Mr. Randall wasn’t a fine cook he knew that much and he hated cooking he thought it the perfect waste of time yet the occasion seemed important enough to try and toss together something more elaborate than his usual grub. He’d skimmed through dozens of videos to find something simple but effective and not too long or technical to prepare. His fingers didn’t like kitchen knives, but kitchen knives loved his fingers. Any such implements mired him in trepidation, which made them only more dangerous. The meal he’d settled on was the creation of a Canadian guy a moderately funny, down to earth bloke with a big moustache (a sign of honesty, in Mr. Randall’s eyes you can’t hide behind a moustache), though his jokes and mannerisms got grating the longer he binge-watched the chef. A bad feeling about it all started to bubble up at the bottom of his spine and were it not for a pang of romantic culpability lulling him back, he’d almost aborted the whole idea.
He portioned the heirloom potatoes next to the plate of baby spinach and the vacuum-wrapped rack of lamb. The sauce he got came in an easy-open plastic sachet. Gourmet Lamb Sauce Extra Savoury Glutamate free , it said. The potatoes he turned (kitchen business was full of new words): he sliced off large chunks, shaping the buttery-yellow core into fancy or in his hands: deformed ovaloids. The chef cut the potatoes into mushroom shapes, but that was far too outrageous for Mr. Randall. He picked out the best leaves from the pile of spinach, snipped off their split ends, and dunked them into ice cold water, as instructed. The crown of lamb he trimmed of excess fat and gristle and sinew, and he scraped the bones clean. The amount of work a prime cut of meat required made Mr. Randall’s moustache bristle.
The turned potatoes needed blanching, then sautéing in butter and finishing off in the oven with the seared meat, which then should rest to even out the tenderness and distribute the juices while the remainder of the meal got prepared. It was a lot to take in and to time right too much for Mr. Randall. Catastrophes lay in waiting. He could feel it.
The kitchen tinkled and hummed and fried and clattered over the soft background track of a light jazz radio programme (now playing Tenderly how serendipitous). Mr. Randall too hummed and tinkled and swore (tenderly) every time he forgot something. Multitasking was not one of his gifts. His gifts were rare, and patience wasn’t one of them. As much as he would have liked to, he didn’t relish the occasion. It was all too much effort. Perhaps he’d been callused by years of making repetitive stodge he’d happily survive on lentils and rice or pasta for months yet the thick air of the kitchen roused his appetite. Smell, it had dawned on him, is the quintessential primal sense: a ravenous body responds to the call of roasting without hesitation, without question, without choice. His stomach rumbled with increasing regularity, his mouth watered, his senses peaked. He was alert as only the hungry are, and that made him smile. He could for reasons he didn’t want to delve into see himself cooking fancy meals more often; he’d pick out simple fare from the Canadian chef and put himself to it. It’s never too late to learn a skill or hone one’s patience.
Caught in musing by the delectability of the aromas Who would have thought that oven-roasting rosemary and thyme would make one so hungry? Why had nature invented spices? he swore when he saw the sachet of sauce. He cut it open (easy-open sachets never open without scissors, trying to do so is effort wasted), squeezed the congealed gravy into a bowl and bunged it into the microwave. It came out with a thick skin but smelled all right.
The rack was done, he thought he hoped; he wasn’t expert in meat doneness and the potatoes crackled and frittered and spluttered their roasted aroma all through the kitchen when he took the pan out of the oven. On the counter he noticed the bowl of wet spinach. Mr. Randall sighed. In a flurry of inspired improvisation, he tossed it with a solid knob of sizzling garlic butter in the pan that he’d used for the potatoes; the spinach took seconds to wilt. He assembled the lot on his plate any chef worth his salt and pepper would have been incensed at the jumble and sat down at the table, content.
“Well, happy anniversary then,” he said and dug in.
He had a fine meal. The potatoes were crisp with a fluffy centre, perhaps a bit too salty. The spinach melted. The lamb for lack of humble adverbs was cooked and seasoned to perfection. He didn’t know yet whether it had been worth it. He’d know after dessert. He’d got himself some tiramisu from the supermarket the posh brand and capped the meal with coffee and cream and cognac and a solid half-hour long cigar. When the cigar had smouldered down to a stump, Mr. Randall was larded with the lingering inertia of a proper feast. The coffee, the veil of oil from frying and roasting, the spices, garlic, the cigar; all swirled and mingled and clung to every orifice, eager to be snorted up by a nose, to tantalise the olfactory bulbs, to grind into motion the wheels of appetite of any creature not wholly satiated by sheer excess. Mr. Randall was starting to feel frisky. Cigars did that to him.
He hopped from the table, swiped together the bits of trimmed meat and potato and the discarded leaves of spinach, and bunged them with his leftovers in the potato-blanching pot. He hummed to the tune on the radio (I’ve got rhythm ), and while the little water bubbled and steamed the dancing scraps he got out the blender from the cupboard under the sink, the door of which he closed with his bum. He switched off the stove, fished the half-cooked bits from the foamy grey mixture, took a bottle of dark-yellow liquid from the fridge, and poured half of it with the scraps in the blender. He blitzed it, scooped in the second tiramisu (they came in pairs, and he wouldn’t eat the second one), giggled while he gave the nauseating goop another whizz, tested the temperature with a finger (cold bathwater), almost licked his finger, retched a bit, and sniggered at the realisation that he was growing a bulge.
He unclipped the blender and took it with him to a corner of the kitchen, next to the bin.
“You poor thing,” he said. “You must be ravenous, not having eaten anything in two days. I’m such an inconsiderate prick.”
“Here… I made you something special.”
He poured the mixture down a funnel; the grey-brown sludge rose to the rim.
“You’d better not shake you head, or it will spill over, and you do not want that.”
With slow retches and gags, the goop went down. Mr. Randall refilled the funnel until the blender was empty. The man, crammed upright into a black crate with only his hooded and funnelled head sticking out, moaned in between gulps.
“There you go. Bon appétit. Take your time and enjoy the treat; it’s back to cold loaf for you tomorrow. I know how much you hate that.” Mr Randall stroked the man’s featureless rubber head. “Ten years together. How time flies, eh? Happy anniversary, boy.”