BURNING BLACK

BAKING BLACK

My previous cooker gave up the ghost a week or so before last Christmas, its oven ceasing to function in the middle of my cooking roast lamb and potatoes for a meal with Rory and Sarah. The food was nearly ready and Rory salvaged the situation by heating the lamb on top of the stove and frying the potatoes.

Subsequently, we had to choose a new model. It had to fit the existing space – I was not about to remodel my kitchen. I wanted a gas hob, and I thought I would manage with a gas oven as well. I didn’t want anything fancy – no timers to put it on when I was out. The deceased model offered all these services and I had never got the hang of them. I wanted four hob spaces, a grill, and an oven – just a cooker that cooked, basically,

I was astounded at what you could pay for a cooker, but we found a Hotpoint (I’m not a brand snob but I would like a name that I’ve heard before and can pronounce). It was black, but it met all my requirements and was a modest enough price. John said we’d need to replace the (white) extractor fan; I thought it would do, but it turned out he was right.

We ordered the cooker before Christmas, for delivery on 5 January, checking that if they reduced it n the sales we would be refunded the difference. John kept an eye on the website, and in due course it was reduced by £50, with a further £25 off orders on a particular day. So on that day we returned to the store and spoke with the manager (a charmless oaf, as it happened.)

I had expected there might be a bit of negotiation, perhaps an elegant bout of fencing, but it turned out to be more of a brutal   how-to-shoot-somebody-who-outdrew-ya exchange. No, said the oaf, we couldn’t have the £50 off; we had bought prior to the sale; and we couldn’t have the £25 off because we weren’t buying on that day. John turned to me. Could I tolerate it if he cancelled this order and we bought the cooker elsewhere? I smilingly agreed. At this point the hobgoblin we were dealing with suddenly remembered some extenuating circumstances which made it possible for him to give us the full £75 off the original price – just this once only, mind! We became agreeable and thanked him for his kind help and consideration.

Anyway, on the due date, two men arrived, who removed the defunct cooker with surprising speed and installed the new one. It’s amazing how attached to one’s (old) cooker one discovers one was.

However so far I have made Onion soup, potatoes and croutons mince and potatoes, mince and pasta, an oatmeal apple crumble, and John has made a loaf of bread. All have turned out just as you would hope.

It looks very smart; black and shiny with chrome handles.

My washing machine will no longer wash woollens reliably – it cooks them. So I wash them by hand, rinsing and spinning in the machine. It’s no big deal. It’s not that difficult. But today I find myself looking at it and wondering, Do they make those in black?

SUGAR SWEET

SUGAR SWEET

One of the most difficult symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as it affects me (everyone is different) is the sudden periods of violent, uncontrolled movements that can occur. These are tiring and become painful. They prevent you doing anything. They disturb your balance and you have to be careful not to fall. They are socially embarrassing and though I have to say people are very kind and tolerant, if these happen in, say, a lecture hall, I get very stressed at being a source of distraction and irritation to everyone, which only makes the problem worse. It can last for 10 minutes or several hours and I never have any idea why it ceases.

Since these bouts do not invariably occur, it would be useful to discover what caused them in order to avoid them or minimise their effect. No-one has been able to shed any light on this or suggest any preventative measures. Some people feel it is a nervous reaction and suggest tranquilisers, but I do not feel that I am invariably nervous when it occurs (though stress will obviously make anything worse.) It appears to be more likely in the evening when one is tired. Being in a noisy environment can set it off. And it appears to have some connection with food. Too long a gap between meals, eating meals that are too large or rich, not eating enough in the day – these can all be triggers. Drinking some of a glass of wine before eating food causes an almost immediate bad reaction. It’s a complex business.

Over the last few days I’ve been following recipes from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s new cook book, Light and Easy (£25, but on sale at W H Smith’s for £6). He’s avoiding sugar and dairy produce. I noticed that my twitching phase, while still present, was much shorter. Then the other day Anne came at fairly short notice for lunch, and I made Eve’s Pudding to liven up an otherwise dull meal. Two tablespoonsful of sugar went into the apples, and four ounces into the sponge topping. Over the day I had two large helpings,so I estimate I consumed about 2 oz of extra sugar. Twitching was much worse than on the previous days.

Could it be that it is sugar that causes this reaction to worsen? Although I confess I do like cake and sweet things, to be free of these periods of excessive mobility, or even to reduce their time length would be sufficient of an incentive to cut back drastically. I think I’ll follow Hugh F-W’s book for a few months, because even if there is no improvement with this particular problem, I think the diet would be a good one. I find if you stop eating sugar, you don’t want it so much.

Life is still sweet but maybe it shouldn’t be sugary!

ON NOT BEING IN CHARGE

ON THE PLEASURES OF NOT BEING IN CHARGE

We spent a very pleasant Christmas week this year in Elisabeth and Robert’s comfortable house in South London, and I did very much enjoy NOT being in overall charge of Christmas catering.

I brought with me a simple supper for Christmas Eve (I offered this as they were working) and I baked a Christmas Stollen in their house. This has become a tradition at our house – we eat it warm, and the rest we consume on Christmas morning while opening the presents. The fragrance of this fruity loaf fills the house. I also brought a large square Christmas cake – double the recipe amounts. This year I abandoned Delia and instead followed the Celebration Cake recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly 100 Classic Cakes and we thought this was much nicer. I also brought a large home made Christmas pudding, which we don’t eat on Christmas Day but consume with cream on some other day of the holidays when rations are low. Apart from providing brunch on New Year’s morning, that was my entire responsibility and Elisabeth and Robert efficiently provided the rest of the meals, including lunch for 4 sets of visitors. Delicious! It was such a pleasure NOT to know what was for dinner, and helping by preparing some vegetables for ‘chef’ was no trouble.

Neither did Elisabeth sniff at my Christmas table runner, made by me about 35 years ago from a strip of heavy red cotton, with two green Christmas trees appliqued at each end, and a ring of lettering spelling out the legend, Unto us a son is born, in black embroidery threads couched with gold thread. It came with us to Antwerp and to South Carolina. Like ourselves it’s beginning to look a bit battered and frayed round the edges, but it’s still loved for all that!

Happy New Year everyone!