Saturday, 11 December 2021

Traveling light...


 Heathrow, Terminal Two, 6.40 a.m...


On the train between Zurich Flughaven and Zurich Hauptbahn, 12.30...


On the train between Milan and Florence, 18.00...
(It's been a long day...)


 On the same train...later
(Are we there yet?
Nope....another train after this one, and then a taxi.)


Finally. Home!


Tonight's dinner

Ravioli Gnudi

Salsiccia with buttered spinach

Apple & Blackberry Crumble (it's winter...time for cold-weather  food)

Friday, 26 November 2021

More Cuff...


 

Important people have lots of names: King-Emperor; Lord of the Isles; Baron Hows-your-father; Chief Poo-Bah. Well, on that basis, Cuff was a very, very important personage, since he had more different names than you could shake a stick at, and all of them were used over and over and over, and always as terms of endearment. They emerged and were hatched unprompted, over time – where they actually came from is anybody’s guess.  He was:

Cuff (for polite and everyday use); Cuffkin (sometimes pronounced ‘Huff-hin’); Boo; Cuffkin-chaiki; Cuffkin-chaiki-moodle-poo (as a puppy, he liked that one), which was also sometimes Mr Cuffkin-chaiki-moodle-poo (of the Chaiki-moodle-poos of Nitsbridge, and of Pisa); Doodle-Boo (sometimes Doodle) ; Smirt-wurble;  Squibble-dim; occasionally, Frurble (or Wurble). And very often, whichever short-form was being used was prefaced by ‘Mr’, so he became Mr Cuff, Mr Boo, Mr Smirt, and so on. And he wore them all with an air that they were appropriate and that they belonged to him

And, although it wasn’t a name, but was more something to be intoned, he was often scooped up, and told, whilst holding his gaze from six inches away, that he was Best-dog-in-the-Word-type-dog-type-thing-type-Cuff.  Following brief consideration of which, he would generally lunge forward to give his signature version of a kiss, which was just to press his snout briefly against my nose, and then just as quickly to withdraw again. 

I suddenly remembered, this morning, the game that he made up, which was, while we were having dinner,  to balance a tennis ball on the narrow bar that runs beneath the dining table, and then to wait for it to be discovered, and for it to be thrown for him, through the doorway and across to the far end of the kitchen, for him to chase, retrieve, and return. I think we were supposed not to know that the ball had been placed there by him,  as he would never balance it there if he knew he was being watched; and so, I never actually saw him do it. Which is a shame, as it must have required a lot of dexterity, since the bar is narrow, and to balance a ball on it requires skill. Not only that, but the ball would always be placed exactly at the mid-point along the length of the bar. Once placed, he would then position himself, either sitting stage-left, or else sitting just through the doorway into the kitchen, as though he would attempt a goalie-save as the tennis ball sailed past. Which, sometimes, he managed. But mostly, it was a question of chasing the ball across the kitchen, and of trying to stop it before it reached the far end of the room. If it bounced and it landed in a chair, then he couldn’t get it, since moving the furniture was Strictly Forbidden. And, if it went into the corner, behind the lamp flex that snaked across the floor behind the chair there, then he couldn’t get it either, since flexes Could Not Be Crossed. Ever. (I think he must have managed to get caught in one once, early in life, and he’d pulled a laptop or some other appliance down onto his head, and so flexes were ever afterwards to be avoided). If either of those things happened, then he would stop, and stare fiercely at the ball, from a distance, and let out an occasional whimper of excited distress, until one of us would go and retrieve the ball for him from wherever it was, and the game would carry on from there.

Until he got bored with it. Which could take a very long time. 

Often, a visitor taking coffee might find Cuff positioned in front of them, alert, and regarding them with an expectant gaze, which they wouldn’t understand. ‘He wants you to throw his ball for him’, they’d be told. And in response to them saying that they didn’t have his ball, they’d be informed that if he had that expression, then they almost certainly did. And a search would always reveal a tennis ball which had been quietly placed on their chair, which they wouldn’t have noticed, and it had often been pushed between their leg and the edge of their seat. 

Cuff was very understanding of human deficiencies. 

And the most complicated version of the game was when we used to have dinner, in summer, out in the courtyard, and the ball would be thrown up onto the decking terrace, upstairs. It took him a while to work it out, but eventually, he understood that to retrieve it he had to run into the house, through the pantry, and through the scullery, and into the kitchen and then go up the stairs, and go through the salone, and through another small room, and then out onto the terrace, where he would find the ball. And his face would then appear, peering triumphantly down at us, over the edge the terrace, ball in his mouth. Success! And on those occasions, sometimes he stayed up there for a while, savouring his victory, before he retraced his steps and he relinquished the ball once more. For a repeat. 

And, we’re having to deal with the fact that all the repeats are now finished. And that there will be no more. Which is hard.

 We’ve done the only thing which anybody can do in the circumstances, which is to go and look for a Puppy. It isn’t a replacement; it could never be that. It’s a Different. And, if we’re lucky, it will be a Comparable.

And, I think we’ve found the one. 

She’ll be coming home with us two weeks from now.

And, on an appropriate level, I think that Chief Poo-Bah, Lord of the Isles, the King-Emperor himself would understand.



Tonight's Dinner:

Gnocchi of Ricotta and Spinach

Pasta, with garlic and pepper sauce

Apple and Vanilla Tarts

 

 

 


Saturday, 20 November 2021

Images of Autumn...


 





Tonight's dinner:

Courgette fritters with Tzatziki

Coq au vin; braised salsify

Budino alla Toscana

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Cuff

 


A wonderful, glorious ragbag of memories. 

Always, even from the smallest puppy, he loved cuddles and demanded affection. Bright, and sparky, and beautiful. 

At three months, he travelled across Europe, reclining in his dog-cage in the back of the car, as he watched  the changing landscape all along the way. In France, his first smart restaurant – although he had no idea that the blue potatoes that were served that evening were not as other potatoes are – and his first bubble bath. And down into Italy, and to his own private world. Where, when he was young, the birds used to tease him, and entice him to chase after them on summer evenings as they circled low over the North lawn, and in May the garden at night was alive with galaxies of fireflies, and in winter there was always a blazing fire to lie beside as the flames leapt in the woodstove in the kitchen. 

A world of endless tennis balls, to be thrown, over and over and over again, and which always had to be chased, and sometimes to be intrepidly tracked down, if they’d got lost in the undergrowth – and sometimes, even if they hadn’t, because sometimes it was fun to pretend, and to do the intrepid tracking thing, anyway. 

A mixture of eccentricities: he always barked frantically at church bells (which is not always welcome, in a Catholic country, and living next to a church), and every time a bucket was filled from the garden tap, and at the sound which the long extension cord made whenever it was unrolled from its holder. Other dogs were to be avoided – he wouldn’t go into the piazza if another four-footed was visible even on the distant horizon – as were small children, which he clearly felt were deeply unreliable as a concept.

And he delighted in clambering into the bath after each and every gardening session, in order to have his paws washed. Whether they needed it or not. (And if they didn’t, then it took major powers of persuasion to get him to climb out of the bath again, paws ignored!)

When he was two, he adopted two small kittens which had been abandoned in the theatre next door, and thereafter he ran any and all other cats off the property, should such marauding interlopers dare to show even a whisker, and his own two cats thus lived a life free from molestation. Coming with me out to the barn, each evening, to feed the cats was always tremendously exciting, and a highlight of his day - although, his excitement could be explained possibly because he knew that feeding the cats would be  followed immediately by his own dinner being put  down for him.

Mowing the lawn always meant being waylaid periodically by Cuff, where he stood, alert and  bright-eyed and tense with excitement, waiting for me to spot the tennis ball which he would always have placed strategically within reach so that I could grab it, without missing a beat, and hurl it as far as  I could into the distance, for him to race after, and return once more. Da Capo. 

When I lay out in a deckchair, to soak up the sun, book in hand, Cuff was always to be found stretched out in the shade of the nearest tree; and if I was in the hammock, in the orchard, he positioned himself underneath, and I always knew that if I reached down, my fingers would encounter the silkiness of his fur, where he lay. 

If I’d gone into the garden without him, and he needed to find me – perhaps he’d been distracted in the kitchen by a biscuit, or even more enticingly by a morsel of cheese – and I caught sight of him in the distance, I would squat down, and hold out my arms for him. And, once he’d spotted me,  a dynamo of paws and of ears flapping as he ran would hurl itself across the garden. And, once caught, he would be lifted aloft in triumph. 

Stairs, he never perfectly mastered. He came late to them, and even then, he tended to launch himself off at the top, and then allow gravity to do the rest. The bookcase at the foot of the stairs took a regular pasting, over the years, where he hadn’t managed to stop in time.  

And he left-off stairs early, too, when arthritis all-too-soon compromised his back legs, so that he had to be carried up and down stairs, whenever it was necessary. He never seemed to mind, though, and he would wait patiently whenever he next required the services of a stannah-stair-lift. And Stannah never minded, either. 

As he aged, he lost his hearing, and one of his eyes clouded over. And there was less hurling of himself across the garden…although he still managed to move quite quickly, even with the odd movement of his compromised back legs. But, he never lost his enthusiasm…for tennis balls, and for cheese, and, of course, for cuddles. 

And I adored him. 

He died, this morning. Peacefully, in his sleep. And, not without warning. 

He was joyous and joyful. And, from the bottom of my heart, I salute him. 

12.6.2009 – 16.11.2021




Friday, 17 September 2021

The resident senior citizen..


 

...taking his new dri-bag for a test drive.

Being seriously elderly, the four-footed requires much more frequent baths than used to be the case (for reasons which we need not go into, to avoid blushes). And when this can involve the use of a garden hose in the middle of the north lawn, where he can then dry in the sun, stretched out beneath one of the fruit trees, all works well, since he remains in pristine condition until he's dry, once more. If he's bathed in the house, however, his preference is then to go hot-foot to the courtyard, where he scruffs around and digs a hole in the gravel just the right size to lie in....which means that within minutes of escaping the bath, he is completely filthy from all of the dust and general grunge which lies beneath the gravel. Hence, the dri-bag. Which conveniently corrals him while he gently steams dry inside.

He hadn't seen one of these things before, and was mildly thoughtful about it all. 

When he wasn't merely trying to wander off, that is, as I wrestled with the damned thing's zip.

Unlike his great aunt, though, once he was inside, and all properly sealed, he settled down perfectly well to the experience. His great aunt, who was a dog of much character, on the other hand, had decided within minutes of first being put into a dri bag, that what was needed was two neat holes for the feet...which she then proceeded to create, while my back was turned. It was more of a statement of independence, I think, than a practical attempt at escape, as her back legs were still incapacitated in the rear part of the bag. She'd made her point, though...as she so often did.

Tonight's dinner:

Stuffed aubergine

Fegato all Veneziana

Peach and hazelnut tarts

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Drowning in the scent...

 of the trachelospermum, which currently practically overwhelms the entire house...






Tonight's dinner:

Turkish salad (like Greek salad, but with cumin added to the seasoning)

Navarin d'agneau; celery braised in wine 

Chocolate & Orange cheesecake

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Brochettes of Pike

 


Delicious, light, and economical. Not a last-minute dish, as the mixture needs to sit for several hours at least before the brochettes can be poached - but, that apart, this recipe takes little time, and the end result can either be a light main course, or a substantial starter. In either case, it is sophisticated enough to present to guests or self-indulgent enough to enjoy on your own. The mixture, once made, freezes well, and so can be taken from the freezer and used in whatever quantity you need at the time.

The TD informs me that the sauce which cloaks the brochettes is a 'sauce aurore' - I'll take his word for it. As shown here, I like to place the brochettes on a bed of buttered spinach, cooked until just tender and seasoned with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg.

For four servings:

Ingredients:

400g raw pike fillets, skinned (or any firm white fish; I often use either mullet or a fish we get here called gallinella...which in english is apparently a tub gurnard); 150g softened butter; 300ml milk; 150g plain flour; 6 eggs, separated; 1 tsp salt; generous pinch each of pepper and of nutmeg. 

For the sauce: 2 tbs dry white wine; 1 tsp colla di alici (fish sauce); 1 tbs tomato paste; 150 g mascarpone; pinch of chilli powder (cayenne pepper) ; pinch of sugar.

Method:

1. Process together the fish fillets and the butter

2. Bring the milk to the boil, in a small pan, and then add the flour and beat together with a wooden spoon over low heat until the mixture has adhered into a ball (think: choux pastry).Leave to cool down for five minutes.

3. Add the egg yolks and the flour mixture to the butter-fish mixture and process all together.

4. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, and then fold into them the mixture from the food processor, along with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Once properly incorporated, cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight or for at least four hours.

5. Bring to the boil a large pan (I use a large saute pan) of salted water. Using two spoons, form the mixture into little dumplings, and poach them in the boiling liquid for about five minutes, until they float to the surface.

6. Arrange the poached brochettes (as they have now become) on a bed of buttered spinach, in individual egg dishes.

7. Mix together all of the sauce ingredients, and spoon it over the brochettes (don't bother about the spread of the sauce over the brochettes- it is one of those things which rearranges itself properly in the process of being cooked, and so just heaping it more or less in the centre of each dish will be fine)

8. Heat for 8-10 minutes in a 180 degree C oven.

Serve