On a glorious evening, I let myself into the flat last night to find that usual junk mail included an eight-page leaflet that told me, in no uncertain terms, that this could not be a happy home.
A ‘happy home’, apparently, requires the hand of God in bringing a couple together in the first place (not lust or transitory pleasure: shucks); marriage is de rigueur, together with commitment to God (and actually being Christians), submission by the woman to the man, submission by the children to the parents …
Those who do not fulfil these criteria are, I’m afraid, doomed to the misery of the ‘unhappy home’.
You get the gist. This delightful little item had no return address on it, although it had been produced by some group in the US.
I think the very anonymity of whomsoever had paid to have it delivered (it can’t have been part of a mail drop paid for from the US, surely?) was what made me feel infintely more offended by it than I usually am by religious tracts, which simply go straight into the recycling crate, unread, along with the glossy fliers for pizza deliveries.
Someone wants to condemn others for what they perceive as immoral behaviour, leading – they conclude with utter certainty – to an unhappy condition, yet they lack the courage of their own convictions and do not say who they are.
So in a spirit of obvious misery, I donned my chef’s apron, put some music on and set about preparing a meal to lay before my non-spousal Other Half, in the hope that it might win me the odd brownie point with the Flying Spaghetti Monster (that’s the one dancing around on the other side of the sun with a giant chocolate teapot – not The Other Half).
After he had arrived back on Wednesday evening from a working sojourn in Liverpool, I’d come up with a dinner of pan-fried pigeon breasts, a mix of sautéed diced potato and croutons, some cannellini beans, artichoke hearts and a sort of jus of the meat juices and some raspberry vinegar.
Now it was tasty enough and, thinking about it, there was a reasonably decent variety of textures. But something about it left me dissatisfied.
Only yesterday did it dawn on me what the source of that was. The dark meat aside, everything was actually pretty colourless to look at, while it all looked a bit messy on the plate.
Now since I had guessed (correctly) that The Other Half would not have eaten fish while away – much less some oily fish – salmon was on yesterday's menu.
But what to do with it?
Last weekend, I’d seen some fresh garlic for sale on Broadway Market and, in a fit of excitement, bough two bulbs. Never having actually used the stuff before, they went into the fridge to wait until I had a clue.
Browsing around the food section of the Guardian’s website, I’d come across a recipe for ‘wet and wild garlic risotto’.
Now, I didn’t follow this exactly, but used my own usual method, simply starting off with a couple of chopped shallots, two cloves of dried garlic (the stuff we’re primarily familiar with) and most of a bulb of the fresh variety.
Then, with less rice than usual for a main course, it was routine. After about 20 minutes, I lidded the pan, turned down the heat and left it, while the fish part poached-part steamed.
But while I was doing my original preparation, I had peeled another four cloves of garlic. Two were chopped finely and went into a gremolata, together with a good handful of chopped parsley and some lemon zest.
The other two went through the crusher, to be mixed into a paste with a little salt and then whisked with an egg yolk before virgin oil was drizzled in to make aïoli. I have to confess that quite a lot of this was eaten straight after being mixed – such a fabulous taste.
I made both of these up before I started on the risotto, and since all the basic ingredients for that had been prepped at the same time and were in a dish, waiting, it suggested a rare level of kitchen organisation.
As the fish neared readiness, it was the matter of a moment to add a spoon of crème fraîche to the rice and let that warm back up.
But so to the presentation bit. Now that I’ve got chef’s rings, it makes doing rice really easy. You can, however, quite easily use a buttered cup: pack the rice in and then carefully turn it onto the plate and tap the bottom of the cup.
I made a thick line of gremolata on each plate, put the fish at an angle across that and then drizzled the beautiful, yellowy-green aïoli over that.
Now it’s easy when you do something like this to start to realise just what an art form in its own right is plating up – it wasn't perfect, but it looked so much better than the previous night’s dish.
And the taste was up there too. The garlic risotto was beautifully delicate and fragrant. The fish was quite mild (it was farmed), but the sauces gave fabulous bursts of very different flavours to the whole, and with garlic as a theme running throughout.
God might not be impressed to realise that I don’t think I’m unhappy – indeed, that cooking and eating that meal gave me real pleasure – but I suspect I need not fear any vampires for a couple of days at least.