Monday, 31 December 2012

All it remains to say ...

And hope to see you all again next year!

• The photograph is Vondel Park in Amsterdam, on a very cold, but wonderful New Year's Eve, 2008.

Christmas is for cats

Loki (top) and Otto, with shiny paper and a few balls.
‘Christmas is really for the children,’ or so many people claim.

In which case, do cats count too?

It’s certainly been an eventful festive season for our little pride, starting when Loki got herself lost.

She’d successfully chased the considerably larger Reggie out of the carpark behind our flat, and was rather obviously feeling chuffed with herself.

But by the time I’d returned from the shops, The Other Half was back inside, the door was still open, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Cue much calling and rattling of food tins. No sign.

After about half an hour of hunting – and increasing panic – The Other Half went upstairs on a communal staircase and opened a window to peer out from above.

Next door to our small block is an old pub that’s been converted into flats. He thought he spotted her on the metal stairs leading to the upper floors.

He sped out one way and I went the other, food tin and fork in hand.

There she was, underneath the metal stairs, hiding in a corner, bravado gone, now just thoroughly frightened.

Eventually he coaxed her out and through the gate, picking her up and pushing her back into the carpark, where she ran past me as I beat a tattoo on the tin and called her.

Past me, indeed, into the garden, straight into the flat and absolutely straight to the food bowl, where she started to gobble food.

“She’s going to bring that all back up,” I mused to The Other Half a few minutes later, as she continued to empty the bowl. But remarkably, she didn’t. Presumably, being frightened and lost gets the appetite going.

She’d also managed to get mud all over her paws and belly, so we toweled as much off as possible. I was wondering if we’d have to experience the joys of bathing a cat, but fortunately she completed the job excellently all by herself.

And then it was a case of flopping next to The Other Half on the sofa and not moving for the rest of the day. And the day after that.

But Christmas Day brought with it reasons to be active again.

The cats have had a few balls to play with for some time – light, ping pong balls are perfect. But they lose them rapidly beneath the furniture and then demand we get them out again.

Solution? A Christmas present of a bag of 150 orange ping pong balls.

Which we emptied onto the wooden floor all at once, to enormous feline confusion. Confusion, however, that was followed by gleeful play.

Boudicca isn’t entirely convinced, but The Kittens – who arrived at Christmas three years ago, so aren’t really kittens any more – love them.

It’s a sort of combination of dribbling skills and pinball. Although Otto has added a format to the game that’s entirely of her own making.

Having worked out that she can carry a ball around, she picks one up (using her front paws to lift it to her mouth) and then carries it to the mat inside the door to the garden.

Then she puts it down and waits until it either rolls away, before she charges after it, or until she decides to bat it away, and then charge after it.

But then, after a while of pinging it around, it will be brought back to the mat to start again. In the last week or so, the mat has changed to a piece of shiny wrapping paper, which is near the mat.

Wrapping paper is obviously another seasonal pleasure, to be dived on (this year’s new wooden floor means you can pretty much surf on it), torn at – and made into little tents to hide in.

Not that this is Otto’s only version of a formalised game.

Having realised, last Christmas, that she particularly loves ribbon, I bought a spool so we can cut lengths off for play.

And the ribbons ended up on the bed, which has a blanket box at the end of it.

The game, as it has evolved, means that when I’m sitting in bed with a book, Otto will sit on the blanket box and wait.

I’m supposed to take the longest piece of red ribbon and flick it towards her and then draw it slowly up the bed.

Sometimes she pounces quickly – sometimes she waits. And waits.

But she always returns to the blanket box to start the next round.

Cats have habits – they’ll patrol exactly the same area in exactly the same way, for instance – but neither The Other Half nor I have ever seen anything quite like this. It’s fascinating.

Mind, she will also sit and watch television (or a computer) for longer than any cat I’ve known either.

Boudi continues to be the household’s big clumsy girl. Presumably because she was so young when we got her (six and a half weeks) and because she moved into a household with two elderly cats, her social skills are not what they might be.

She gets her verbal signals all confused, growling and hissing when she’s actually playing. It still bemuses The Kittens, although they generally seem to regard her behaviour in a sort of ‘oh, it’s just Boudi’ way. They’d probably shrug if they could.

Mind, that’s when they’re not teasing her – karma, Boudi, given how you baited Trickie when you were a tiny thing?

Trickie, our Battersea rescue cat, who had spent most of her life with an elderly man who clearly liked a very hot home; who thought that she wasn’t a cat, but a small, elderly and rather genteel lady in a fur coat.

Trickie, who was nearly about to set records for the longest stay at the home; who beat her ‘cabin’ door when she saw us coming, drooled over the top of it at us, and faked the cat test, which is supposed to reveal whether a cat can get along with other cats.

Trickie, who was so grateful to be rescued from Stalag Luft Battersea, and who was then twice attacked in our garden by some hulking stranger cat, who was chased off by Boudi, paws a-whir as she hurtled after it, claws glistening in the morning light.

All of them leave you with stories and memories.

Not that our anthropological observations this last couple of weeks have been limited to the cats.

When we finally managed to get out for a walk yesterday, we discovered that squirrels make nests. Okay, I knew that they nested in hollow bits of trees, but had never realised that they actually make nests in the branches too.

We were in the park and there were squirrels everywhere – including the fattest one either of us have ever seen; sitting beneath a tree and munching its way through a whole pile of nuts, beady eye keeping a watch on anyone who got too close.

But not far away, there were squirrels running up and down the naked trees, carrying leaves to a big nest.

Since there was another rather large squirrel watching, we surmised that there’s a spot of Sciuridae pregnancy in the air.

And with a scattering of pink blossom on a tree further on, and crocuses already well on the way in our own little garden, it would seem that the seasons are well and truly in chaos.

No wonder it hasn’t felt much like Christmas anywhere but completely hidden away from the outside world.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The MP and the friends of Dorothy

Unaccustomed as I am to saying that I feel sorry for Tories, I do feel for David Davies MP.

Having committed the modern faux pas of saying what he was actually thinking without having it checked by a press officer first, and suggesting that no parent wanted their child to be gay, he then agreed to be interviewed by the Guardian in the wake of the furore.

The interview itself is extraordinary. One could be forgiven for thinking that Davies had been brought up in the 1950s (or before), not the 1970s.

But it also reads as utterly guileless. What comes across is not the voice of someone who has, in the intervening days, been schooled sharply in what to say and what not to say.

Davies is apparently bemused by the fuss after his initial comments.

But in what was eventually printed, he is willing not only to say that he might have had difficulty conveying what he meant, but that he may also be wrong.

That in itself is refreshing, and his honesty should be applauded.

But what emerges – and this is why the whole saga is valuable – is that Davies is someone who finds sexuality and gender genuinely confusing. In that, he is far from alone.

Davies appears to assume, for instance, that in the 1980s, a bloke couldn’t listen to Erasure if he wasn’t gay. It was okay for girls, obviously – he appears never to have considered what gay girls might have listened to – but not for a straight boy.

Although he now says he has Boy George’s greatest hits in his own collection. So we have progress.

Part of Davies’s discomfort is related to sex education – if same-sex marriage is made legal, will teachers have to explain to their class about anal sex? Well presumably no more than they now have to explain to their pupils about heterosexual anal sex – or oral sex or all manner of other forms of sexual activity that occurs between straight married couples.

On a train a few days ago, a couple (no older than me) got on and the woman picked up one of the papers that was lying, abandoned, on the seat.

After a few minutes, she said: “It seems that most boys now get their sex education from pornography.”

There was a pause.

“They should just ban it!” she announced.

Ban what? Sex education?

Indeed, perhaps the point is that sex education has long been a problem in the UK and it needs a radical overhaul – and a lot more openness and honesty.

And that’s as true of heterosexual sex as any bendier variety.

There needs to be much more education done on the issues of sexuality – and gender – which many people still conflate.

Many people still have very conventional attitudes to the latter – even if some of us would expect otherwise.

I’ve noted previously that some women I know, who are most certainly not politically unaware, have expressed surprise that my interests include so-called male subjects – elements of military history, for instance.

Yet it’s hard to imagine that they really believe that all women should be interested in so-called ‘girlie’ subjects alone. But the truth is that for all their political education and knowledge, they still fall into a trap on gender.

Some years ago, in my working-class local, one of the regulars approached me with a 'problem'. He was rather the worse for wear, but most genuinely upset.

"Am, I gay?" he managed to ask.

"I get a hard-on when my wife touches my nipples."

I managed to cobble together an answer that no, that didn't mean that he was gay. He was quite 'normal' (whatever that means), that the male nipples are as much an erogenous zone as the female variety, and that he should celebrate it.

He seemed to be much relieved.

Only a few weeks ago, a young gay man was chatting with me and happened to notice a badge pinned to my jacket.

‘I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,’ it said.

Are you a friend of Dorothy,” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “a sort of part-time friend”.

He was confused. I explained that I meant that I was bisexual.

And then I added the observation of an old friend that I was “a gay man in a woman’s body”. It’s something that I’ve though amusing ever since she said it to me.

“But wouldn’t that make you straight?” he asked.

Well, half straight, perhaps.

But you see the point? Even those that you’d expect to be much more au fait with the range of human sexuality (that we currently know of) can still be confused by it.

It’s little wonder then, that even now, bisexuality still causes confusion – although thankfully we’re largely past the claims that it’s merely a form of fence-sitting.

But that’s hardly the only aspect of sexuality and gender that confuses people.

Many are particularly confused by transgender issues because they conflate sexuality and gender: ‘why would someone who was born as male and wanting to be female fancy other women?’ is just one ‘for instance’.

And how many people actually hardly realise that female-to-male transgender people even exist? Probably about as many as who have heard that drag kings exist.

How many people think that the process of transitioning is simply something akin to cosmetic surgery?

There’s plenty to get antsy with Davies about – for goodness sake David, even the IMF says that austerity doesn’t work – but this is not it.

Hopefully, his painfully honest comments can trigger a real – and widespread – discussion about what sexuality and gender really mean.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Festive food lessons

Channelling Michel; Roux Jr.
A few days before Christmas, BBC online ran a magazine article with a headline that described sprouts as a “controversial vegetable”.

Now I’m well aware that not everybody actively likes sprouts, but in what possible way are they “controversial”?

I mean, gay marriage is ‘controversial’, but is someone really standing up and saying that sprouts (or a lack thereof) would mean the end of civilisation as we know it?

Personally, I love ’em.

The Other Half was not enamoured – until, in fact, late last year, when I discovered Joël Robuchon’s way to cook them, in a book, coincidentally, that had been a Christmas present from The Other Half himself a year previously.

Prep your sprouts as usual – although there’s no need to do a cross cut on the end of the stalk: it makes no difference – and then soak them in cold water, with a glug of vinegar, for two minutes. Drain and rinse, and blanch for a minute in boiling, salted water.

Stop the cooking process by plunging them in iced water, and then cook in fresh boiling, salted water for 20 minutes, gently, so that the water is just bubbling, but not harshly enough to break up the little “cabbages”, as the great chef himself describes them.

Now you have a choice: you can either drain and serve straight away, or you can decant them into a new bowl of iced water to be dried carefully later, and then finished in butter.

Bread rolls, straight from the oven.
Robuchon says that this process is good for the digestion – well, it certainly seems to reduce the fart factor – but you can see why it would be useful in a restaurant situation too, allowing most prep to be done, with only a tiny amount of cooking to finish.

And of course you can add chestnuts at the same time.

It’s worth noting that the timings are prefect: you end up with sprouts that are lusciously green and properly cooked, but still with texture: none of that ludicrous British idea that al dente means as good as raw.

Well, that was about as organised as I got on Christmas Day.

The night before, I’d started making bread and got it to the first proofing stage before covering it gently with cling film and popping it in the fridge. Remarkably, given how we associate yeast and warmth, this doesn’t stop the proofing process, but merely slows it down.

The next morning, it came out, was thumped around a bit and then left to proof once more.

And here was the biggest mistake of the day: not making breakfast before taking over the kitchen for the main event.

Anyway, the dough was divided into rolls and baked – and came out very well.

Consommé, big on flavour and as clear as it should be.
At the same time, I juiced four oranges, sieved the liquid and then reduced it, adding a touch of salt and very generous amount of pepper on the way, before sieving again and decanting to one of my tiny copper pans to be reheatedlater.

The sprouts were done, as above, and left in iced water.

Now, because I’m not a trained cook, timing is the sort of area where I come unstuck.

We hadn’t risen early – there was no need. But before I knew where I was, we were well into the afternoon.

I gently heated the beef consommé that had been prepared over a number of days previously, and gave it a final, careful pass with folded kitchen paper to remove any remaining dots of fat on the top.

It was good, I must say.

While The Other Half was sipping his in front of the telly, I was sipping mine while bashing on with the next course.

Home-cured salmon.
I’d cured some salmon fillet with roasted fennel seeds, salt, sugar, lemon zest and Noilly Prat – a Bruno Loubet recipe, except that the vermouth replaced Pernod.

Further adjustments saw pickled beetroot diced finely and set on top of thin layers of the fish, with pickled nasturtium seeds from the garden.

There was a salad/garnish of segmented orange and tiny endive leaves, with a simple dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and grainy mustard, plus a ‘snow’ of grated, frozen horseradish – and served with the fresh bread.

Now this was also very pleasingly good.

Sending The Other Half out of the kitchen, it was on with the main course.

I’d had some thick parsnip slices cooking gently in butter while we ate the salmon, so simply added the remains of the consommé (in lieu of stock) and let them continue to simmer away.

Then for the duck – at The Other Half’s request, breasts from the south of France, where they breed their ducks big and with a fantastic layer of fat (a foie duck, in other words).

Stephane and Arno at La Bouche had been wonderful in getting them for me – The Other Half is becoming a choosy foodie himself, it seems.

There were two, but they were huge (one remains in the freezer), so I took just one, cross-hatched the skin, salted it and then placed it skin-side down in a searingly hot pan, before draining off the melted fat into my duck fat pot.

It had seven minutes on the skin side, followed by seven further minutes on a lower heat on the flesh side. Then a rest of five minutes, during which I sautéed the sprouts with chopped chestnuts, and prepared the plates.

Now here I was, clearly channelling Michel Roux Jr, with a very nice arc of Balsamico dots in different sizes.

I mean, it looks the business, doesn’t it?

The orange sauce, reheated, was served in individual sauce pots.

The trouble was, by the time we sat down, I was knackered and we had both had the edge taken off our appetites by both the wait for food and the absence of it in the morning.

Dessert – painted chocolate and all.
The food itself was okay – albeit the sauce was a little too peppery and the parsnips, somehow, were a tad undercooked in the centre.

But the biggest disappointment was dessert. In many ways, it was an achievement. I’d managed – at the second attempt – a passable pear bavarois (pear purée mixed into a custard, then into Italian meringue and whipped cream) from Michel Roux’s Desserts.

It tasted good, but next time I need to remember that sieving the purée, no matter how pointless it appears, does make a difference.

My ambition had rather overreached itself, though, as I’d tried a ‘pear three ways’ dish.

What we missed: one of The Other Half's breakfasts.
The jellies of pear liqueur had way too much liqueur – although I was delighted at getting a good set, and getting tiny pieces of fruit ‘floating’ in the jelly.

And the candied pear slices were not crisp enough, because I’d opted to dunk them in icing sugar rather than a coarser type, leading them to become rather most, even after hours in the oven.

Fortunately, the Yule log that I’d made a couple of days earlier was fine.

Still, the point – in part at least – is to learn. Although you don't really want such lessons to be ones handed down over Christmas.

But still, there was nothing ‘controversial’ – and most certainly not the sprouts!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The sound of Christmas

Bogart. Pencil sketch.
Everyone has memories that are linked to times of year; to occasions; to places. Christmas and New Year are hardly unique, but they’re always going to feature highly on any such personal list.

For Nigel Slater, many such memories are inextricably bound up with food – and that includes his festive ones. His memoir of his early life, Toast, is well worth reading.

But while I have memories of Christmases past, food has never been the main part of those – not least, I suspect, because of a strong memory of my mother, sister and me sitting around, waiting for my father to return from taking morning services before we could begin the big festive meal, the crackle of unspoken tension alive in the air.

And turkey was never a favourite meat anyway: bland and less than moist. My mother's stuffing balls – she never actually stuffed the bird – and the sausages were always welcome, perhaps especially when cold, and particularly when accompanying cold turkey sandwiches on Christmas night.

Ah yes: Christmas night in front of the telly, watching the late-night BBC2 classic movie after my sister had gone to bed.

Sometimes you don’t even need things to have been replicated often for them to be linked and lodged in your head.

The sandwiches – brown meat, well salted – were traditional, but I remember just one specific such film, and thus it has become a norm for those times.

It was The Big Sleep; 1946, Bogart and Bacall setting the screen alight with their chemistry. The plot a mystery, but who ever cared?

Films were a vital part of my life; welcome escapism. There would be Saturday evening westerns after Grandstand had finished; an event that made sure my first heroes were not pop stars, but the likes of Jimmy Stewart and, most of all, John Wayne.

But then came that Christmas night and, at something like 13 or 14, a sudden burst of growing up. Wayne became a thing of the past – Bogart, a Christmas Day birthday boy himself, usurping utterly more simplistic tastes.

It was not without ramifications. Destined (according to teachers and, therefore, parents alike) to be a graphic artist, pencils were turned to conveying this new, noir passion. It continued unabated and fed into my O level work.

But that wasn’t the only Christmas Day film that had a lasting influence.

Pick a Pocket or Two – or just skip lunch.
Around much the same time, the BBC screened Oliver! for the first time one Christmas afternoon.

I have no memory of the rest of the family sitting down to watch. They might have. They might not. But memory is an odd beast, and mine is of seeing it in a sort of vacuum of personal delight.

A few years earlier, there had been an attempt to have me learn to play the piano. My mother’s parents had given us one and, when I was considered old enough, one of my father’s church organists was given the task of teaching me.

It was tedious: he lacked any inspirational qualities and I lacked any interest.

By the time the attempt withered, I had learned little more than to recognise middle C on both page and instrument.

But from nowhere came the desire to play. I saved school lunch money for a week or so, pretending I’d eaten but going without, and bought the film score instead.

At home, perched on the long bench, padded, and covered in shining emerald green fabric, the lid raised as neglected ivories itched to be tinkled, I started picking out the tunes.

It drove everyone mad. After such a previous lack of enthusiasm, now I’d happily play away for hours. Not smoothly or flowingly; but I worked at it and learned some of the pieces.

And later, I bought more sheet music. Inevitably, more show scores, although I made attempts – slow and error-strewn – at Beethoven and Chopin.

Many years later, reviewing for the Morning Star, the National Youth Theatre staged Blitz!, another Lionel Bart show. The rest of the media, which never before bothered to review these ‘amateur’ productions, feigned interest – amazed that Bart was even still alive.

Could they have an interview? No, he was not a well man. But 12 months on, when the group staged Maggie May, National Youth Theatre artistic director Ed Wilson, to whom I had told the story of my pianistic endeavours, invited me to the announcement of the new season, and engineered a meeting with the man himself.

“Tell him the same story,” said Ed, “and you’ll have him eating out of your hands”.

It was the final interview Bart ever gave. And setting aside any cynical hackery, I stood transfixed, starstruck even, as, lost in own memories, he regaled me with stories of how, on the opening night of Maggie May, he’d attended the premiere with Judy Garland on his arm.

Judy Garland: oh my.

'I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.'
The Wizard of Oz was never a Christmas film for me, but it came to have a Christmas connotation. One of the earliest films I’d been taken to see at the cinema on a re-release, I’d been terrified by the witch.

At 12 or 13, I played the Munchkin mayor in a school production. Some six or seven years later, I was unexpectedly playing the witch in a production at the Grand Theatre, Lancaster.

I say “unexpectedly”, because there were plenty more senior actors around who could have expected to win the role, and anyway, I’d auditioned for Gloria, on the basis of a combination of age and singing voice.

But I’d been asked to read the witch during auditions for the part of Gilda, the good witch – and had had enough of a ball that I’d been given the part.

A week in December, with matinees – a week to remember, seeing small children slither up the backs of their seats at the front of the stage, scared, but unable to take their bloggling eyes off what was happening under the bright lights as I – as the witch – slowly descended the stairs over the pit and into the stalls.

Oh, such power!

Weeks after, I was with my mother in a shop in Lancaster when a small boy suddenly yelled: ‘It’s her! It’s the witch!’ And that was without the make-up.

But that’s not the only Judy Garland connection in my Christmas memory bank.

Years later, I was helping my mother decorate the house one Christmas Eve (it’s always a last-minute matter) and we had the television on to accompany us. It was Meet Me in St Louis.

My father, late home from a service or a meeting, came into the room, stopped and stared at the TV long and hard, eyes narrowed in intense concentration.

Yes Dad: it's Judy.
Eventually, he said: “It’s The Wizard of Oz.” Well, at least he’d recognised Judy.

But going back to those earlier Christmases, the bumper issue of the Radio Times would have been scoured several times over before any of the programmes aired, just to pick out what films I might hope to see and makes a note of them.

And this was in simpler times, remember, when there were only listings for three channels.

Films, films and more films: I was in love with the Golden Age of Hollywood. Later, the magazine would be plundered for my scrapbooks, carefully-snipped stills joining cast lists and comments of my own.

The Radio Times Christmas edition has continued to be a part of my personal festive season, though to be honest, there seems little more on that I want to watch than there was in the 1970s.

Yesterday, scouring it once again for something to watch on a grim, rain-sodden afternoon, I could find nothing.

Rainy entertainment for a rainy day.
But a thought occurred. On the shelf was a copy of the 60th anniversary BluRay of Singin’ in the Rain. What could be better?

It’s easy to imagine that technological advancement takes us further and further away from the past. That, after all, is partly what this Gene Kelly classic is all about.

But fully restored and on a format that allows the full glory of the original design and cinematography to be enjoyed once more, it snapped into life.

Kelly himself, utterly brilliant – what a dancer; Debbie Reynolds in delightful girl-next-door-becomes-a-star mode and Donald O’Connor showing fabulous slapstick skills – oh, it was as much a joy as ever.

So that’s my Christmas rediscovered: old movies. Classic Hollywood. Glitz and glamour and escapism, and yes, a little sentiment too. Although I draw the line at the schmaltz assault of A Wonderful Life.

I could stand in front of a little bookshop in Lancaster, waiting for the bus home after school, and put names to all the faces on the covers of large studio histories, then linking them according to who had appeared with whom on film.

I never sat down and learned such things; they just stayed put once imbibed.

So what’s up next? Well, it just has to be the BluRay copy of The Wizard of Oz. It too has been on the shelf for some time. This is clearly the moment it’s been waiting for.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Good food doesn't have to be expensive

After all that baking and prep, there was still dinner to make. So just what was on the menu?

Well, it was time for a sausage and kidney turbigo. And since I haven’t described this dish – one of those that I can cook without recourse to a book – for some time, it seemed to be an excellent opportunity to give my dedicated readers (and particularly the new ones) a little seasonal gift of an extra post/recipe.

Around 11 years ago, shortly after I’d ditched the dieting and decided that I wanted to learn to cook, I picked up a book of classic French recipes.

It was one of those with no listed author, but for a decade since, it has been close to one of my kitchen bibles.

Leafing through it, I found a recipe for a sausage and kidney turbigo – and realised that my mother had cooked a version of it, and that I’d loved that dish.

Named after the site of two French military victories in the 19th century, she’d never used onions, because she didn’t like them – apparently that was her father’s influence – so substituted some reconstituted, dried onion.

There’s no such substitution here.

The first thing to remember is that my amounts are very loose – adjust according to how many you’re feeding and what you like best.

The only thing is, if nobody you’re feeding likes kidneys, don’t try this dish. The kidneys turn a rather bland sauce into a velvety gravy that is rich and utterly divine.

The Other Half doesn’t eat offal (except in haggis) but will happily eat this: because the kidneys are simply halved, it’s easy enough to serve it so that I get them all – and he gets none of them!

For me, this is a rare dish: not only one that I don’t need to look up in a book, but also one that links both the past and the present.

Here’s my version.

Take some lamb’s kidneys and some straightforward pork sausages – go on: as many as you want. Personally, I do this for two with four sausages for The Other Half and two for me, plus four kidneys for me.

Now, core the kidneys – this is where the best thing in the world is really, really sharp. At this point, I’m going to do a rare thing and recommend a brand: Zwilling Henckels kitchen scissors are quite superb – so sharp, I’ve cut myself on my pair more than once when drying them. But that is what you want.

If you don’t know how to do this, let me try to explain.

First, carefully peel off any membrane (and fat) on your kidney. Well, not on your’s, obviously, but on the one in your hand.

Now, where the stuff (untechnical term) comes out at the top – well, that’s the top. Keeping it at the top and with the narrow end facing you, cut the kidney in half – through that top hole.

Now, you have two halves. Taking one at a time, use the scissors, almost horizontally against the kidney half, to snip carefully around the tubes and bits inside.

Got it? It’s not that difficult.

So when you’ve done that, gently melt some butter in a large sauté pan and brown both kidneys and sausages. Be gentle – you don’t want to burn the butter, but don’t worry about the juices coming out of the kidneys. They’re precious.

When the meats are browned, remove to a plate.

If there’s not much butter left, you may need to add some.

Then you want to add some baby onions (peeled) and brown them too.

When they’re brown, add some button mushroom – or, if you can’t get button ones, just halve or quarter some white mushrooms.

Cook as gently as the meats.

In the meantime, spoon about a tablespoon of cornflour into a jug and whisk it into approximately the same amount of sherry.

I’ve done this dish with cheap sherry – and not-so-cheap. Forget the Fino, this is what the cheap, sweet stuff was made for.

Add a really generous squeeze of tomato purée and then some beef stock (or chicken, as I did tonight, because I had some of my own available).

When the vegetables have browned – the butter needs to still be unburnt – pour in the cornflour-purée-sherry-stock mixture and deglaze.

It will thicken quickly. If it thickens too much, add a little boiling water.

Now season – with black pepper only.

At this point, I was tempted to tell you NOT to taste. But actually – do. It’ll be bland and boring. What happens over the following minutes is another example of kitchen alchemy. The kidney changes everything.

Pop the meats back in – and every last drop of liquid that’s on the plate they’ve been resting on – make sure it’s bubbling, lid and turn down the heat.

Now, leave for a good 50 minutes.

Go away … have a glass from the (cheap and sweet) sherry. Watch an episode of a soap opera. Read the paper. Listen to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade.

The magic will have worked when you return.

Lift the lid. Smell. Take a spoon and taste. What a difference! Rich and velvety now. You may well wish to add a pinch of salt – this is the time.

And when you’ve done that, pop a pan of basmati rice on to boil. Rice, because you will want something that will mop up every last bit of the juices.

This is a cheap dish, but a wonderful dish. There is no way that I can imagine of making it haute, but food doesn’t need to be haute all the time.

Indeed, in terms of taste – and ultimately, what else is food about – this is a stunner.

That’s without, of course, pointing out that, if you’re going to eat meat, then eating more than the supermarket-prescribed prime cuts, is a much more ethical approach.

But regardless of that – do try this dish. It’s rarely seen mentioned anywhere, but it is quite delicious.