There are very few questions that have simple answers. For example: “Would you like a handjob in the parking lot?” seems fairly straightforward, but poke at this proposition a bit more and suddenly it’s 2am and in you’re in the back of your car with a surprisingly convincing transvestite with removable front teeth.
However, without nearly as many pitfalls as that is “Would you like free wine and steak?”
Easy. Yes please. With knobs on.
This was what was put to me about two weeks ago, when Winestyle Magazine (a seriously well-put-together glossy that’s free, but subscription-only: learn more here) assembled a loose collection of excellent wine, food and general good-living writers to blind-taste six red blends, eat some sirloin courtesy of HQ restaurant in Sandton, and generally burst at the seams with things that only the French can describe, but usually only with long and difficult-to-say phrases.
And then there was me.
You see, normally at things like this (where usually I’ve been invited by clerical error), I can get by with nodding my head at what seems like the appropriate time, and by just repeating the last word of whatever anyone else says. In my head it makes it look like I had the thought at almost the exact same time as whoever’s speaking but just couldn’t get it out fast enough because I was too busy not spitting out some Shiraz.
Person Who Knows What They’re Talking About: “Oh, yes – it got a lovely gravelly quality,”
Other Person Who Knows What They’re Talking About: “I really think this is great value.”
Me: “Great value.”
Third Person Who Knows What They’re Talking About: “Can you taste the pears? I’m getting such strong pears from this.”
Me: “Mm, pears”
Original Person Who Knows What They’re Talking About: “If I had a choice between licking Colin Firth and drinking this – I’d probably choose this.”
Me: “Colin Firth, I was totally going to say that.”
It’s an approach that’s held me in good stead so far – but it probably wasn’t going to work around people who actually do this for a living, so I decided to just drink a lot and hope that everyone just mistook this for boyish enthusiasm.
I did draw this picture of a tree on the tablepaper (I miss the days of getting crayons and colouring-book at restaurants) after my first bottle-or-so, which kept people from asking too many questions (“I’d like to express my appreciation of this wine through an Interpretive Doodle. Thank you, thank you very much”).
What was amazing however – and I guess this is what the clever Jenny and Andy who organised the whole thing intended all along – is that I learned that things I like, I actually do like. Now, that makes almost no sense, but bear with me for a second. A lot of the time, especially when it comes to wine, I wonder if I like something just because other people who are scary and say Complicated Wine Things like it, or maybe because I know it’s supposed to be good and that if I don’t like it I’m a cretin – and ultimately not just because, if I clear my mind and concentrate on what’s going on in my mouth, that I actually like it.
Now I stuck my mini-flag of approval (there’s a walrus emblem on it and everything) on Hermanuspietersfontein’s range of reds long ago. They’re smoky, big wines and they feel like they’re trying to pick a fight with me – which I think is an excellent quality in something that’s going to get me drunk. But it’s one thing to say – “oh yes I like that one” (when really you just like the label, or that it’s cheap or whatever), and quite another to have it definitively proven. Which is what happened when, blind, I picked the two Hermanuspieterfontein blends that were part of the tasting as being my favourite (I was alone in this by the way – but that was fine, because it meant getting a bottle to myself to wash down my steak, airfist). It was gratifying that, yes, my palate genuinely recgonised those flavours, and it’s not just because I was trying to look good in front of a girl or something.
So, thank you Winestyle and thank you Real Time Wine for your clerical error.
Right, what with the weather being cold enough to freeze a man’s testicles to the inside of his own leg, I started thinking about breakfasts that could only really be eaten in this kind of cold. You know, warm and hearty and all those other things that people start to say when they’re freezing and miserable and just want an excuse to eat meat in the morning.
Meatballs with charred red pepper sauce, rye toast and poached egg
Oh, a quick internet tip-of-the-hat to the prolific www.sciencesightseeingandsustenance.wordpress.com, where, while doing a spot of internet-spying the other day, I came across a whole bunch of pictures of poached eggs and reminded of a) how fucking long it’d been since I’d actually made some of those, and b) how bloody delicious they are.
Ingredients (for 4)
1 fat garlic clove
1 small dry chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
half a red onion, roughly chopped
3 red peppers
1 400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes
3 of your favourite type of sausages, meat removed, casings discarded
salt and pepper
white wine vinegar
a couple of slices of rye bread
What to do
Firstly – turn the largest plate on your stove top up to full and put the three peppers directly onto them (if you have gas – do the same, you’ll just have to use tongs to hold the peppers into the flame). After about 2-3 minutes the side of the pepper in direct contact with the plate with start to blacken and char – this is a good thing. Keep turning the peppers so that they’re like this on all sides, then get them off the heat, pop them in a plastic bag, tie it shut and let the peppers sweat for about 10 minutes.
Now, rub your hands with some olive or vegetable oil (it’ll help stop the sausage meat from sticking to your hands) and break of small chunks of sausage and roll them into large marble-sized balls, setting them aside on a clean plate as you go. Once you’ve used up all the sausage meat, heat some vegetable oil in a pan and gently fry all your meatballs until they’re crispy and golden on all sides.
Take the peppers out the plastic bag, trim off the bottoms and remove the seeds and core and cut them into slices.
In a pot, heat some olive oil and then add the chilli, chopped onion, paprika and garlic. Gently fry this all together for about 4 minutes until fragrant and sweated. Then add the peppers and get this all mixed and getting to know wach other for another 5 minutes or so. It should start to really great and peppery round about now. Finally add in the tinned tomatoes breaking them up with a wooden spoon, season to taste with salt and pepper – turn the heat down and let this simmer for about 20 minutes.
Once it’s darkened and thickened, either pop the sauce in a blender or use a hand blender to reduce it to a smooth-ish sauce (I don’t like to blend it too fine – it’s nice to have some chunky-ish bits), then add the meatballs and let this gently simmer away for another 15 minutes.
Pop some rye bread in the toaster, and once it’s done, spoon onto it some meatballs and sauce.
Heat a pot of water, add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of white wine vinegar and bring it to the boil. As it’s beginning to boil, use a whisk to froth up the water and then gently crack in an egg. Don’t be alarmed when it looks like it’s just turning into a mess – magic is going to happen in that pot – and it’ll all pull together to make a lovely fluffy poached egg.
After about two and half minutes (for soft, three for a slightly more solid yolk), lift out your poached egg with a slotted spoon and place onto your saucy meatballs.
Get the coffee and someone warm – and tuck in. To the breakfast, not the someone warm. Although you can totally do that too.