Saturday 29 September 2012


This morning, we said a last goodbye to the Senior Four-footed. After two weeks' respite, his cortizone pills stopped working properly on Thursday, and by yesterday his lymph nodes were so swollen that he was having trouble swallowing food and his breathing was noisy and rasping. We'd always known that he would indicate when it was time to go, and he the afternoon, he sloped off into the garden to find somewhere quiet and private where he could lie, in amongst the bamboo, and be on his own. Clearly, it was time. And so we called the vet, who came to the house this morning and put him to sleep. He'd had a good, long life...he didn't suffer...he was ready to was as good a leaving as one could have hoped for...but it hurts horribly, all the same, and we're both feeling slightly stunned.

Scuffle has been part of everything, for so long. It seems like three lifetimes ago that he first arrived. At that time, we hadn't yet packed up and moved on from Greece...I still had not one but two globetrotting work existences ahead of me...Pisa wasn't even a glimmer on the horizon in anybody's future planning...and Scuffle has been there as part of the landscape during all those life-changes. Either there directly, or there to come home to...lovable, soft, cuddly, caring, concerned (when appropriate), generous, insistent, opinionated ...and present.

Early on, he perfected his 'I want' stance, when he would present himself, chin planted firmly on the knee of whoever, in order to gain attention, and then fix them with an intense and meaningful gaze which said, beyond any doubt, 'I want...' More often than not, 'I want' was a request for the inside of his ears to be scratched - either that, or the intense pleasure of the ear scratch that he generally got drove everything else from his thoughts - or, if it was close to five p.m, then 'I want ' was a reminder that it was four-footeds' dinner time. Bosun rather relied on Scuffle's inner clock, in that regard, and on occasion Bosun could be seen fixing Scuffle with a beady eye that strongly suggested it was time Scuffle did his 'I want' thing and got the show on the road. Not always so trivial though, and one of his more anguished 'I wants' was in the period after Bosun had suddenly died, and Scuffle grieved, and didn't understand why his mate was no longer around - one evening, as we sat at dinner, he came and did an 'I want' to the Technical Dept (his boss)...and it was perfectly clear that he was saying 'I want you to make everything right again'. There was no way we could explain to him that we were at least trying to...but when, about a  month afterwards, the new puppy arrived  Scuffle was delirious with excitement  ("Oh...My...God! I have always wanted one of these!" was the approximate translation of his thumping tail and excited eyes, as he nuzzled and investigated the wriggling and slightly confused new arrival)... and then, a day or so later, there was a new, slightly worried,  'I want' , again addressed to his boss, and this time it was 'I want confirmation that I'm still the Most Important Dog'. Which of course, he got. Because, of course, he was (we just kept it quiet from the junior four-footed, who anyway had his own opinion on the matter).

Memories of Scuffle: falling in the swimming pool in Florida, within two minutes of arriving there as a small puppy, and thereafter giving the swimming-pool-demons a careful and very-wide berth; ram-raiding picnics in Kensington Gardens on summer evenings (he and Bosun worked a very effective pincer-movement...and by the time I realised what they were doing, it was generally too late for anything other than discretion to be the better part of valour, and so I pretended they were nothing to do with me - there's no point in trying to argue with a dog's primal instinct in relation to cold roast chicken, laid out invitingly at ground-level); early morning romps amongst the bedclothes, after four-footeds had had their morning milk, and the two-footeds were indulging in morning tea, and the Today programme; being expelled (along with Bosun - it was an equal-opportunity disgrace event) from dog-walking group in Battersea for being generally badly-behaved; falling in the Arno, one wet and muddy January afternoon, and his boss - wearing white trousers I recall - having to haul him out, before we all trudged soggily and silently home; rolling ecstatically over and over in the scent of the freshly-mown lawn; insisting on saying 'Buongiorno' to every dog and every person he encountered in the Piazza in the course of his morning constitutional; trying to steal the junior four-footed's dinner, on a daily basis, without anybody noticing; glancing up with one of those and-perhaps-some-for-me? looks, every time he noticed cheese being taken out of the fridge;  and the memory that was especially and exclusively his...those times when he saw the 'come here' sign that he'd learned at puppy training classes all those years ago...hands clasped together over one's head, which he could recognise from 150 yards away, and always had him racing delightedly forwards, tail wagging, ears flapping, eyes gleaming, because he knew that was his own, personal call-sign, and that you wanted him, especially and exclusively. In some ways, it encapsulated all of the answers to all of the 'I wants' there ever had been or ever could be.

20.xi.1999 - 29.ix.2012

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Gnocchi alla Romana

I've been reading Michael Ruhlman's book on 'Ratios' as the basis for understanding the relationships which underpin a whole range of cooking techniques - essentially, the ratios between flour, liquid and fat which every cook needs to remember in order to produce batters, pastries, biscuits, bread, etc. The subject is valid, as anybody will know who has enough experience in the kitchen to have moved beyond the oh-god-which page-was-it-again stage of going back to consult the recipe every three minutes. In fact, though, what the book should really be called IMHO is 'Mnemonics' rather than 'Ratios', firstly, because that's really what the author is talking about, and secondly...well, because his preferred ratios don't agree with mine. His ratio for bread, for instance is five parts flour to three parts liquid, whilst mine is three parts flour to two parts liquid (and to be fair to the man, I did try his method, and then did mine as a direct comparison....and mine was better); his ratio for pastry is three parts flour to two parts fat to 1 part water....where mine is five parts flour to four parts fat, and as little water as you can get away with. I suppose what all this is really saying is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer, and that every cook, through trial and error, will find for themselves the techniques (and ingredients) which work best for them, and if you can then make out of your preferred approach some handy numerical mnemonic, then all the better (Ruhlman quotes as a ratio of flour to fat to liquid for making biscuits 'the area code for dialling Chicago'...which is apparently 312; not a particularly useful reference, though, if you live in Chipping Camden, Limoges, or Ulan Bator...)

Having said all of which, Mr Ruhlman does include in his book a recipe for Gnocchi alla Romana, which is entirely reliable, and completely delicious, and which I've reproduced below. I'm not entirely sure what ratio he had in mind when he included this particular recipe, but it has lots of '2's and '4's in it must be some kind of binary system he has in mind.  The gnocchi can be served with any sauce you like (pretty much any sauce you would serve with pasta will work) , but I think it goes particularly well with this sauce of fresh tomato, garlic and basil.

For two starter servings.

Ingredients: 2 cups Milk; 2 oz Butter (plus another oz for the sauce); 2 teaspoons Salt; 4 oz Semolina (aka Semola, in Italy); half a dozen grinds of pepper; quarter teaspoon of Nutmeg; half a cup of grated Parmesan (plus some extra, for topping the gnocchi); 2 Egg Yolks; 2 large Tomatoes; 1 clove Garlic; half a dozen large Basil leaves.


1. Put the Milk, Butter, and Salt in a saucepan and place over medium heat until the Butter has completely melted.

2. Add the Semolina to the pan, and, still over medium heat, stir it vigorously until the Semolina has absorbed all of the liquid and can be seen to come cleanly away from the side of the pan as you stir. (For anybody familiar with making Choux Pastry, this process will be immediately recognisable). 

3. Off the heat, beat in the Pepper and Nutmeg, and then the Parmesan and the Egg yolks, one by one.

4. Once the mixture is cool enough to handle, spread it in a layer about a third of an inch thick on a greased baking tray, or on a silpat or silicone mat placed on top of a baking tray. Refrigerate until twenty minutes or so before serving.

5. Heat the oven to 220 degrees C, fifteen minutes before dinner.

6. In a small pan, melt the extra oz of Butter, and lightly sauté the minced Garlic; chop  the tomatoes, and add these to the pan. Cook over medium heat for ten minutes or so,  until the tomatoes have collapsed into their cooking liquid.

7. Using a pastry cutter approx one and a half inches in diameter, cut out the gnocchi from the layer of cooked Semolina, and place these back on the baking tray; sprinkle grated Parmesan over the top, and place in the pre-heated oven for the five minutes or so it takes to heat them through.

8. Add Salt as desired to the Tomato sauce, along with the Basil, finely chopped. Serve in pasta bowls, with half of the sauce underneath the gnocchi, and the remainder on top.