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Sunday, 18 April 2010

Hanging on the telephone.

Last week the Partridge telephoned me from Germany. I was surrounded by cookbooks at the time. I had invited the Eagle and her boyfriend over for supper on Friday night and I was still in the process of deciding what to cook for them. The Eagle’s partner is a vegetarian so that narrowed down my choices somewhat. I didn’t want to cook pasta again as I like to ring the changes. I had made them a vegetarian lasagne in the past which, if I say so myself, is always a big hit with guests, even the devout carnivores. Last time I served them a Moroccan vegetarian tagine. In the interim I experimented with quorn to make a vegetarian shepherd’s pie. It was horrendous and I ended up throwing most of it away. Finally I settled on a Jamie Oliver vegetarian jalfreezi curry with Gordon Ramsey vegetarian pillau rice. I had checked with the Eagle’s partner that it was something he could eat. I once made a dessert of freshly sliced pineapple sandwiched together with cream and crushed amoretti biscuits and Cointreau, and decorated with Cointreau infused whipped cream and angelica leaves to resemble the flesh of the pineapple. The crown of the cut pineapple was then placed on top of the dessert. Just as I was proudly carrying it in, the Eagle’s partner mentioned that he didn’t like pineapple, a not so minor fact the Eagle had neglected to tell me. So the Eagle and I were obliged to scoff the lot, which was no hardship and perhaps her cunning plan all along. Now the idea of a lemon posset appealed to me, served with brandy snaps, neither of which I had made before. I toyed with the idea of making pekoras for the first course except I don’t have a deep fat fryer and am loathe to half-fill one of my saucepans with boiling fat for just one course. The telephone call from the Partridge meant I could shelf my menu planning for the time being.

Regrettably her brother had fallen ill again but as his family were stranded in Berlin, thanks to the volcano erupting in Iceland, there was no-one else available to care for him. I was more than willing to accept the temporary role of housekeeper and Florence Nightingale manqué. Their family home is along a secluded private road in Highgate. It is incredibly quiet for London, the more so with the skies empty of aircraft. I love having the chance to play at being a chatelaine of a large house and extensive gardens. Oh the luxury of having a spacious kitchen with a well stocked herb garden just outside, (as opposed to my own tiny galley kitchen and a herb garden three storeys below). Likewise tinkling the ivories on an Edwardian grand piano in the music room is a step up from playing on my own cheap and cheerful keyboard. Mercifully the house is detached, thus sparing the neighbours from hearing me play the piano badly but with gusto. Aside from the house and grounds, I am but a short walk away from my beloved Kenwood House. I might also brave a trip to the Ladies’ lake on Hampstead Heath. The latter is in a secluded idyllic setting amongst the trees. In the past I have sometimes found myself swimming along with a family of young ducklings. After a swim I relax on the grassy banks in the sun. Armed with a large straw hat, reading material and something to eat and drink I can happily while away a whole day there. I round off my visit with a quick dash around Kenwood House before treating myself to a cream cake and coffee in a building which once served as the mansion's brewery.  My mother was always very fond of the nearby Ladies’ Lake. I think it reminded her of her childhood spent swimming in the lakes of Finland. In accordance with her will I scattered her ashes close by.

Having agreed to come to Highgate on Saturday, I sent the Eagle several e-mails suggesting we reschedule our dinner part for the following Friday. Latter that evening as I was lying on my sofa my mobile phone lit up. The Eagle had just sent me a text message: she apologised for running late but would be at my house within the next half hour. Panicking, I rang her straight back: Didn’t you get my message cancelling supper? She admitted that she probably had but had not yet read all her e-mails. Thank heavens she had called me and not just turned up on my doorstep. I pride myself on being able to knock together a 3 course meal in an emergency but for once my store cupboard and fridge were short of key ingredients.

Now that I am ensconced at Highgate I have been transformed into an unofficial travel agent for my friends in Berlin; I have been trying to book them a passage on a cross-channel ferry and keep them abreast of any news regarding European travel affected by the volcano. I have endeavoured to contact their individual insurance companies without success. At one point I thought I would be able to book tickets on a ferry from Le Havre to Portsmouth for Tuesday afternoon, but there were problems online and I could not complete the transactiong.Thankfully I found this out before they had forked out an extra THOUSAND euros for train tickets from Berlin to Le Havre. They had been queuing in a Berlin railway station for over 3 hours before they were even able to reach the front of the queue, such is the scale of the chaos and the demand for information from stranded passengers.

In a few weeks time it will be the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of  British forces trapped in Dunkirk. Perhaps we should rediscover that wartime spirit and send out all our boats to once again rescue our fellow Englishmen and women trapped on the other side of the Channel.