Thursday, January 7, 2010

Currying favour with the neighbours

Cheating slightly here. Nicked a recent posting from my old blog. 'Cos it makes me laugh. Apologies if you've read it before. I've added a bit since though...


I've only had three or four cookery lessons in my entire life. The first was at scout camp when 'Skip' the scoutmaster taught us how to prepare 'twists'. These were lengths of flour and water doughsticks which we twisted around any old twigs that happened to be laying around and then dangled over the camp fire until they vaguely resembled bread. Needless to say, none of our efforts ended up bread-like. Or even remotely edible. Most of them either caught fire and were added to the burning cinders while the rest just turned black on the outside while stubbornly remaining soft and runny on the inside, eventually joining the others in the flames.

The second was when Mum attempted to teach me how to cook bacon. Being Scottish, she had this weird idea that a perfect bacon slice had to be fried until it shrunk to about half its original size, thereby taking on the consistency of granite and exploding into a hundred little pieces when pierced with a fork. Same with sausages. Her other cookery lesson, given just before I was sent off to college, was an instruction on how to open a tin. What I was supposed to do with the contents remained a mystery for years.

Next, a college chum wrote specific instructions on how to roast a chicken leg and boil some spuds. The following day he asked how I'd done. I told him the spuds were fine but the chicken leg hadn't entirely turned out as anticipated due to the cellophane wrapping and expanded polystyrene base melting into the chicken skin whilst in the oven. However, once I'd ripped off the outer mess, the inner meat had turned out surprisingly well, so it hadn't been a wasted exercise despite his slapping of forehead in disbelief.

Another time, Georgie gave me a practical demonstration of how to make a stew. Unfortunately my powers of concentration aren't what they used to be (oh yes they are: zero) and it all sounded so complicated that I have little recollection of what she said or did. But I do remember something about cutting the meat into cubes, rolling them in flour and then quickly frying in a pan to seal in the flavour before starting. Everything else was just a blur.

Armed with such a limited amount of cookery know-how, it's a miracle I've managed to feed myself over recent years. Out of desperation, I've frequently attempted to pick up cookery hints from neighbour Isabelle but, alas, without success - probably due to a combination of not understanding French and a lack of concentration during speedy demonstrations because of Christian's enthusiasm with alcoholic beverages.

Anyway..., being that time of year when a darned good stew goes down a treat, I recently attempted one of Georgie's afforementioned specials. Bought pork chunks, spuds, onions, leeks, garlic (not on Georgie's menu but definitely on mine), sprouts and carrots but completely forgot Oxo cubes (or French equivalent) and then got stuck in. Chopped big meat chunks into more manageable sizes (scissored fatty bits off for dogs), rolled in flour and quickly fried in pan. Then poured large scotch. Chopped spuds, carrots, onions, garlic and leeks into slices (being a proper bloke I couldn't be arsed with peeling the spuds or carrots) and put into two pots with water (had far too much for just one pot despite not including sprouts) which I placed on stove and then added meat chunks.

After repairing fingers with Elastoplast, I poured another scotch while pots bubbled. Stirred occasionally. Watched a bit of telly. Eventually the stuff was ready. Then had phone call from Isabelle. Come round to supper immediately. But I've just cooked a stew - tell you what, I'll bring a pot down and you can see just what a master chef I've become. Staggered down there with a potful. Isabelle took one look and described it as "soupe". No it isn't madame, this is proper Scottish broth. Long story but Christian said it tasted absolutely marvellous and had a second helping, Hadrien took one look and gave it a miss while Isabelle politely declined and stuck to noshing her own stuff.

So..., that was my first attempt at cooking for my neighbours. I then suggested doing them one of my chicken curry specials next. But they didn't seem too keen (the French aren't into curries... yet.)

A few days later Isabelle rang and invited me round to supper again. Quite by chance I happened to be knocking up a chicken curry with red and green peppers. Told her I'd bring it down so they could give it a try - a suggestion that was met with little, if any, enthusiasm. We kicked off with a pate starter, followed by pressure-cooked lamb slices cut off the bone with mayonnaise, and then Isabelle politely served my curry. I obviously had some and Christian decided to risk possible death by having some too, but Isabelle and Hadrien didn't. Then, surprise, surprise, Christian announced it was splendid and scoffed another helping. So Isabelle and Hadrien tentatively tried a bit each, despite concerns about suffering instant rear-end squirts, and they both said it was delicious. Thumbs up all round.

So there you go. Curry comes to the French outback. Might try 'em with one of my special spag Bols next. Might even open a restaurant. Yup, I've sure come a long way since that burnt 'twist' at scout camp.


  1. I like this post, you are funny.
    Just in case you ever get the urge to my bread on a stick again try pasting this link into your URL Bar

    I'd never done it before and it worked for me.
    Much love

  2. Thanks Lia. Interesting recipe. Might try it.