Monday, 26 September 2011


I always - always - look an absolute fright. And as I get older it's less easy to conceal with the virtue of youth. I've concluded that my Hennes addiction is partly to blame, so I have decided that I am no longer allowed to go in. Not even to have a little looky-look.

Although thinking about it, my looking a fright might also be because of my wonky teeth and fat hamster face or my cheeks, which are ruddy like a farmer's son or my fat hands and picked-at cuticles. And my stupid hair, which I wish would just do something consistently. Like even if it was very flat and thin at least it would be consistently flat and thin. Or mad and curly at least it could be consistently mad and curly. But instead it veers in completely random non-wavy directions and really whatever I do with it, by 6pm it's almost always shoved up in some kind of straggly, unflattering bun, which really shows off my double chin to full effect.

I'm being disingenuous; my double chin is receeding, thanks to a combination of a fucking hideous Nazi diet and also every time Kitty gets ill (about once a month) I completely freak out and can't eat anything for 48 hours, which does wonders for shifting "un-shiftable" post-baby blubber. Exercise? Please. If you want to be thin you have to STARVE.

Where was I? Oh yes, right, so I'm back in my pre-pregnancy jeans now. I am secretly hoping to over-shoot past my dream weight (9st 3) and plummet down to, like, 8 and a half stone. Ideally, people will be whispering to each other about how worried they are about me. Eldest sister was so thin at Christmas that is was all we talked about and I was terribly jealous, being as I was then packing about three extra stone.

I've lost my original thought again. Clothes! Ok clothes clothes. All mine are shit. I've just done a purge of loads of drab depressing Hennes clothes so now I open my drawers and see about 40 mulchy Top Shop vests, a kaftan, a brown Zara poloneck and a terminally unflattering breton top from Uniqlo. Then I open my wardrobe and see two hideous check shirts, a flowery shirt with a big rip in it I bought in the South of France three years ago, eight party dresses from 2006 when I had to go to a lot of parties and a pink size eight bodycon skirt from Topshop.

I think starting next month I am going to buy ONE really nice thing per month from Net A Porter (price within reason) and when on the loose in Brent Cross, (fatal), I will write on my hand before I go "DON'T GO INTO HENNES".

For my husband, watching television shows like Come Dine With Me is the equivalent of buying a lot of clothes from Hennes. He prefers instead to pick a film neither of us have ever heard of from Pay Per View, watch two thirds of it, start yawning and say "this isn't really doing it for me". We then discuss whether or not to kill it for about ten minutes. We always do. Then we go to bed. It's almost always about 9pm.

But the other night I managed to persuade him to watch an episode of Father Ted and then Come Dine With Me and someone on it made a paella.

"Paella," said my husband. "Now that's a thing we could eat."

Then we had a short discussion over whether we ought to pronounce "paella" "pie-ay-ya" to avoid sounding like we were addressing the third child of Wayne and Waynetta Slob. We concluded that pronouncing words the local way is just too embarrassing, so pie-ellar it remained.

So he made one, although we didn't have any paella rice, or saffron, or prawns, and we used chicken stock instead of fish stock. So it was sort of a risotto. But it was also very much like a paella. And it was TERRIFIC. We were still talking about it the next day.

This is how he did it, in his own words:

"brown four cooking chorizo in a big shallow pan as much like a paella dish as you have (a wok is a top substitute but any big pan will do) on quite a generous slick of olive oil (this is spanish food so it's meant to be a bit oily) and slice later when they're firm (or slice dried chorizo and fry off, or if you have neither then some pancetta or lardons but you must have some cured pork in there one way or another).

Then into the nice meaty red paprika-y fat, chuck a quite finely chopped green pepper, finely chopped onion, three fat cloves of garlic finely chopped, low heat, maybe five mins, till soft but not brown. at this point i chucked in five or six big chunks of left over cold roast chicken, you could pre-brown four nice thighs first if you haven't got leftovers, but you do need some white meat (the original valencian paella has rabbit instead of chicken, but then it has snails instead of shellfish, which NOBODY wants).

okay, then when the chicken has relaxed into the dish, toss in about 200 grams of rice (this will serve three to four people in the end, or two with leftovers - it's better the next day) and toss that around until all the grains are nicely oiled (now, i didn't have paella rice, i had only risotto rice, but Esther said risotto gets its consistency from all the stirring, not the arborio itself, so i went with a bit less stirring and it worked beautifully).

add some paprika at this stage. mild or hot, doesn't matter, it's mostly for colour, and some chilli flakes or crushed dried chilli, not too much. if you have saffron, now is the time for that too. i didn't. and didn't miss it. i used a bit of tumeric for yellowness (but the bright yellow of a costa del sol paella is all food colouring so don't make that your benchmark unless you have a pot of E102 in the cupboard).

so, fry, fry, fry, um, oh yes, two to four nice firm tomatoes, de-seeded (but i didn't bother to skin, the rolled up skins looked a bit like the missing saffron stamens), chopped as small as you can be bothered. stir, stir, stir. i think that's that stage done.

no, wait, then a big glass of white wine or sherry, in, bring to boil and cook off the booze.

so now you have a couple of pints or so of chicken stock (or better still a prawn stock, but i couldn't get prawns) nice and hot on the stove (always use stock hot in things like this becasue it saves everything cooling down and slowing the whole faff down even more - you cd even get away with boiling water), poor about half of it on, so the rice is covered, about the amount that cd get the rice to almost cooked but not quite. and bubble away a a simmer, not stirring, but maybe poking a bit to make sure all the rice is under, for about ten minutes, by now it should taste pretty good (assuming you've had the nouse to salt it according to your own taste) but still the grains too hard and starchy.

now is the time to lob in a big handful of clams and one of mussels, bought that morning and scrubbed hard under the tap. push them into the top of the rice hinges down so they open gaping upwards and look pretty, and also one nice big squid (emptied and the horn removed obviously) sliced into rings, and the crown of tentacles halved. poke these down into the rice a bit, then cover with foil or a lid, and cook for another ten minutes or so, so that the shells are open, the squid has turned white and opaque and the rice is done. (if you've got prawns then put them in at the same time as the other shell fish but just fry them off for a couple of minutes first).

serve on plates, picking out all the shellfish and making sure it gets eaten becasue it is not so stellar in the leftovers, and garnish with chopped parsley. eat it with a cheap rioja topped up with a splash of lemonade.

i've probably forgotten a couple of things. [Like: he chucked a handful of samphire over it, which you can do if you want or not if not.] it's basically a cross between a jamie, a delia and an anthony worrell-thompson that all come up on the first page when you google 'paella' - but ignore all the websites with "spain" or "spanish" in the name, because that's just wankers going on about authenticity."

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