An International House of Pancakes (+ update)

Ah, Shrove Tuesday – the day the English get super excited about flour, eggs and milk and shops sell out of lemons. Honestly, it’s a national obsession. To quote one friend on Facebook this morning: “Loving how many people are happy due to pancakes. Eat them more often.” He’s got a point.

I celebrated with friends at a cult in Oval (it’s not really a cult, well, probably not one – it’s just what the friend who lives there calls it). He really is quite a distinguished host, pulling off magnificent Christmas dinners and now celebrating as many food occasions as possible in community, which I think is rather a fabulous idea. I suspect most people at Shrove gatherings last night made do with a couple of vigorously tossed pancakes smothered in lemon and sugar. I and my fellow guests were treated to a much more sophisticated affair…

Arriving fresh from the gym (I burned 300+ calories on the crosstrainer to aid guilt-free pancake consumption), I was presented with a plate of blinis topped with a variety of delicacies. The room was candle-lit so, other than a smoked salmon & cream cheese variety, it was difficult to work out what I was actually about to consume. While I may be overcoming my fussy eating step by step, I do like to know what I’m eating and examine it carefully, so it was with extreme caution that I placed the first morsel in my mouth. Fortunately, I’d correctly identified it as involving chorizo – curious as to the others, I stopped the host to get a detailed explanation and this is what it turned out was on my plate:
– Aforementioned smoked salmon & cream cheese blini.
– Chorizo with rhubarb jam. [Rather yummy.]
– Cured beef, fig and horseradish.
– Bacon, banana and some sort of caramel sauce.

Wow. That’s no typical Shrove Tuesday fare. Neither was dessert – chocolate filled and caramel filled traditional style pancakes; coconut delicacies (didn’t manage to find room for this one); and the standard lemon & sugar variety. (I think that’s right, to be honest my memories of the latter part of the evening are a little fuzzy.) I wish I had photos, but what with the candlelight and iPhone factors I don’t think I’d have done the glorious presentation justice.

Not content with fantastic edible delicacies, the evening was accompanied in true soiree style with contributions from guests – poetry, acoustic guitar led songs and the like, some composed by the performers. On Sunday the host suggested I wrote a poem on the subject of South London, but as I haven’t written poetry since I was an angst-ridden teenager (and even then I relied upon song lyrics to get me going) and had no time to let my creative juices flow, I feared I’d have no contribution to make to the proceedings. Fortunately someone had discovered a gem of a book – poems about Lambeth published in 1961 – in which I discovered a fabulous set of verses on the subject of hailing a cab, I just wish I’d had the presence of mind to note some of the lines. So that was my contribution, and I watched the acoustic guitar players with enormous envy – I’m beginning to wonder if I should add guitar lessons to my list, or if I’ll simply be disappointed that I will never be Joan Baez.

The other inspiration from last night is that I really, really ought to host a dinner party soon – something I’m pretty sure I’ve never done, which is utterly ridiculous. Yes, I’ve had friends round and cooked, but never involving a table, tablecloth, napkins in fancy shapes and name cards – who’d like to come round for dinner? Poetry writing will be optional, but men with guitars in tow will be welcomed with girlish squeals of joy.

Returning to last night’s event, I’ve just checked my phone and discovered some photos I don’t entirely remember taking [it seems you can’t re-hydrate yourself post-gym on red wine…], so while I have none of the food, I do have some of the sharing…

The Andys listening attentively; Duncan proving an able compère; and our host pondering.

Update:

It turns out someone did take photos of the food – the chef in fact – and has posted them on her blog. She also used Instagram (as used in above photos) which I feel adds to the olde worlde feel of the evening. I had to borrow one of them, as it captured my version of the evening rather perfectly and features the fabulous Love Me, Lambeth poetry book:

Creating a social stir

This morning, while enjoying a day off shopping with sibling and friends at the bargainous Bicester Village, I came across a random item in The White Company. [Actually, there were a number of random items in that store – including a wooden knife and fork…] A tube labelled ‘Social Stirrers’ caught my attention and I reached for it, hoping it might contain exciting items with which to stir cocktails – you know, a bit like the fluorescent giraffe shaped ones you get in Giraffe.

Looking at the label, I was initially disappointed. Social Stirrers are in fact devises to get conversation going at your dinner party. I quote:

“Forget the port, simply take a stick from the tub and pass around the table for a dinner party debate!”
Please note, anyone who forgets the port at a dinner party at which I’m in attendance will be severely reprimanded! Also, I’d like to think (although I’ve never actually hosted a proper dinner party – and this is clearly something I’m going to have to remedy very soon, it could be another 2011 First) that any dinner party I threw would not be lacking in effervescent conversation. I’m sure my sister’s dinner parties (she holds them frequently, what with owning an actual dining room as opposed to my table-in-the-corner-of-the-lounge) are also similarly scintillating, but we still both purchased a tube – what with it being only £2 an’ all. 
Turns out, it’s actually quite interesting and kept Annie and I entertained for at least 10 minutes on the train back to London. In fact, those that know Annie may be surprised to hear that the stick asking “If you were invisible for the day, what would you do?” led to a deeply philosophical discussion on pain – goodness only knows what our fellow passengers thought of us. Looking through the tub just now, the following are favourites: 
“Is camping under canvas a holiday?” [No]
“What or whose accent can’t you stand?” [The phrase ‘can open, worms everywhere’ comes to mind…]
“What do you view most online?” [The wrong answer to this question could see guests un-invited to future soirées.] 
Personally, I reckon there are much more interesting ways to generate a stir than by encouraging discussion. For example, one could wear clothing that stands out a mile – like these shoes (also spotted today) which I was banned from buying, even though they had them in my size and were only £7.50: