’I think, Mrs Beeton could not have been more formidable’

Home, 5pm – and we have just finished renovating my studio’s modest kitchen. 

’I think, Mrs Beeton could not have been more formidable’

I’m pleased with the results but fear the revamp may have been badly-timed; in half an hour, I must drive to the airport and bring home my oldest friend Vanessa, a woman whose last name might as well be “Garnish-Roux” and into whose body Mrs Beeton’s spirit entered after she died in 1865.

(Or how else does she know what to do with a ridged butter-paddle? Or what ‘chiffonade’ means? And why else would she enjoy make demi-glace from scratch?)

Anyway, what with our revamp, we’ve inadvertently given Garnish-Roux a second low-spec, low-performance kitchen to tut-tut over. And it’s not as if the tutting wasn’t bad enough with one.

7.30pm. Having driven Garnish-Roux back from the airport, I’m approaching the roundabout on the edge of town. She’s looking slightly tense. And it’s not just the roundabout.

“Relax,” I say, “I’m stopping off at the supermarket to get wine now.”

“And how are we fixed for dinner?” she says.

“We’re fixed,” I say, “you can wait in the car so I can get the wine without you hanging about looking at cheese for hours.”

“I’m coming in,” she says as we park the car.

“No,” I say, “I know exactly what wine to buy.” She gets out of the car.

“What kind of fixed?” she repeats.

“Grilled halloumi, potatoes and salad,” I say.

“You’ll need some smoked paprika then,” she says, marching towards the supermarket entrance, “and oooooooooooh! Pomegranate seeds.”

“It’s too late for paprika,” I say, “Dave’s cooking as we speak.”

She slams the car door firmly and quickly clamps herself tightly onto a supermarket trolley.

There’s no unclamping her – not with that face – and I think, what a terrible pity it is that we have no car child-locks on the doors.

8.30pm. Downstairs in the kitchen. Garnish-Roux is opening the doors of my kitchen dresser; she’s bought me a baby-wok in the supermarket and wants to find a “proper home for it”.

She stands back from the dresser and points at its contents with the wok-pan. I am feeling slightly tense but it’s not just the paucity of saucepans.

“Where are those bowls I bought you?” she says, looking at me over the top of her spectacles and surely, I think, Mrs Beeton could not have been more formidable.

“She uses them for mixing up paints,” my husband says.

“And the ramekins?”

“Same,” he says.

“And that casserole dish?”

“He used it to feed the dog,” I say, pointing at my husband, “I told him not to.”

9pm. We sit down to eat our unadorned halloumi; Garnish-Roux has decided to save her pomegranate seeds for something more deserving: a lamb tagine which she will cook tomorrow.

“Which reminds me,” she says, “I need to get some ras el hanout. I couldn’t find it in the supermarket.”

9.30pm. “So let’s have a look at your new studio kitchen then,” she says.

10.10pm. I’m driving up the lane to the studio. My husband is in the back, buried underneath a mountain of Garnish-Roux’s supermarket purchases.

It strikes me forcibly that her spirits need to be very much revived before her inspection of our kitchen refit, which will inevitably cause them to droop.

“Mmmm, yum,” I say by way of distraction, gesticulating at the peaches in her lap, “what are you going to rustle up with them?”

“Creme brulee a la peche,” says Garnish-Roux, cheering up immediately, “presuming you’ve still got that little blow-torch I bought you in Amsterdam.” A silence falls. It is small and troubled.

My husband says, “peaches and cream is always nice.”

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