Simple pleasures

The wiener takes it all

It’s that time of year when the low-sun sky dazzles my eyes at every street corner and I have to walk with an arm half-raised in defence. Sadly the raised arm technique has not stopped the attack of the seasonal cold that this house is full of.

It’s at times like this that we need an old Italian nonna come round daily and look after us, feed us and let us revert to child-like states while she takes care of everything. Sadly, this is not going to happen. At least the children, thank God, are not too ill to go to school. Yet.

Last week I eat more food cooked by others that by me. Not through choice, but through circumstance. Sautéed mushrooms tossed with Parmesan and served on a crisp disc of polenta; layers of aubergine with pecorino, honey and pinenuts; octopus with green lentils and romesco sauce; asparagus with crisp-coated egg and wild garlic (seasonal right?!) and a delicious Sunday lunch sat outside in the warmth of a sunny September afternoon with family and friends over (escaping?) from The U.S of A.

Sue cooked us all tender and pink beef fillet, a Persian salad studded with pomegranate seeds, the dressing creamy and richly coating the cucumber. A huge bowl of kasha meant I could happily fill up, denying myself nothing as my September free of bread, rice, pasta and potatoes and sugar nears its climax. I averted my eyes as the ice cream, damson fool and homemade almond biscuits were passed around. I could eat ice cream until the cows came home and started churning their own milk, but for now, drastic measures are in place as I slowly come to the realisation that my metabolism is not that of an 18 year old. And as much as I admire Pavarotti, it’s for his voice, not his girth.

What I did cook was a simple tomato and egg curry, using the tomato ‘sugo’ leftover from the children’s pasta a previous night, as a base. A pile of chickpea flatbreads mopped up the sauce and baby courgettes quickly sautéed in garlic gave some crunch.

Another night saw me top some southern fried chicken fillets with a fried egg, some chopped cornichons and crisp chorizo cubes in a strangely tasty emergency supper. If you squint, you could pretend it was a schnitzel a la Holstein… It’s been one of those weeks.

So in tribute to the American visitors (some tribute, eh?), the fact I have a massive bag of cornmeal to get through and not much more reason than that I had a bag of hot dogs in the fridge which I thought the children may enjoy, here is a trashy-in-the-extreme recipe for corn dogs. I love them — mainly for the fact they make me feel I’m walking the streets of New York city or sitting in a car park at the ball game — but the children peeled the batter away and just eat the sausages. They may have thought I was turning into a the ‘dangerous cook’ that Bruce from America said of his mother. I closed my eyes and tried not to think of battered saveloys from the chippy.

8 hot dogs
200 fine cornmeal
150ml milk
50ml buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper, a large pinch and a twist
1tsp ground turmeric gives it a healthy colour
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
Rapeseed or groundnut oil for frying
For the chutney
12 cherry tomatoes, halved and quartered randomly
2tbsp chopped coriander
1 clove of garlic
1tbsp tarragon vinegar (or cider vinegar)
2tbsp olive oil
For the avocado
1 avocado, crushed with a fork to which added the juice and zest of half a lime and one chopped cherry tomato. Season well with salt and pepper

Mix together the batter ingredients and leave to rest for about ten minutes.
Lay the hotdogs on kitchen paper to dry well so the batter doesn’t slide off.
Make the chutney by cooking the ingredients in a small saucepan on quite a high heat until the tomatoes start to soften and collapse. Turn off the heat and leave to cool a little.
Pour the batter into a tall glass, like a highball and cut the hot dogs in half.
Stick each one on a skewer that is not too long to fit in a large sauté pan.
Heat about two centimetres of oil in a large sauté pan to about 180c.
Dip a hot dog in the batter, turning and twisting it until well covered. Let the drips fall off then gently lay it in the hot oil.
Turn it over after about five seconds and cook on all sides for about five minutes. You should be able to do two or three in the pan at the same time. Be careful to cook them evenly on all sides so the batter is golden and crisp. Be gentle with them too, you don’t want to knock the batter off.
Drain on kitchen paper and serve with the chutney and avocado and a sprinkle of coriander.
I would also highly recommend American mustard with these (Frank’s is my favourite), and when I say highly recommend, I mean do it.

Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi, the account of his banishment to a Southern Italian village by the fascists. Brilliantly and gently written, a portrait of poverty full of warmth.
Saw: Mummies at the British Museum. Overwhelming place, mainly fascinating and occasionally a load of old jugs. Seen one dirty pot you’ve seen them all…
Lawrence of Arabia at the British Film Institute. Brand new print of this enormously long film. So long there was an interval and as magnificent as it was, I think a part of me is still attached to the seat.
Eat: Chinese hot pot skewers from Chinatown. I had beef tripe, fish cartwheel (?!), pig intestine (quite a little funky if I’m honest), fried beancurd and cuttlefish. A little broth and coriander coated them and the heat from the chilli was spot on, enough to be a little painful but not too much to overpower.
Listened: Accidentally to Camille while trying to put The Archers on; Jorja Smith on Jules ‘Boogie-woogie’ Holland’s programme. Mesemerising. Mac Demarco a Canadian chap. Rather good.

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