I'm entertaining tonight. It's not quite a first – but as good as, since it's the first time I've really cooked for someone else since I started ... well, cooking.
My niece – 21 next month and studying fine arts up north – is paying a visit. So, young and a student, but also with a certain artistic bent.
Eek!! What to cook?
It was relatively short notice, but not too short to create a state of minor panic. Amazingly, given a standard reluctance to make any culinary suggestion requiring more than a grunt, The Other Half came up one half of the menu suggestion – meatballs.
It's 3.20pm and they're already prepped. I bought 200g each of pork and beef mince from the market this morning, and have mixed that with two slices of wholemeal bread, crumbed, a load of flat leaf parsley, some paprika and four cloves of crushed garlic. Usually I'd make such things straight before cooking them, but I've made up the balls (quick tip – keep your hands moist for rolling meatballs) and placed them on greaseproof paper on a baking tray, covered very lightly by foil and now sitting in the fridge.
I've skinned and de-seeded a load of good tomatoes. All I need to do later is brown the meatballs in olive oil, then remove from the pan; chop an onion and a couple of stalks of celery, and soften in oil. Stir in a little plain flour, add the tomatoes and some tomato purée, plus some more paprika and some white wine, then return the meatballs to the pan and cover. It'll take around 20 minutes to cook, leaving me plenty of time to pop some spaghetti into another pan of salted water.
And for dessert, I had some sweet tart pastry in the fridge, so a chocolate tart – also made earlier – will complete the meal.
Meatballs and pasta, followed by chocolate. Not too posy for a student, but still proper home cooking.
Some housework has also been done. Personally, I rather like Quentin's Crisp's ethos on the matter – after four years, no more dust accumulates. But there comes a time when you have to yield. And the bathroom demanded a rather rapid yielding today. So up to my elbows in yellow Marigolds, I hauled out half a dozen neglected bottles of cleaner and set to work.
The trouble is, that once you start, you realise how much there is that you could do. I start feeling as though I should have begun this task six months ago – five months and three weeks before I invited my niece to dinner. Which would, however, have been another signal that it is the fate of daughters to turn into their mothers.
Oh well – it'll have to do. Until I start with the duster an hour later.
I can barely believe that my niece is almost 21: it seems impossible – and certainly not 'that long' since she was a child. Now she's the easiest member of my family to get on with and probably the one I feel that I have most in common with. We can, for starters, discuss art and photography. And in the meantime, trying not to fuss or fret, I shall sit and indulge in some more Elizabeth David – and wonder what she would make of such a menu, with it's somewhat free mix of Italian, Spanish and French cuisines.
Of course, all this is well and good. Indeed, it's very well and good – because the young people are late. Somehow, you just knew that this wouldn't go smoothly. The best laid plans etc.