Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Slapstick is a state of mind – like zen, you embrace it and follower wherever it runs.
            This morning I woke to the sound of howling.  I followed and found a two-year-old with no pants staring down the toilet bowl and screaming his two-year-old head off.  His mother was bent over him-
            “It’s gone!" She shouted, trying to be heard over the din. "It’s gone and there’s no point looking! It’s not coming back!” 
            I loitered in the doorway of the bathroom and cleared my throat. “Um," I said. "Shouldn't he be used to this part of the proceedings by now?
            Little Laurie turned toward the door.  His face was screwed up into an expression of truly piteous distress.  
 “It’s his dummy.”* Sarah said. She was rather red and rumpled herself. “He threw it down the toilet when I flushed, and then he got angry and pulled my hair elastic off my ponytail and sent that down too!”
          Laurie’s face crumpled even further, cabbage-like, and he turned his face up toward the ceiling and screamed. Sarah threw up her hands. 
             “Oh, don’t even try!" She yelled. "She can’t help you! It doesn't matter what she does! It’s not going to come back!”
             “No kidding.”  Miles wandered into the bathroom with a toothbrush in his hand. “We lose a lot more stuff down there than we did before he came along. You had your breakfast yet? There’s a cup of tea in the kitchen if you want it.”
            I did want it.

Right now that same toddler is melting down all over our living room because he doesn't want to put on his blue socks.  Poor little soul. 
            Sarah, Miles and Laurie fly home to Australia tonight. We are going to miss them enormously. Life contains a certain extra zest and dynamism when a two-year-old is around!**

** except when you’re trying to leave the apartment. Then it goes like toffee in a deep-freezer. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Dynamics of Baa Baa Black Sheep

Life has been dynamic and exciting in all sorts of forceful and vigorous ways for the past couple of months. Our Australian friends Sarah and Miles have been with us for four weeks, and they have brought their two year old son along with them.  
            When we last saw little Laurie, he was all of two weeks old, and not up to much beyond squeaking occasionally, crying lots, and keeping his mother and father up at night.  All this still makes up a reasonable part of his repertoire, but he’s mostly a rambunctious font of cuddles and enthusiastically splashy bath-times.  And balloon-popping. We really like balloons in this house at the moment. The louder, the better.
            Miles just came out of Laurie’s bedroom, and said “Hey! If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, I have a tip for you. Start by rolling over and over, like a seal. Switch the head and feet end of your bed at least a dozen times, and while you're rolling, say the names of every single thing you did and saw and heard and smelled and touched over the last couple of days. Then pile all your blankets and stuffed animals underneath you, and sing Baa Baa Black Sheep fifty times in succession. Over and over and over and over and over-"
            "Is he still at it?"
            "Yep. Ninety minutes so far, and going strong." 
            "Is he ever going to fall asleep?"
            "Search me. He didn't even notice when i left.  He was too busy singing..."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Two Dreams

Last night I dreamed good things.
            I dreamed that I was given a helium balloon, and it was so buoyant that it pulled me off the ground.  I was in a university, and went bobbing through the hallways, creating mayhem among the teachers, who were dreadfully dismayed by a flying student who scattered papers and grading sheets as she went past! 
            I dreamed that I won the lottery.  Not a financial sort of lottery.  A man with a clipboard knocked on your door and told you that you had won a lifetime of happiness.  Throughout your life, you would always walk the path that would bring you the most joy.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Recipe: The Chocolate Rum and Raisin Mousse of All Good Dreams

Mr Tabubil tells me that my chocolate recipes are my dowry, and dreamily recounts the way I came to him with a notebook: a fat cardboard portfolio bursting with photocopies and handwritten recipes, all heavily smudged around the edges with egg, cream and chocolate – and rum.       
            I’m a boozy sort of cook. The recipes that Mr Tabubil counts among his favorites are a chocolate almond cake – with rum; a chocolate raisin mousse – with  lots of rum; and a boozy chocolate fondue sauce that kicks your teeth down the back of your throat and puts you to sleep at the table. If I could find a way to put rum into a cookie I'd try it, but philosophically speaking, an alcoholic cookie, doesn't feel quite right.  A cookie's a wholesome thing, and rum is hot and thick and dances on a tropical beach at midnight with its shirt off.  For cookies, dark chocolate alone (85% caffeine!) is as far as I dare go. Caffeine leave me dancing on a beach at midnight with my shirt off and bongo drums banging in both my ears, so I reckon that is sufficiently damned decadent.
             Chocolate, done properly, is a mouth full of silk and black velvet – with that lingering caffeine buzz.  Alcohol is a mouth full of fist and somebody else’s teeth.  Chocolate and alcohol, together, are a pairing that is divinely inspired, in which the alcohol ceases to be boozy, and becomes something intangible, a sensation that hovers, ghost-like, at the edge of your plate.  Try to pin it down and you won’t find it, but if you let go and return your attention to your plate and your fork, it will sneak sideways around the edges of your palate and lift the chocolate up into the realm of the sublime.
             Mr Tabubil has come over to the computer and snorted hugely and said that I wouldn’t know what to do with an elusive alcoholic essence if it came up to me on the street, wrapped its arms around my knees and begged me to take it home.  My recipes, he says, use alcohol in quantities that resemble a one-two punch, a knockout blow that leaves the eater flat on the floor with the carpet wrapped around his head.
             To which I replied that a dessert that isn’t intended as a showstopper is a waste of time and chocolate for both guest and baker, and referred him to the chocolate mousse I made for a party last Saturday night – a chocolate mousse that broke two diets, left four guests under the table (albeit smiling) and sent everyone home in taxis.
            Mr Tabubil snorted again and said it was a fault of my upbringing, and went away. 
            Mr Tabubil is not entirely wrong.  I was raised in a household both sozzly and decadent. Not to drink- my parents never drank, but they kept booze on hand for guests who did, and after the really good dinner parties there were always half-bottles by the score that needed using up - so we cooked with them. And my mother, an almost-teetotaler, tippled while she cooked, and dinners that started with beef bourguignon went down deep and twisting rabbit holes to places that were extremely interesting indeed.  
             Her magnum opus was the evening, two days after a really good party, when I came home to find that she'd used the leftover red wine in a cabbage stew, soaked the cucumber salad in chardonnay instead of vinegar (I don't recommend the substitution) and, halfway down the second half-bottle of the stuff, she'd had a brainwave and boiled the rice in champagne.
             It wasn't a meal that was precisely edible, but it got us through all of the leftover bottles, all right. The liqueurs and chocolates that we ate for dessert were almost conventional - except for the moment when someone giggled and cried 'whoops!' and sat down and missed her chair - with a carafe of hot coffee in her hand.  The next morning was all about caffeine - believe me- but the bongo drums came first.
             In her honor, and in the honor of the six sozzly guests of Saturday last, I present to you my mother’s own recipe for Chocolate Mousse.  You can work with the given amount of rum, or you can go the whole Tabubil and magnify it.  I leave the choice to you.  I will only note that dinner invitations to our house are a highly sought-after commodity, and a guest who doesn’t have a headache after the dessert course is a guest we haven’t yet satisfied. 

Chocolate Rum and Raisin Mousse

Begin Marinating raisins 2 days ahead of serving.

Make the mousse 1 day ahead of serving.  

You need at least twenty-four hours to soak the raisins (a full week is even better), and the completed dessert must rest in the fridge for another twenty-four before you serve it so that the flavors can blend and mellow.  Serve it early and you will be astonished by its insipid banality.  Wait a day and you will be hit with a bolt of pure chocolate goodness.

225g semi-sweet chocolate (substitute for 112 g dark chocolate and 112 milk chocolate)
1/2 cup sour cream
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup loosely chopped raisins (slice them open to allow entree to the alcohol)
3 tablespoons dark rum (start with 1 1/2 and add the rest as and when needed)
300ml thickened cream
2 tablespoons castor sugar

The day before you plan to make the mousse:  
 Put the rum and raisins together in a shallow bowl.  Cover and leave to soak.  Add more rum as and when necessary.  Use as much as you like!

The day of the cooking:   
Bring the sour cream and egg yolks to room temperature.  Melt the chocolate.  Add the melted chocolate to the sour cream and egg yolks and stir until smooth; add the raisins and all the unabsorbed alcohol.  Lightly whip the cream and fold it in. 
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, gradually beating in sugar.  Fold beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture. 
Spoon into serving glasses (keep portions small!) and refrigerate overnight.


(Important note – you must always add melted chocolate TO the eggs and dairy – and not the reverse.  There’s a complicated chemical reason for this that I can’t precisely recall  – but I can tell you from extensive personal experience that if you do it wrong the chocolate tends to seize and solidify and ruin, and you have to start over!)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

There Possibly IS No Business Like Show Business

On account of being sik, I spent my evening on the sofa, snuffling pitifully and watching old Hollywood musicals.  I started out with There's No Business Like Show Business because it has Ethel Merman and Marilyn Monroe AND Donald O'Conner in it, but the film didn't seem to do much with any of them.  There was a great deal of noise, but not much music.  There was a great deal of technicolor drapery and swirling, but not much dancing or choreography.  Lots of jokes, not much humor, and a great deal of Marilyn Monroe wearing not very much at ALL.   Her character sings in nightclubs, but her costume has chrome nipples on tips of its spangled pneumatic front and that's all I have to say about that.  Poor Donald O'Conner was forced to dance the highland fling to a New Orleans Blues version of Alexander's Ragtime Band - and Ethel Merman?  She had precisely two speeds - full throttle and off, and no-one seemed to be able to get near the off button.
            After ten minutes and six musical comedy numbers, Mr Tabubil looked up from his book and said "You know what?  This is just like porn.  A tottery, badly acted plot to give a thin string of connection to the noisy bits.   And the noisy bits? They're an aesthetic abomination.  And the apparent sincerity of the actors?  Yeah, they're faking it."
            So we put on Broadway Melody of 1940 with Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell instead, and Mr Tabubil forgot that he isn't supposed to approve of movies that aren't in color, and we watched happily until bedtime.