Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Crayfish and Christmas

A curious thing happened to me at the end of November, I turned 31. I’m not sure why I found it curious, but I did. Not scary, or depressing, but just curious. And while I was looking forward to getting up to some cool stuff I was actually pretty apathetic about my birthday itself despite a pretty extensive schedule planned for a long weekend starting with a cook along to the effervescent Mr Ramsey.

Bill and Lindsey arrived just in time for the off and the ladies grabbed a welcome glass of vino while the boys donned aprons. The hound supervised from the confines of the hallway.

The first recipe involved shredding lettuce, mixing mayo and ketchup, mushing avocado and layering with prawns in a suitably artistic glass. Some know it as a prawn cocktail. Not a personal favourite of mine since I loathe mayo and all other yacky type sauces, but no worry, it’s easy enough to leave the sauce off one portion isn’t it? Apparently not. Pretty soon we had 5, count them, FIVE portions of prawn cocktail, each of them delicately anointed with sauce. I’m told it was a tasty treat for all the family, but I wasn’t buying, especially when I knew how amazing the main course would be.

Steak Diane, a classic with a pile of sautéed potatoes all smothered in creamy mushroom sauce, nyom, nyom, nyom!!!

Step 1, par boil spuds. Or, if you are my husband, leave spuds intact on worktop and swear vigorously at the television when told to drain them and put them in the pan of hot oil. Then, get best friend to help juggle frying pans, miss, throw half the spuds on the floor, shout at thieving hound to leave, give up and toss him some ketchup to go with them and swear at the television again.

About 15 minutes, lots of pan banging and more swearing later, we reach step 12, add brandy to pan to make sauce. Tip pan with gusto in order to add sauce to hob rather than flame to pan. Flambé hob until the flame gets high enough to catch the pan anyway and then stand back as the merest smell of singed hair fills the air.

Steak Diane with sautéed spuds. Done.

As hoped, it was absolutely delicious, and even more amazing for not having cooked it myself. No time to appreciate it though as the lads high tail it back to the kitchen for the final assault – cheesecake.

It took some time, some more pan banging but eventually the cheesecake was wheeled in with much aplomb. So happy was I, so eager my anticipation, I didn’t notice the slightly concerned looks flickering between the two lads, let alone the muttering and nervous laughter as they dished it up.

I noticed it pretty damn quick when I took my first mouthful though, the oddest, lightest texture I have ever known a cheesecake to have. It was almost mousse-like. Almost as if … oh dear lord no … they’d forgotten to add the cream cheese. In terms of inventing a pudding revolution, I wouldn’t be tempted to try it if I were you.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny with few dinner based ill effects and thanks to a cookbook given to me by Beth I was in the mood for some crayfish. Rumour had it, there might be some in the local river and luckily there is never much persuasion needed to get the boys interested in a fishing adventure. Wandering back from the fields Bill spotted some old tree protectors that were now redundant, and we collected an armful to create our very own crayfish net.

We pondered, and prevaricated and after a collecting as many ‘potentially helpful’ bits as we could find, we constructed, and I think you’ll agree, we didn’t do a bad job.

Night fell, and after a snifter for courage we went down to the river to cast our net into the raging torrent. We had plans for our bounty and I had issued a half serious threat that if there was nothing come the next day, we’d all be going hungry.

That would never happen though, we were confident in our construction and we hurried home to toast how fantastically clever we were.
The next morning, we trudged back down to the river, this time with the hounds in a supporting roll, just so that this time there would be an audience to appreciate how fantastically clever we were. Untying the tether, Keith took up the slack and gave an almighty tug. The line snapped, and right there in the middle of that field, shoulders slumped, smiles faded, and the sense of anticlimax was palpable.

A few days later was my birthday proper and Keith had given me carte blanche for us to spend it as I wanted. What I wanted, for some strange reason was to go to a museum in London and then to see the Christmas lights. We eventually settled on the Science Museum for our visit and we bounced round trying all the exhibits. Keith even snuck onto a few while small children were looking the other way, hence his expression in this particular photo.

The rest of the day was lovely, familiar, with bright restaurants and shops cosy against the chill dark outside. Feet aching, we wended our way home clutching bags of goodies, tummies full of Ramen and collapsed on the sofa in the way you do after a frenzied day sightseeing in town.
In a quirk of the calendar this year, no sooner had I woken up as a 31 year old than it was time to start thinking about putting up the old Christmas tree. In an even stranger turn of events, my birthday excitement having been misplaced, suddenly turned up alive and well and singing jingle bells.

Far be it from me to question these things, instead I decided to make the most of this newfound joie de vivre and get some of the preparation done. So, after some gentle encouragement, Keith went to the loft and dusted off the decorations and I set about last year’s Christmas cards with a pair of scissors to make some snowflakes.
As an aside: I just want to say that I thought everyone was taught in primary school how to make snowflakes from pieces of paper, so imagine my horror when I had to explain the whole process to Keith. I know he’s trailing a few years on me, but what has become of the school system when basic skills like making paper snowflakes is so cruelly cast aside!! Replaced by something “useful” like French no doubt!!

Anyway, back to the task in hand. I think the reason I am so excited about Christmas this year is because for the first time we are actually making good on having Christmas in the barn. It took me time, tears and tantrums to get the barn to the stage where we can now have civilised dinners and I was determined to make the most of it this year by turning it into an absolute haven of Christmas cheer. Therefore I was more than happy to accommodate Keith’s sole request of a “tree taller than him” … that’s 6ft to the uninitiated.

It took me all afternoon, a Johnny Cash CD and several cuppas to get the place just right and I have to admit, I’m a bit proud of how it has turned out.