Monday, 5 November 2007

Cheeseboard Weekend

It's been a long time since we had a Cheeseboard weekend, with our nearest and dearest buddies descending, partners in tow, for food, wine and song.

First to arrive was Koios, availing herself of GNERs finest service and picked up from the station by Fisher. We had barely a few moments of chatting and chopping food before the entrance of Janus, Badger, Phid and Wheeler, all of whom had come up from Edinburgh in Wheeler's new VW van (Norman). We ate Normandy chicken fricassé and got down to the serious business of consuming vats of wine - something I have been telling myself for some time now that I simply can't do. Alas, my brain switched off for the night, I glugged a bottle of white wine followed by a couple of A'bunadhs from Aberlour's distillery (60.5%) and retired to bed with spinning head.

Unfortunately, at around 3am I awoke in excruciating pain. The mild wry neck I'd been suffering had completely engulfed what felt like my entire back, making any kind of movement breathtakingly painful. I slept fitfully, woken every time I moved by sword-thrusts in my neck, shoulders and back - and was not, in any way, helped by the deeply unpleasant hangover hitting in the early hours of the morning.

I'd planned on getting up to make breakfast of bacon and eggs for everyone, but considering I was totally bed-bound, Fisher willingly took over the task and from the merry laughter drifting up the stairs I was pretty sure everyone else was hale and hearty. Spartan and Blarney arrived in time to share the bacon and eggs. Hearing them, I attempted to get up, which would have been amusing to viewers as my legs flailed and my body refused to lift.

Further plans for the day involved heading up to Lunan Bay to check out the surf, walk the dogs and play on the beach. Naturally this was now out of the question as far as I was concerned, but everyone else set off with a will. I suppose I could have gone along and sat in the car, or even found a place to perch on a sand dune - but there's really nothing worse than the spectre at the feast. I was reminded of that scene in The Beach where two of the men are attacked by a shark. One of them dies, and they have a funeral and mourn. The other one is inconsiderate enough to go on living, in excruciating pain - and because his distress upsets the colony so much, they move him into the jungle so they can't hear him any more. Once this is done, life returns to normal and they go back to playing volley ball on the beach.

Obviously this case wasn't quite so severe, but nothing is more likely to put a dampener on a party than a morose, sickly figure moping in the background - so I merrily stayed at home with Arsenal v Man U and made supper of game pie.

For those interested in my recipe, this is what I did:

Game Pie for 1o
2 x whole partridge (deboned),
250g diced pheasant breast
500g diced venison
250g diced pork belly
3x smoked bacon rashers
400g mushrooms
3-4 tbsp flour, seasoned
1 tbsp honey
1/2 pint chicken stock
3/4 pint red wine
4-5 sprigs rosemary
Juniper berries
Salt & pepper
Puff pastry

First I preheated the oven to 150ºC. Then I fried up the onions and pork belly in a casserole dish and set them aside. I tossed the meat in the seasoned flour, then browned it in the casserole dish before adding the onions and pork. Then I added the stock and red wine, honey, rosemary, juniper berries and seasoned to taste. The stock should cover the meat but not drown it.
Then I popped it in the oven and let it cook for 4 hours.
To make it a pie, I just put a rolled layer of packet puff pastry in the oven and cut it into requisite chunks - but if you wanted to make it a proper pie, I'd recommend thickening the sauce a little, with cornflour. You could do a shortcrust pastry bottom and puff pastry top, or just go shortcrust all the way. Whatever. Your choice.

During this time, Arsenal and Man U drew 2-2, Protagoras arrived and helped me watch Top Gear on Dave - a new channel that shows repeats of pretty much every show I watch, the wanderers returned with pink cheeks from beach fun - and we headed out to Ceres to watch the fireworks.

Being raised on Maltese fireworks, which light the sky for miles around and culminate in a desperately unsafe Catherine Wheel display of visual splendour, I was prepared to be uninspired and mocked for dragging us all out on a cold night to watch a literal damp squib.

Not so.

While the fireworks lacked the power and glory of their Maltese cousins, they were much better than I'd anticipated, and while my cricked neck wasn't all that pleased to be forced into an upwardly tilted position I couldn't care less. They were very pretty, while the beacon fires glowed merrily in braziers at the edge of the green. Blarney had to be bought a luminous spinning wheel to wave, which made Fisher jealous, while the smell of frying burgers 'n' onions made me very glad there was pie waiting at home.

Back at HC, I got supper ready - ably and willingly assisted by helpers. Phid and Blarney peeled spuds, Wheeler and Spartan flirted over the pastry in a very homoerotic fashion (flicky-flicky went the flour, giggle giggle went the boys - it was heart warming), Janus helped set the table, Pro chopped tomatoes and poured wine - it was a cosy hive of activity.

Pro being a lovely, lovely man, he'd bought me some delicious salami from Luvians - so I whacked up a quick salad with lemon mayonnaise, doled out two slices each, and we had a starter! Marvellous! Well done Pro.

Supper was jovial - if a little squashed with 10 people around the kitchen table (my buttocks were half on half off the bench, but that's my own lardy fault), and we went through to the sitting room for the only real reason people were up. Namely:

GIVING ME PRESENTS!!!! Ha haaaa ha ha ...

Not really. Seeing as I'd fled the country in order to avoid making a big deal of my 31st (I felt it was a bit rich to do so, considering I'd forced everyone to pay to go to Spain last year!), I was astonished and touched that people went to such effort. Koios gave me a beautiful pair of silver buttoned, deerskin gloves - hopefully the skin of the deer we'd just eaten for supper! Janus gave me a lovely red running top and some much needed blister-proof socks. Badger - bless - remembered I'd been intrigued by his Book of Surrealist Games and bought me my own copy. Pro yet again managed to provide me with cracking books just as I'd run out of decent material: The Lodger - Shakespeare on Silver Street, by Charles Nicholl, and The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker. I'm already dipping into both, but I think Pinker has my attention more securely at present.

Phid and Wheeler are both going to treat me to days of climbing - Phid at Ratho, with its scary death slide or whatever it's called, Wheeler at an outdoor place in ... er ... Aberlour? Aberfeldy? Aberration? Somewhere Aberish, anyway. And as if that weren't enough, Phid also got me the new Countdown game - luxury edition - with a clock that makes the noise the real clock makes! Squeeeeeeeal!

Last, but by no earthly means least, in a fit of naughty extravagance, Spartan and Blarney have decided to pay for my motorbike lesson (tomorrow ... gaaaaaaaaahhh!) and also bought me the much-coveted but always discarded due to unjustifiable extravagance, Larousse's Gastronomique! Fabulous! It's just the best cookery encyclopaedia out there - and now I have it! I can cook anything! The world is my oyster stew!

After this orgy of attention, feeling no small amount of affection for my chosen family, I was able to turn attention to the serious business of playing games. Alas, Countdown was out because the maximum number of players is six - and so was Who's In The Bag because Spar would have slapped me in the face if I'd chosen it (he's a bully like that). We decided instead on Pass the Bomb, followed by Articulate - and I won both! Ha haaaaaa ha ha! Am a genius. Clearly the best games player that ever lived.

Also, the bomb never went off anywhere near me, which is pure luck - and for Articulate I was on a team with Phid and Wheeler, and Phid and I think in similar ways so I can generally get what she's describing pretty quickly and vice versa. Also we were losing all the way round and only the fact that Blarney managed to screw up by reading the wrong clues to Pro, Fisher and Koios. They were on Object (piss easy) and for reasons best known only to Blarney she decided to read clues for World (piss hard), thus giving them only 2 points. They then landed at the end, Janus pinched the all-play they had to get to win, and moved them back 2 places. This enabled us to grab a sneaky 7 from the piss easy Object category, finish - and get the all play to finish victorious and extraordinarily smug!

What was most amusing was Blarney's furious:

"I'm not happy about that at all!" and bright pink cheeks. And the girl has the audacity to consider herself the least competitive member of the Cheeseboard! But more on that later ...

With games exhausted, we watched QI on telly and then - oh shame - went to bed. Pro was first to succumb to exhaustion, falling asleep on the floor before sensibly hitting the hay, and I was next. I imagined that the others might stay up into the wee hours, but they let me down as well.

Next day we had a light breakfast and I started preparing the Sunday roast with help from contract whist players Janus, Koios, Blarney and Badger. Fisher, Spartan and Wheeler went for a run with the dogs, and as I stuffed the leg of lamb with leeks, mushrooms, garlic and rosemary, we struck up a conversation about who was the most competitive member of the Cheeseboard.

Now, I think there's some misguided attitudes to our desire to grade this. When Pro found himself almost roped into the conversation, he turned and fled the room like a frightened rabbit. Phid, on the other hand, was very keen to stress that "I just don't care."

The thing is, naturally, we none of us really care. What's fun is the conversation - and it's the sort of chat Koios and I used to bind ourselves unbreakably together at Uni. It's not about the conclusions we reach, it's about the analysis along the way. We like talking about people, about what makes them tick and why, and we're equally - if not more - self analytical. It's not about judgement, it's about a fascination with character. Who cares who's the most competitive? But figuring it out raising truly fascinating insights into not only that aspect of personality, but a great many others - like how your friends see you, how you see yourself, how introspective you are and how self aware - or self-deluded - you might be. The beauty is that nobody can be sure who's right or wrong, as there really isn't any definitive answer. If Blarney thinks she's the least competetive member of the Cheeseboard then, despite the fact we all think she's deeply deluded and a lunatic at that, she might be right from a different perspective.

Like the perspective of a deeply deluded lunatic.

Anyway, if anyone's interested we all (apart from Blarney) came to similar conclusions.

1) On a scale of 1-10, with an ordinary person being a 5 and a professional athlete being a 10, we all sit somewhere around 8 or 9.
2) The three most competitive Cheeseboarders are: Fisher, Blarney and Janus. The three least are: Koios, Phid and me.

The fact I'm in the bottom 3 should go some way to proving just how competitive we all are. Marvellous.

Anway, we sat down to roast lamb at a little after 2, and had a long, leisurely lunch with a few choice bottles of red and much interesting chat. If anyone wants the recipe for the roast lamb, this is what I did:

Roast Lamb for 10 +
1 x leg of lamb, approx 6 1/2 lbs (3.5kg), boned and rolled
2-3 leeks, finely chopped
400g (?ish) mushrooms, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
Medium sherry, reduced to approx. 3 tbsp
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
splash vodka

Easy as pie. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Reduce the sherry, cook the leeks, mushrooms and garlic and add the sherry. If you want it to be less wet, drain the mushrooms before adding the sherry, but you might lose some of the flavour.
Stuff the lamb leg with this mixture, tie it securely, and pop it in the oven.
Roughly 20 minutes before it's due to come out, burn off the alcohol in the vodka and add the redcurrant jelly. Stir to a sauce and thoroughly baste the lamb with it.
Serve with roast spuds, honeyed carrots, parnsips, and a bunch of hungry mates - who will also willingly help you prepare it all!
Tip top tastic.

After our long lunch, we all went outside for apple and berry picking or footie (quite a difficult game when played on a massive slope). Wheeler climbed the tree and shook as many apples down as the gannets beneath desired, while Janus headed into the raspberry patch to gather some astonishingly ripe fruits that really have no business being there in November. Spartan and Pro attempted to knock more apples down by throwing apples into the tree, but Wheeler remarked at how astonishing it was how many apples appeared to be hanging on his arse. Luckily he remained in the tree and survived to play some kickabout footie until we decided enough was enough and returned inside - where a hive of baking activity had begun. Pastry was being rolled, flour thrown around, fruit chopped, juiced, and mixed, and delicious smells wafting from everywhere. Having had enough cooking for one weekend, I retired to the sitting room to watch Match of the Day.

The pies were baked just in time. As the timer pinged, it was time for us all to head out to the Craigsanquhar Hotel, where I'd booked us in for a late afternoon tea. All the cars were loaded with pies, fruit and bags, and off we went for our final hurrah.

The Craigsanquhar's bargain tea is now not quite so bargainous, being a tenner where it was once £6.50 - but it's still pretty good value. For your money you get all the tea and coffee you can drink, shortbread biscuits, a selection of little sandwiches, cake (black bun in this case) and little scones, cream and jam.


Couple this with a large sitting room, open fire in the next room, squashy armchairs, and tranquility, and you couldn't ask for more.

It was a lovely way to wind up the weekend, and once we'd all eaten and drunk our fill, prized Koios's arse from the lovely sofa ("I could sit here all night" she sighed) and paid up, it was time to go our separate ways. Fond farewells were made, future plans promised, and off we went, waving each other off into the darkness.

If everyone enjoyed themselves as much as I, then it was a fabulous weekend all round.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to drool, Smaug-like over my pile of loot ... and read the new Highway Code from cover to cover in preparation for my ... shudder ... 8am CBT tomorrow.

Ooh. Feel sick.


Ruth said...

Love the intimate description of an entire Articulate game: reminds me of Rimmer in Red Dwarf!