Posts Tagged ‘butter’

My kitchen rules

Well, they’re not rules as such. It’s more of a theory on how I cook/bake. It’s not even a theory. That makes it sound like a well reasoned method with some philosophy behind it. It’s actually more of a control freak thing. I hate people sneakily adding things to my food that I didn’t ask them to put there.

Things I do not use in my kitchen.

1. Self raising flour
What an abomination! If I wanted baking powder in my flour, I’d bloody well put it there myself. By using plain flour and bicarb, I can regulate how much is in there and control the end result. With self raising, I know they probably mix it together pretty well, but the proportions of flour to raising agent aren’t going to be exactly the same in each batch so you lose control of the end result. I also find my otherwise smooth cake gets bumps all over the surface when I use self raising. Urgh.

2. Baking powder
Again, someone else has mixed bicarb with something else and packaged it for me. If I wanted my bicarb mixed with other stuff, I’ll do it myself, thank you.

3. Salted butter
Stop adding stuff to my food! If I wanted salt in there, I’d have put it myself. Actually, I make my own butter at home most of the time, by whipping double cream, so I know there’s no salt in it anyway.

4. Pre-mixed spice mixes
A generic ‘piri-piri’ spice makes me cringe. A curry powder sets me on edge. When did we start having to conserve our arm energy to the extent where taking five or six spices down from the cupboard became too exhausting and we opted for the catch-all curry powders? If you have some curry powder or garam masala or dried herb mix in your cupboard, I’d like you to go and get it out. Read the ingredients on the label. Next time you go shopping, just buy those herbs/spices individually. You may find there’s something in there you like loads, oregano, for example. Next time you make something that requires dried herb mix, you can put in more of the oregano and less of the other stuff. Take back control of your dinner! These generic spice mixes mean giving control of the taste of your dinner to someone who has no idea what you like eating. I do have a few mixes I’ve made myself in a salt and pepper mill. A Moroccan one, for example, which had cracked nutmeg, blades of mace, chilli flakes, whole allspice, whole peppercorns, etc, so when I’m making Moroccan food, it gets all crunched in there, fresh, and hasn’t been ground months ago, half way across the world.

5. Table salt
Another energy-conserving thing, I think. It’s far too much effort to have lovely chunks of rock salt and crush them over a plate of food or use a grinder. One must have it pre-ground into tiny dots and just sprinkle it. I despair. Let’s get back to grinding.

6. Margerine/vegetable/olive oil spread
The spread things that are a mix between butter and vegetable oil are pretty atrocious. If I wanted vegetable fat in my butter, I’d bloody well put it there myself. The olive oil spreads that are being advertised as super healthy, eurgh. If the olive oil in there was good high quality, they’d be selling it as proper olive oil and getting a lot more money for it. The olive oil that makes it’s way into the spreads is like the offcuts of cake that you nibble to test it. It’s the waste product. If I wanted to eat olive oil so much, I’d just get the good stuff out of the bottle in my kitchen.

7. Bolognese sauce
Omg, the easiest thing ever to make at home. Half tomatoes into a pan and heat gently til they break down. And any herbs or spices that you like and season well. Done.

8. Vanilla extract
Easiest. Thing. Ever. And so much cheaper to make the proper way. Enough of this £10 fancy Dr. Oetker stuff. The amount of extra ingredients in that stuff is ridiculous. Vanilla extract is just vanilla pods preserved in vodka. On my shelf is a bottle of good quality vodka jammed with scored vanilla pods which has been slowly brewing for over a year now. It’s that simple. When it gets low, I add more vodka. When it starts to look pale, I add more vanilla pods.

9. Grated cheese
Pre grated cheese… Vomit! What an awful awful invention. It’s dry, the texture is hard and plasticky. I mean, it’s just an atrocity. Take a block of cheese and grate it. It takes about 30 seconds. Are our lives really so busy that we need this time saving device? The cheese that you get pre grated is barely even worth it. It’s a waste. I’d much rather have no cheese at all. There’s no flavour. There’s no freshness. Pre grated cheese is like one big sorry mess. Can we ban this via an act of parliament please?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of my little rant against the food industry. I’d like to think it’s because I’m terribly Mother Earth-y and love to make things from scratch but I think it’s more personal than that. I think it’s more about being annoyed when people think they know what I want. How dare people put salt in my butter?! Did they ask me?! No! How rude!

How to prepare a 17th century feast

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I have been doing lots of research about 17th century cooking and ingredients, for my volunteer work at Ham House and I have come up with some real gems. A recipe book from 1664 called The Accomplisht Cookor by Thomas May contains the following fantastic recipe for bisque. It’s so brilliant, it doesn’t even need comment. Just check it out.

To make a Bisk divers ways.

Take a wrack of Mutton and a Knuckle of Veal, put them a boiling in a Pipkin of a Gallon, with some fair water, and when it boils, scum it, and put to it some salt, two or three blades of large Mace, and a Clove or two; boil it to three pints, and strain the meat, save the broth for your use and take off the fat clean.

Then boil twelve Pigeon-Peepers, and eight Chicken Peepers, in a Pipkin with fair water, salt, and a piece of interlarded Bacon, scum them clean, and boil them fine, white and quick.

Then have a rost Capon minced, and put to it some Gravy, Nutmegs, and Salt, and stew it together; then put to it the juyce of two or three Oranges, and beaten Butter, &c.

Then have ten sweet breads, and ten pallets fried, and the same number of lips and noses being first tender boil’d and blanched, cut them like lard, and fry them, put away the butter, and put to them gravy, a little anchove, nutmeg, and a little garlick, or none, the juyce of two or three Oranges, and Marrow fried in Butter with Sage-leaves, and some beaten Butter.

Then again have some boil’d Marrow and twelve Artichocks, Suckers, and Peeches finely boil’d and put into beaten Butter, some Pistaches boiled also in some wine and Gravy, eight Sheeps tongues larded and boiled, and one hundred Sparagus boiled, and put into beaten Butter, or Skirrets.

Then have Lemons carved, and some cut like little dice.

Again fry some Spinage and Parsley, &c.

These forefaid materials being ready, have some French bread in the bottom of your dish.

Then dish on it your Chickens, and Pidgeons, broth it; next your Quaile, then Sweet breads, then your Pullets, then your Artichocks or Sparagus, and Pistaches, then your Lemon, Poungarnet, or Grapes, Spinage, and fryed Marrow; and if yellow Saffron or fried Sage, then round the center of your boiled meat put your minced Capon, then run all over with beaten butter, &c.

1. For variety, Clary fryed with yolks of Eggs.
2. Knots of Eggs.
3. Cocks Stones.
4. Cocks Combs.
5. If white, strained Almonds, with some of the broth.
6. Goosberries or Barberries.
7. Minced meat in Balls.
8. If green, Juyce of Spinage stamped with manchet, and strained with some of the broth, and give it a warm.
9. Garnish with boiled Spinage.
10. If yellow, yolks of hard Eggs strained with some Broth and Saffron.”

Ok, now off you go to the kitchen and get going on your bisque! I think I’m going to try my lips and noses with cocks stones… Mmmm…

E is for….

EGGS!

Eggs come from chickens, which are the key to my imaginary life. In my imaginary life, I have chickens in my garden. Currently Danda is blocking the acquisition of a chicken for the back garden.

What’s that? My garden’s only the size of a small room and the chicken would have hardly any space to walk around? Yeh, ok. Way to rain on my parade. I’ll never become a farmer if I’m up against such constant negativity.

Anyway, back to chickens and eggs and my alternate universe life where I live on a farm. My day on my farm goes as such….

At 7am I leap out of bed, bright as a daisy and ready for the day ahead. I can’t wait to go and see my beloved cows and chickens and piggywigs.

“Good morning, dears!” I sing, Julie-Andrews-esque, sailing effortlessly from field to field, greeting my animals, who love me for my Mother Earth qualities. Never mind that when I was actually on a farm, I was mostly tramping through soggy mud and vaguely tried to stroke a cow on it’s nose but it turned its head and licked me instead and its spit was all supergluey and disgusting on my fingers.

But it will be different on my farm. I will be at one with nature and glide around, happy and loving.

After greeting the day and my animals, I will approach the chickens who, rather than clucking frantically and heading in the opposite direction, will swarm around me, cooing affectionately while I make my way to the coop and collect some eggs.

While returning to the farmhouse, I will pass the cows, kneel briefly with a mug and get some milk (cause it’s really easy, right? And only takes a minute or so and there’s no faffing around with buckets or stalls, is there? Good, I thought not). The cows look at me, doe-eyed with love, and moo to send me on my merry way to breakfast.

I arrive in my lovely kitchen with a rustic flagstone floor, shout out to Danda and put the kettle on to make tea. I crack and scramble the eggs and toast some of the seeded bloomer bread I made the night before. Danda and I eat scrambled eggs with toast and drink tea with our fresh milk. Our toast is buttered with the butter I made from churning the fresh cow’s milk yesterday.

The rest of my day is spent as such. I visit the vegetable garden later that morning, to gather asparagus and tomatoes and potatoes and chard, which I will make into some kind of new potato salad for lunch. I also collect leeks and carrots to make soup with.

I visit the little pigs for some fun really, to watch them snuffling about and rolling over in the mud. Ah, my farm life gives me such glee.

I tend to the roses and the lavender and notice, with pleasure, that the bees are swarming around, collecting nectar.

This reminds me to check on the new hives so off I go. Rather than stinging and causing me to swear, the bees buzz a friendly hello and clear out of the hive, hovering politely nearby until I finish and they can return. I find a glut of honey and extract it with ease. None of the honey drips on me and none of the bees are angry.

“Have it,” they buzz, smiles on their little bee faces. “It is a gift.”

I accept their gift, graciously taking it to the kitchen (it comes already in jars, right? That’s what’s in bee hives, isn’t it? Pre-packed jars of honey) and think what to make with it, for I am very Mother Earthy and like to make everything from scratch using the lovely gifts that the earth has presented me with. I make some breakfast muffins for the following day using the honey and I also glaze some apple slices and gently roast them for later this evening.

As there is a deer cull at the moment, the farmer next door has brought me some venison, which I have minced and mixed with lots of herbs and am currently in the process of making into sausages, because I make everything from scratch and am never pressed for time and never burn things and people always rave about my sausage making skills.

Before the sun sets and I start cooking my venison sausages, I skip around the farm saying goodnight to each animal individually. The chickens hug my ankles with their wings and offer me presents of eggs, which I take back to the kitchen to make into custard for having with the apple slices later.

Tired, but fulfilled and relaxed, Danda and I eat our dinner in front of the log fire and listen to the sounds of the cows mooing.

Being a farmer would totally suit me. I’d be ace at it, as is obvious from this post, cause I well know exactly how to be farmer. Isn’t that obvious? I can’t believe Danda won’t let me get a chicken and have eggs in the morning. It’s like he doesn’t realise that this whole post could become a reality, if only I had a chicken.

I’m being stifled here. Stifled.

Things I learned at Waltham Place

1. Chickens lay eggs when it’s sunny. They’re like solar panels. They only work with sunshine. In the winter, they don’t lay because there is no sun. They are designed to have a break for a few months of the year. Battery farmed chickens are kept indoors with the lights on so that they will lay all year round. That is why they die sooner. They are not being given a break while it is winter. That’s also why the yolks in battery farmed eggs are all pale and yellowy, cause the chickens are quite weak and their diet isn’t very natural. The farmers give them commercially produced feed so their eggs are not as good quality.

2. During the time when it is sunny, chickens lay eggs all the time, regardless of the presence of a male to fertilise. That is the difference between just eggs and potential baby chickens. When there’s a potential baby chicken in an egg, after being laid, the chicken has to ‘go broody’ and sit on it for 24 days, turning it every day. If the chicken lays the egg but then potters off outside and leaves the egg, it will not become a chicken. At Waltham Place, these are the eggs they then take for cooking with. This eases any guilt I may have felt about eating scrambled baby chickens on toast for breakfast.

3. Buttermilk is not the liquid that gets squeezed out of the butter once you have finished churning it. As a butter-maker myself, I had it on good authority that this was buttermilk and so used it in recipes which asked me for it. Who looks stupid now, hey?

4. My Living Responsibly project looks so feeble in comparison to the self-sufficiency at Waltham Place. The air miles on the food I usually buy are ridiculous! I shall make an effort, at least a couple of times after April when the farm shop opens, to go over there and buy things. That way I know the food miles are minuscule, compared with my fruit and vegetables flown in from different continents. I will also make an effort to look on the packets and buy as locally as possible.

5. I want a chicken in my garden.

6. A cow would be good too, for the milk. Milk from the shop will feel like a poor compromise now.

7. Cows from different regions have different personalities! It’s true. The Jersey cows which are new to Waltham Place are apparently a lot more ‘protective’ of their young than the local ones.

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A day at Waltham Place (or: I want to live on a farm too!)

Yesterday, I had the most fabulous day out. Someone had got me an early birthday present, which was a place on a course about preserving fruit. The course was on a farm called Waltham Place just outside Maidenhead.

The journey there was quite eventful, after coming out of the station, seeing a bus already at the bus stop, leaping on and being what I can only describe as ‘adopted’ by two ladies on the bus. After I had asked if the bus went in the direction I needed, the ladies said it didn’t but I could get off near an airfield and take a short walk to get to the farm. I got out my purse to pay and the driver reminded me I needed the exact money. After scraping around among my change, the ladies almost got into a fight offering me the 20p that I was short of!

The journey to the farm then was smooth, after another man getting off at the same stop, pointed me down the right road. As I approached the main entrance, there didn’t seem to be any signs of where I should be…

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I was once again thrust on the mercy of the locals as I helplessly ran after a man I saw in the distance and asked where the course was being held. He pointed me up the road to the Ormandy Centre which, of course, I now remembered reading about in my notes before coming.

I found the centre eventually and was greeted by Adrian, the chef, and Nicki, his ‘gopher’ (her own words) and three of the other women on the course, for of course it was all women! The other women arrived and we started the day with chitchat, tea and biscuits.

Everything they gave us was made (and often grown too) on the farm. Adrian does all the cooking there. And that means everything. Absolutely everything. No help. He’s surprisingly calm and good-natured for a man who’s responsible for the feeding of a family and entire staff of such a big estate.

So our teas and coffees contained milk from the cows in the next door fields and the only non-farm ingredient in our macaroons and Viennese whirls was the sugar. The flour is milled on the farm, the milk from the cows is turned into cream, butter and cheese, and the eggs are harvested daily from the chickens who live in the next field to the cows. It was like taking a trip into the past, all the things we were offered to eat were homemade with produce from the surrounding fields. I started planning what my own small garden might be capable of and, so long as I don’t mind living on tomatoes, chillis and herbs, I could totally do this self-sufficient thing too. Maybe.

After tea and biscuits, we got stuck into a bit of teaching. Adrian gave us notes and talked us through the process of jam-making, the essential components and what does and doesn’t work. It wasn’t quite as ordered as that though. There were regular delightful tangents off into the obscure – long discussions about what goes into commercially produced jam, whether to keep one’s jam in the fridge, what fruits work and how long to keep jam for (a jar of Adrian’s, made in 1996, is still going strong today).

We were then given aprons and invited into the kitchen. We approached cautiously and told that this morning, the jam tasks were: raspberry jam, three fruit marmalade, lemon curd and blackcurrant jam.

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The other women piped up, excited about one of the other of the jams. They were paired up and given lemon curd, marmalade and raspberry jam. Finally there was just me and the blackcurrant, which Adrian said he’d help me with.

I was presented with a pot of blackcurrants which I went off to a corner with and put on a hob to heat.

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I heated my blackcurrants for quite a long time as they needed to reduce down by quite a lot before I could add the sugar. While the others were lemon zesting, butter melting or draining their fruit out….

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… I stood next to my blackcurrant pan and watched. I started to feel like the slow kid at the back of the class, still trying to work out times tables while the others progressed onto long division….

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It boiled for quite a while before Adrian gave me the ok to add the sugar and mash the blackcurrants a little bit. By the time I was pouring out my jam, even the slower lemon curd lot were long finished and on their second round of tea and biscuits. They do say, though, that good things come to those who wait, and my pot of blackcurrants yielded the most jars. Check out my harvest!

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We then stopped and had lunch, made by Adrian, of course. It was leek and potato soup and bread, fresh from the oven, spread with tasty yellow butter from the farm.

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After a long chat about recycling with the other ladies and me digging in to the bread, again and again, Nicki finally cleared away lunch, thank goodness, and Adrian talked us through different ways to preserve fruit.

So the afternoon tasks were ketchup, tomato chutney and bottled fruit. I ended up on the bottled fruit but had someone with me this time. We chopped and peeled the fruit and packed it into the jars to wait for our syrup, which was just a basic mixture of sugar and water. This we poured over the plums and rhubarbs. For the pears, though, we did white wine, sugar and cinnamon. Once all the fruit and syrups were in the jars, we put the lids on loosely and baked them on a very low heat for an hour.

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In this hour, we all donned wellies and coats for a walk around the farm. We saw the chickens who provide the eggs…

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…the cows who’s milk was in our tea….

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…and the gardens which are beautiful and colourful in summer…

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By the time we got back to the kitchen, our fruit was ready, the chutney was thick enough to go in jars and our day’s work was put on the table for admiring.

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By this time, there was nothing else to do but to have another round of tea, accompanied by two gorgeous homemade cakes (a tea brack and a Victoria sponge)….

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….and to chatter about what a brilliant day it had been and what other courses were they running and could we come on all of them please and how I wish I could become a lady of leisure and just spend all day homemaking everything I wanted to eat and not have any processed food in the house and o, if only! If only! Get thee behind me, Heinz, for I shall consume only homemade ketchup from this day forth!… Maybe… If I get the time to make some tomorrow after work… If I’m not busy practising piano and trying to become a world famous concert pianist.

A lovely Irish lady who was rushing off a little early to pick up her son from school had heard the story of my arrival and offered me a lift to the station. So all of sudden, in a bit of a rush, I was accepting her kind offer, grabbing my bag and running off. The journey home was fuss free and Danda looked very pleased when I arrived home with my crop from the day….

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We then spend an evening, nibbling some of each, especially the beautiful beautiful lemon curd, which is thick and spreadable and divine on bread.

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I honestly can’t think of anything about this day that I didn’t enjoy. If you are anywhere near Waltham Place Farm, I can fully recommend their day courses, for the experience itself, even if you’re not actually going to become the best jam maker the world has ever seen!

A review of recent truffle products

My adventures in the land of truffles began just four months ago after an encounter with this amazing truffle butter

Truffle butter

It’s the type of thing that, at room temperature, you could eat in one go, with some breadsticks and/or some thin crackers. It’s a dangerous thing to have in the fridge, due to the desire to just eat it in one go. Now I’m not a health expert or anything but I think that eating sticks of butter isn’t really recommended. But once you peel back the pack and catch a whiff of its truffley goodness, you become helpless.

My next encounter was with truffle honey, which I was initially puzzled by. I liked it but had no idea what to do with it. Then someone told me to drizzle it over homemade pizzas and it was brilliant! When figs were in season and dirt cheap at Waitrose, I would bake entire trays of them on a really low heat for 4 hours, drizzled with truffle honey, orange zest and grated nutmeg. Mm mm.

I then discovered truffle pasta. I tried a few different brands but this one was my favourite as it was nice and thin and the taste strong enough to carry a meal without too much help.

Truffle pasta

It was like the most gourmet meal ever to cook the pasta and toss it with some sauteed oyster mushrooms then finish it with a tartufo formaggio cream by a company called Vallebona. So simple but so so tasty.

Next, someone bought me some truffle salt.

Truffle salt

I didn’t want to just throw it into anything, the way I would with normal salt. So I made a foccaccia bread in which I used a bit of the truffle butter in the dough. When oiling the pan I baked it in, I used truffle oil. When sprinkling the bread with chilli flakes I also added the truffle salt. When baked, I sprinkled a little more truffle salt on and let it cool. And it was phenomenal! It was easily the best bread I’ve ever eaten.

My next truffle product was truffle oil.

Truffle oil

The white is more delicate than the black so is good for finishing things with, like a homemade pizza or a risotto. The black truffle oil works well in a homemade pesto, with pecorino, pine nuts and tons of basil.

Next, a friend brought back some truffle breadsticks from Paris and I scoffed them in one go! They were great, especially with a little knob of truffle butter on the end.

Truffle breadsticks

The next encounter was extremely unexpected. Out for Christmas drinks with work, we decided to get a few platters to all pick at as no-one felt like an entire meal of their own. The vegetarian platter was near me so I grabbed a pita and dug into the houmous….. And I could taste truffle! I checked with the waitress and she confirmed that it was truffle houmous. Truffle houmous! It was phenomenal. I haven’t found it to buy anywhere. If you see any, you have to buy it. It’s amazing.

Truffle houmous

Lastly, yesterday, while in Nottingham with a friend, we wandered into a deli and found black truffle pecorino! I ate almost the whole block by itself on the train ride home!

Truffle cheese

What a little girl said to me recently (and a truffle story)

“Laura. I was in the playground and there was some writing on the slide. I think some bigger boys did it. Naughty boys. And there was a policeman so I told him and I said, ‘Come with me, Mr Policeman,’ and I showed him the slide and he said those boys were very naughty and he’s going to find them and tell them off.”

Hilarious! A 3-year-old crime fighter! Apparently, she took the Mr Policeman by the hand and showed him the graffiti and gave him a look that said ‘So what are you going to do about it?’ All the while, her mother hid behind the climbing frame and pretended she wasn’t with her.

And now, for a little cheat. I have been writing my NaNoWriMo religiously since November 1st, hitting exactly or slightly over the 1,667 wordcount every day, which means I’m now at 13,605 words. With all this writing, I thought to myself, “Surely there’s a way to double up here, hit two birds with one stone and all that?” So occasionally, during November, I may post something from my NaNoWriMo, if I’m feeling a little too lazy to write for both.

The following is a truffle story I wrote about the first time I ordered truffle butter for myself.

I ordered my first two sticks of truffle butter online, one black, one white and they arrived a few days later. I immediately took them out of the box, peeled back the packet and smelled them. It was heavenly.

 

I was in work, where they had been delivered and an Italian customer came in. He and I would discuss food every time he came in as I love cooking Italian food and had recently been to Rome and he loved food and cooking too. In my excitement, I grabbed the stick of black truffle butter when I saw him and showed him. I handed it over, telling him to peel open the pack and smell it and he mistook it for me giving him the butter! He took it, smelled it, wrapped it back up and put it in his bag.

 

A hot flush ran over my entire body. He was quite shy and I didn’t know him very well, not enough to berate him jokingly and take it back off him. I needed the truffle butter that evening as I had a friend coming over for dinner and was planning to use it. I didn’t know how to get it back though. I stood in horror as I watched him say something I couldn’t hear, because the blood pumping in my ears was too loud. I realised he was thanking me for the butter.

 

O god, o god, o god. Give me back my truffle butter!” I screamed at him, silently.

 

In blind panic, I said, “Let me just show you something on the butter, look,” gesturing toward his bag and, thankfully, he took it out, looking quizzically at the packaging. I, maybe too frantically, took the butter from him and scarpered back behind the till, grabbing one of the little takeaway pots we used for putting food in and cutting him off a small section of butter. I put the butter safely out of reach and offered him the cut off section attempting to look generous while he was probably wondering why I was being so odd. I then pretended something urgent was happening in the kitchen and ran off, clutching my truffle butter so hard, my knuckles had turned white.

 

That was the closest shave I’ve ever had, in terms of food.”