters of Loch Fyne, no where else.)

Combine eggs, egg whites and pepper in a small bowl. Stir briskly with a fork until well blended.  Heat oil in a non stick skillet over medium-low heat. Add scallions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 30 seconds. Pour the eggs into the pan and cook until they just begin to set, about 10 seconds; stir in salmon. Cook, stirring gently from time to time, until the eggs have thickened into soft, creamy curds, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately onto oven warmed date and oat muffins with crisp, cool purple onion, a slice of ham and a splosh of Philly cheese.


Tilting At Windmills

For breakfast that morning we sat and took in the delicious aroma of freshly fallen rain drying on sun warmed pebbles in a magnificently cobbled presidio square.  With no time constraints, we languidly enjoyed the morning sunshine, a seemingly endless stream of delicious espresso's and perfectly poached eggs in a pleasantly quaint stramash of interestingly ordinary people. I would casually avert my gaze from my now compulsory habit of people watching just long enough to spread rich sunflower butter on to Siobhan's wheat toast. Apart fae the charmingly tall Italian lady with the somewhat alarming Adams apple and the rather manly hands, I could not detect even the slightest soupçon of an anomaly oozing discreetly from the other early morning diners sitting at the tables around us. The fast flowing Spanish accent is on occasion smoother than an exquisite brandy, at times drawing a man in like the all powerful delectable female flower, before erupting vociferously into a bubbling sequence of small volcanic shudders of delightful Mediterranean melee. The female Balearic vowel trickles warmly down a mans back, it leaves his nape damp with lust and an excitable muskiness that protrudes his guilt and forms a veritable ruddiness upon his cheeks.

I chuckled aloud as we took in the somewhat risqué real life metatheatre melodrama between two nearby octogenarians as they sparred playfully with their colourful linguistic tryst. It would seem that the romance begins beneath the morning sun, with the gift of laughter, intelligent conversation and a spot of playful patter over a sumptuous breakfast and then rapidly gathers speed towards a late candlelight supper. My own culture's special skill is sadly subliminal, conquering the smoking ban in public houses with little thought to smudged lipstick and in many cases embracing the coquette's scorn. Encouraging the purchase of wee black cocktail dresses from late night supermarkets and shamelessly embracing the glossy princesses in the TV guide. As a result, Glasgow now has more unromantic men per square mile than your average licensed bookie has leg men. Romance does exist it would seem, but only between the working man and his beloved Friday night pints. It is a romance that will never end in divorce, an intrepid voyage of burnt hops and Dublin's finest water as it cascades down many a torn-faced Glaswegian gullet. A true love lasts, while lust merely exists as long as the beery froth on the inside of a warm glass.

Don't get me wrong here, It's not that I am bitter about the fact that my own loveless culture is pure shite. No, merely a small glimmer of cultural cringe seeping through my brandy-addled pores as I perspire pure alcohol and attempt to practise my woo face before Siobhan glides ever gracefully towards our marital bed. Glasgow people don't as a rule need to advertise our heritage for the same reason Pavarotti didn't need to wear a name tag. We look exactly what we are... Heavies! Unscrupled villains, cattle meat literally hot on the hoof, with the knotty limb of an enormous oak announcing our arrival. Somewhat pale, prone to looking forever fervent, there is something distinctly suspect about the way in which Mother Nature gifted her Celtic men with Rottweiler good looks and physiques large enough to draw green-eyed pangs from a gaggle of Californian youths. How could she omit the one gene that offers up red and white roses, opens doors and allows us to cuddle up with the desirable women folk in our hearts? The tango is a sensual ballroom gallopade, rhythmically significant, that sadly is far too intricate for my large scaffolders feet to indulge, but at the very core of my rhinoceros reel beats the heart of a simple romantic Glaswegian fool.

 If only everything in life was as easy as an 8am poached egg, eh?


Alpaca Case & Be Gone

For breakfast this morning we had toasted teacakes with wild honey and blueberry muffins with gooseberry jam. It was to be a full Scottish fry, however, it would seem that my current squatter house sitter, the little singing fella, was a wee bit peckish in the night. What's a man to do, eh?

No posts for a couple of weeks during my time away, but I do have a favour to ask... I have been given a wee unwanted alpaca to go with the others that we have, but as no one knows her name it is high time we came up with a suitable handle. Perhaps you can come up with a few ideas in my absence? There will be a rather nice prize for the winner!

All I can tell you is that she is bright ginger in colour and lovably dopey. For some reason she also has a dirty patch on her rear end that looks as though she needs a good wash. I'm sure you can guess which name I thought of first, eh Miss Flibbertigibbet?

Back in a few weeks, cheery bye the noo.