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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Matchbox cheese

When I was a cheesemonger, we used to scorn people who came in and asked for low-fat cheese. In fact, I think we may have thrown one of them out of the shop, although perhaps we didn't actually resort to physical violence.

But these poor people were only seeking some kind of compromise between their desire for cheese and a desire not to look like a savoury version of Augustus Gloop. The cheesemonger party line on dieting is - well, actually, it's 'don't', but if you're in a tolerant mood, it's: try eating a smaller amount of better, stronger flavoured cheese. Parmesan is made with skimmed milk and has such a strong flavour that you're unlikely to want to eat an enormous amount.

I trotted out this platitude quite happily, being unconcerned about my weight, for years. Recently I have found it hard to do up the top button on my jeans, so I have been wondering about regulating my diet a little bit. While in the doctor's waiting room (unrelated reasons) I found a copy of Good Housekeeping that contained what seemed like a perfectly reasonable diet, until I realised that it wanted me to stick to one, single, MATCHBOX-SIZED piece of cheese per day.

I don't care if it's the finest Parmigiano Reggiano, straight from the silver-lined vaults of the banks of Parma and sanctioned by the most respected godfather in all of Cosa Nostra, I want more than a matchbox-worth of cheese! I'll just have to buy a new pair of jeans.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The morning after the night before

One of my favourite meals is breakfast the morning after the party. Several people have slept over; most of them are close friends, but there is usually at least one random guest who may as a result become a close friend. You have all pitched in and cleaned up the debris, and have reached the stage of a hangover when food is necessary. If done well, this communally prepared meal can revive sufferers, deepen bonds of friendship and, depending on your stamina, be the beginning of the next party…
This requires careful steering through the touchy feelings, physical weakness and general indecisiveness of the hungover. Cooking breakfast for a large number of people is always a logistical and management challenge, even more so than most cooking. Perhaps this is because people want very familiar things for breakfast, so experimentation is frowned upon, but choice is expected.
Eggs are a good example of this - breakfasters expect to be asked how they want their eggs cooked, and how many. If a range of options is offered, nobody will choose scrambled eggs, but you will be expected to fry and boil eggs to a variety of levels of hardness. This is a good moment to unleash your inner older sister and come over all bossy and controlling. Scramble all the eggs. They will be eaten with relish.
Sausages must be cooked slowly, bacon moderately slowly, tomatoes briefly and mushrooms with butter. They can all be kept warm in a low to medium oven - cover the meat to prevent it drying out.
Toast must be made on a rolling basis next to the table. This is an ideal task for delegation, as is the job of tea and coffee monitor.
Laying the table is also a task to be entrusted to others; if they forget things, let them be the ones to jump up from the table. Assuming that everyone concerned has a hangover and has probably been cleaning the house for at least an hour, there will be dissension among the ranks and a mutiny driven by combined apathy, irritability and pigheadedness is likely. If you are not certain of your ability to quell it, stay out of it. If someone stands in the middle of the kitchen, insisting that all the eggs be scrambled, let them. Get on with the rest of it and let go of the eggs. Anyway, this Violet Elizabeth Bott of the kitchen is right: the eggs should be scrambled.