Sunday, April 05, 2009

One lump or two?

Gravy is always the problem.

As I had a window of opportunity today to have a meal which only I had to eat I decided to ‘do a British.’ I went to Carrefour and bought a joint of meat rather than the thin slices that we usually cook.

I went to the Most Expensive Supermarket in the World (conveniently situated with a couple of hundred yards of the flat) to buy selected vegetables (if you have seen the prices you will realise why you select the vegetables individually and carefully) and I was set to go.

Given the lack of an oven in the flat (!) I bought a multipurpose microwave with a conventional oven and grill setting. Each time I use it I forget which buttons to press to get the thing to work as there are a bewilderingly large number of possible combinations of microwave, convection oven, grill - and then, many decisions later you have to add the complication of the variation in heat settings.

Each time I use it I end up looking like some sort of mystic devotee of The Cult of the Oven as I sit cross legged on the kitchen floor gazing at the control panel and pressing buttons pretty much at random. Perhaps I should explain why I sit on the floor.

When the kitchen was ‘designed’ (I use that word as a concept as no process of anything I understand as design was applied to the place) a space was left under the electric hob (ugh!) which clearly is intended to house an oven. The space is allegedly (according to the cheapskate owner) too small for a real oven so he thoughtfully provided the very cheapest sort of microwave. A useless piece of tatty junk!

My attempts to get him to provide a combination microwave were met with blank incomprehension, though eventually ‘a man’ appeared who measured the space and informed us it was too small for an oven. So, rather than spend rather less than 10% of the monthly rental that we pay for this ‘furnished’ flat, the owner gave up and very kindly provided us with nothing.

It took me one visit to our localish electrical store to find what I wanted and, fed up with the attitude of the owner, I bought it. And have used it inexpertly ever since.

The meat was placed inside and some programme was initiated which provided cooked (and well cooked I have to say) sliceable meat at the end of the rather arbitrary time that I (or rather the machine) had decided was necessary.

The veg. were placed in the pressure cooker and I assayed the Task of Hercules of making the gravy.

I like both the idea of gravy and also its taste. I don’t usually have gravy.
I know that these two statements look contradictory, and indeed are, but that is how I am. I have nothing against gravy, it’s just I don’t eat it. This time, however, I had decided to make an exception. I reasoned that if one is going to have a ‘British’ then one should go the whole hog.

I used fat from the meat and a (foreign) stock cube. I added the water from the vegetables and produced a dark, tasty but indubitably thin liquid. A little flour was called for and was duly added. That is to say, that is what I thought I added. In my serene professional haste what I actually added were micro breadcrumbs.

I would not, on mature reflection, suggest that my inadvertency has produced a new and exciting recipe which should be followed by all. No. What I ended up with was a thin, dark liquid with suspicious fluffy bits looking like minute dumplings in it. Tasted OK. In a way.

I had the meal defiantly outside. Although sunny, it is obviously not Spanish sunny as the people walking along the paseo were dressed as for autumn. I was wearing thin shorts and T shirt, the walkers on the beach had overcoats and jackets. Summer is still (though not for me) a couple of months away!

I have finished the crime short stores: an interesting school collection with contributions from Conan Doyle to Ruth Rendell. They have a selection of worthy educational ‘activities’ at the end of the book which are depressingly like the sort of stuff which I could have produced and which no one would ever have used. Including myself!

Moving to my eBook reader I read ‘Agatha Webb’ by Anna Katherine Green. Green is an author of whom I have heard because I did an on line search for out of copyright detective authors and hers was one of the names that came up. Further searches revealed that she had an impressive reputation and is looked on as one of the earliest of the American detective novel writers.
She is talked about with respect on websites which deal with the history of the detective novel and she is usually described as an author who produced stories with plots which were well presented and interesting. She also made every effort to ensure that the technical details of the law were accurate.
Although she was a pioneer and a woman in a world dominated by men she was not a supporter of feminism and was opposed to Votes for Women! She was born in 1846 and died in 1935: so she was born two years before the Year of Revolutions and died in the year that the Nazi government revoked the German citizenship of Jews. Quite a time span!
The novel ‘Agatha Webb’ is concerned with redemption and truth and seems nearer to Hawthorne than Chandler! The plot is complex and has an almost Dickensian reliance on coincidence. It has two detectives, a roué, a Bad Young Woman, deaths galore, money, shipwreck, sons, fathers, daggers, flowers, starvation, secrets and, as you might have guessed by that list, a fairly happy ending.

Detective stories do date very quickly. Many of the seemingly insuperable problems faced by detectives in the past leave them stumped, but leave the modern reading public shouting “Look for fingerprints!” or “Check the DNA!” Social attitudes also date stories and sometimes essential elements of the plot are dependent on some trait of behaviour which would pass without comment in the modern world.

Another choice of book tonight: but I might try and move a little up market this time!
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