Monday, April 19, 2010

Food for Thought

There are moments you wait for in an election - moments when your heart starts to pound with excitement and the emptiness inside that makes you question everything about your life just goes away. This is one of them.

The first recipe from a political wife. And Sarah Brown came up with it. Good job she didn't have to tweet it - her favourite means of communication - or it would have been something like "Unwrap loaf. Choose slice. Toast it. Grate cheese. Add cheese to toast. Grill till bubbling and eat while tweeting. Tastes yummy."

Instead, in the Observer Food Monthly magazine, Sarah extolled the virtues of her vegetable patch at Downing Street (at least I think that's what she did, my eyes kept glazing over as I tried to read it). Vegetable patches, the joys of having a newborn baby, exotic holidays, and anything to do with saving the planet have to be four of the most boring topics of conversation ever invented. Anyway, the reward for going cross-eyed with concentration reading about bamboo bee boxes, harvesting rainwater in big tanks and wormeries, were recipes from Sarah.

Political wives have put out recipes before. Michelle Obama for mac and cheese - so homespun, so simple while Cindy McCain (wife of John McCain one time presidential hopeful) kicked off "Recipegate" with her recipes for passionfruit mousse and oatmeal-butterscotch cookies. Sarah is cleverer than that - far cleverer. She comes up with a tribute recipe for spring lamb that she got from Maggie Darling ( "the chancellor's wife, my neighbour at No 11 and a famously fantastic cook") going so far as to call it "Maggie's New Season Roast Lamb on Leeks and Potatoes".

But political wives don't just publish any old recipe. There's always a subtext. So I felt obliged to cook the lamb along with Sarah's recipe for dessert - Ginger Oat Rhubarb Crumble - to discover it. I started at 7.45pm. My husband looked confused as I put away the ready-meal curries and left £17 of lamb on the kitchen table.
"We're having lamb then?" he said.(Needlessly in my opinion unless he thought I was going to dress the leg of lamb in baby clothes, call it Billy and start carrying it around in my arms for company.)
"Actually, we're having Sarah Brown's lamb," I told him at which point he left the room muttering something about "getting a life."

My first job was to convince myself not to do that thing they do on "Come Dine With Me" and hit the bottle as they drag the first saucepan out from the pan-stacker. I bet Sarah doesn't do that. I bet she says "I'll just have a small one, Gordon" when she starts cooking and I bet that's exactly what she gets.

My next thought (which came straight after "My - that was a very small glass, I think I might have another") was Clever Sarah has effortlessly demonstrated the closeness between the Browns and the Darlings. Tsk. Tsk. A tricky relationship between the PM and his Chancellor? You're thinking of that Blair guy. The Browns and the Darlings pop into each other's homes nearly every day for a cup of soft brown sugar or to sample a sprouting broccoli quiche.

I didn't cook the way I normally cook because I wanted it to be an authentic political experience. That's not entirely true. If I have to cook, I quite like doing it with the BBC i-Player on in the background and I had 20 minutes of Ashes to Ashes left to watch as I chopped and sauteed. Sarah, on the other hand, is probably not allowed to watch Ashes to Ashes. But I did weigh things, and usually I don't bother. Since I've only got my mothers' weighing scales for the blind (which she can't hear because she's also deaf), the scales kept lecturing me about how much I had in the bowl. But there's probably quite a bit of lecturing goes in the Brown house so that was OK although irritating. And I was precise about the figures because as both Gordon and Alistair Darling would tell you, if you have a leek deficit, you risk throwing out the whole balance of the dish and it can take a generation to recover. (There was actually little I could do about my own leek deficit other than put another onion in, but I'm expecting 35 economists to send a letter to The Telegraph tomorrow in protest.)

Although I tried hard, I couldn't do everything exactly the way Sarah wanted it done. I was supposed to ask the butcher to "butterfly" my lamb for me and use the bone to make stock. I was guessing Sarah hadn't had the privilege of reading the Conservative manifesto when she handed over her recipe, and as we are all going to have to start doing things for ourselves if David Cameron has anything to do with it, I butterflied it myself. That is to say I sliced it from the bone, spread it flat and told it life was short. Next, Sarah says you "make knife point incisions" in the fatty side of the lamb. That is to say you stab it repeatedly shouting "Bloody Eton Gobshite" before rubbing grated salt, lemon rind and thyme into the wounds - I mean, incisions. Nearly done, you put the lamb onto leeks, onion, potatoes and garlic drown it in wine and cook it.

And it was delicious - it tasted of lemon and thyme and the comfort of a good and clever woman.

Compared to the lamb, the crumble was slightly disappointing, but that's often the case when good things start to crumble. It was I think particularly disappointing for my husband who is allergic to rhubarb and couldn't eat a bite.
"Sarah told us to 'enjoy the rhubarb' while it's here," I informed him in explanation, and there was more muttering.

Nick Clegg may be flavour of the month in the polls at the moment, but the more Gordon Brown travels the country with Sarah, the happier and more burnished he looks. It is my belief he's thinking about what they'll have for tea.


Potty Mummy said...

I expect to see you writing in the FT political comments section anytime now...

charl said...

actually sounds very nice.!!!
maybe sara is imagining poor! Gordan as the sacrifical lamb!!

hausfrau said...

Am enjoying your alternative view of the election - this one made me shriek with laughter.. What have we come too if we are interested in what the PM's wife cooks for supper?

adam said...

I can't hold my laughs! So loud on "Bloody Eton Gobshite". LOL

I wonder who that could be ;-)

billatbingley said...

Well done Wifie! You'e done it again. Far more interesting and entertaining than the usual drivel and rhetoric we have come to expect from the likes of Brown, Cameron & Clegg.

What was that saying? The way to man's heart is through his stomach.

Maybe this is a cunning ploy by the Labour party to gain all the votes from the male population!

Anonymous said...

So to be fair, did Sam offer up a recipe? Will you be cooking that one too?

Charlie's Tribe said...

Well done for finding a way to deal with politics that doesn't guarrantee indigestion!

Linden said...

Nice piece! Campaigns are interesting...too bad they so often end up with the election of a complete dodo.

Linden Swift
Plainfield, Indiana, U.S.

Jan said...

You had me roaring with laughter, which is the best thing to do (if you can manage it) in the face of adversity!

Lou Archer said...

A tasty piece of writing.

sunshine said...

I have to ask, since noone else did --- what time did you eat??? I would make an optimistic guess at midnight!

Tell hubby I can sympathize with him -- I am also allergic to rhubarb. Will his feelings about rhubarb reflect on his vote?

wife in the north said...

re Potty Mummy: you mean someone might pay me? That would be nice.
re hausfrau: we are interested in everything the political wives do. Actually I'm not - I'm totally above it all. Really I am.
re anonymous: I have put in an official request for one but no word back as yet.
re sunshine: just short of 10. Not too bad.x

Pam said...

Great post wifey!
If you can find the You Tube video of Sarah Palin giving a tv interview at Thanksgiving while the farmer behind her puts a live turkey in a mangle, make sure to watch it. It gives "red neck" a whole new meaning!