Food Porn

The doorbell rang yesterday. It was Ijaz. He was in his religious best.

Eid Mubarak,” he said, and handed me a plate covered with a cloth.

Eid Mubarak,” I said. “Thank you.”

I lifted the cloth. It was biryani, and it looked delicious.

“For you and the better half,” he said. “For the end of Ramadan.”

“I understand,” I said. “Thank you. It looks delicious.”

“Don’t shut the door,” said Ijaz and retreated across the road. He returned a moment later with another plate full of little cakes, each one different.

I was very touched and I carried them into the kitchen.

Sometimes Ijaz expresses the view, with which I entirely agree, that so long as people of all convictions and backgrounds respect each other we will get along all right. I think that the convictions that he has in mind, apart of course from his own, are my unflappable C of E heritage and the Marxism-Leninism which, largely because of her mother’s fiercely sceptical nature, has played almost no part in the better half’s psychological make-up. My problem with the Eid gifts, for unfortunately I had one, arose from certain much more secular convictions to which the better half is, and in consequence I am, currently in thrall. These relate to raw vegetables. Raw vegetables are good. The tasty trays of roasted vegetables, – peppers, courgettes, onion, garlic – which during the previous, roasted-vegetable, phase accompanied most meals are now the work of Satan. So is bread and butter, and don’t mention meat. Raw vegetables are so good that on two days of the week we eat nothing but, washed down with water: still, sparking or tap according to taste.

Yesterday was the first of one of the sets of two days. To make it worse, the better half is away, so I am on my honour. I put the little cakes into the fridge, and gazed wistfully at the biryani, which was warm and steaming gently. There were rice, peas, potato (all vegetables in their way but not unfortunately raw). There was some lamb, on the bone.

I decided on a flanking movement. Taking an apple to stave off the most severe pangs of hunger, I called Jake at The Kingdom. He’d be there but it wouldn’t be open yet. As soon as he answered I realised that an apple was a bad choice: you can’t eat an apple and chat on the phone at the same time. Quite apart from questions of manners it can sound like electrical interference and lead the receiving party to worry about the performance of their service provider. I returned it therefore to the fruit bowl.

“What are you up to?” I said.

This was disingenuous. I knew that he would be cooking. That was why I had called him.

“I’m beating up a pudding,” Jake said.

“A hogget pudding?”

“No less. My mother always called it ‘beating up’ a hogget pudding.”

I told Jake my predicament.

“Skype me,” he said.

I thought he was ejaculating so I said, “I so understand.”

“No you don’t,” he said, and explained. But it proved impossible, even on my new iPad.

“Describe it,” I said. “Give me the sounds.”

So Jake held his phone to the pudding as he beat it up and to the pan full of hogget, which he was cooking over a low flame before assembling the dish all together; hogget is delicious meat but can be tough if brought to the point prematurely.

“Ah!” I said, and I meant it.

“Food porn,” said Jake.

“Ah!” I said.

“Talking of porn,” Jake said, “this hot weather, the clothes the women wear to The Kingdom! It’s hard to keep one’s professional equilibrium.”

“But you must, Jake. Professionalism is what we have and what we are, at the end of the day.”

He ignored this.

“One of them comes in for a coffee on her way back from a gym. Black Lycra. Superb body. Muscular bottom, muscular legs.”

“Frightening. I hope that she doesn’t leave sweaty marks on your stripped pine tables and chairs.”

“Those thighs. Get half a centimetre adrift in your oral attentions and you’d risk a broken neck,” said Jake.

“Centimetre?”

“A French invention, equivalent to 0.3937 of an inch.”

“Thank you,” I said, “but I am distressed to hear you talking in this inappropriate way. I trust that your lubricious speculations do not affect your manner when attending to the young person.”

“Of course not. As you say, professionalism. But my thoughts are my own.”

“You’ve quite taken my mind off the food.”

“Mind you,” said Jake, “if I tell you something can I be sure that it won’t go any further?”

I said nothing. I am devious but never deceitful.

“After we shut,” he said, “I sometimes play back the webcam pictures. You know we have a webcam linked into our website? Mainly where she gets up and leaves and the camera follows her out of the restaurant.”

There was a gurgling sound.

“Is your hogget boiling, Jake?”

“No, I’m all right,” he said.

I hung up soon afterwards and called the better half.

“How are things?” I said.

She got straight to the point.

“I had whitebait. They were tiny, but very delicious. And they absolutely insisted in my having a digestif.”

I shuddered.

“Ijaz says ‘Eid Mubarak’. He bought us some biryani. And cakes.”

“Please tell him ‘Eid Mubarak’ back.”

“I did. The biryani smells delicious. It has lots of vegetables in it. Masses. Peas and so on. Maybe it’ll keep till Wednesday…”

“It’s entirely up to you,” said the better half.

If I had to characterise her tone, the word ‘airy’ would be inescapable.

I took up the apple again. I put it back again in the fruit bowl. Microwaving the biryani was the work of a moment. Goodness, it was tasty, and it survived through the afternoon in the form of little spicy burps, which is more than you can say for most apples.

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