It was my husband G's birthday last weekend, so I organised a dinner party with one of his friends, the Whingies and friends The Kayak Kouple (they are very much into marathon kayaking).
I was going to cook Boeuf Bourguignon, one of my absolute favourite dishes and G's too. I do a mean Bourguignon if I say so myself. A couple of weeks ago I bought beef cheeks from our local butcher and cooked a big pot up. It melted in our mouths. Divine! That was what G wanted for his birthday.
So my butcher cheerfully sold me about 2kg of beef cheeks, and I took them home and cut them up and marinated them in wine, juniper berries, bay leaves and brandy for nearly 24 hours.
Two hours before our dinner party they were coming to the simmer and the smell was divine. All going to plan.
As it's the middle of winter here I thought I'd get the log fire going as well as the electric heaters. I'm a bit of a pyromaniac when it comes to log fires and can usually have them up and flaming very quickly and efficiently.
The bloody thing wouldn't light. I did what I usually do: scrunched up newspaper on the bottom with a tepee of kindling on top. The kindling was dry; it had been inside for a fortnight.
I struggled with it for twenty minutes then G took over while I got changed. Our guests arrived to find us both on our knees trying to fan the pathetic little flames into some kind of life. They helped. Between us all we spent about an hour and a half trying to get the bastard going before giving up as - joy! - the Boeuf Bourguignon, with new potatoes and a medley of fresh winter greens - was ready.
Proudly I put it on the table in a fresh casserole dish.
The bloody meat was tough as an old boot! Horrible! It had been cooking for around two hours and had determinedly retained every bit of muscle it had ever possessed.
Of course this WOULD happen when Whingy was over to dinner. She complained loudly that she couldn't cut her meat at least three times. I apologised at least five, feeling angry and embarrassed and worried that my reputation as a good winter cook with casseroles and roasts was compromised.
No fire. Crap meat.
I reckon Mum was on the go somewhere. She didn't like Whingy and probably, from wherever she is, still disapproves of Whingy visiting. I reckon she managed the fire if not the meat.
The Kayak Kouple and G's other mate took it all in good humour and everyone enjoyed the chocolate birthday cake I'd made for dessert. So THAT was alright. By the time I served the cake I had a horrible vision of cutting into it and finding it raw in the middle after everything else that had gone wrong.
It's perishing cold today, particularly in my office which doesn't get any sun. The sun's gone behind clouds and even the front of the house - where you can sit in the sun wearing a t shirt in winter - is chilly.
I'm going to try and light the fire. If it lights... well, I'll know SOMETHING was behind the goings on at our dinner party!