Halibut with a Garlic, Potato and Saffron Broth
Until recently, I have always superciliously scoffed at the whole idea of 'date night.' Largely because... well, if a couple has to start making concrete plans in the diary, putting time by for candle light wooing, footsie under the table and some prospective how's yer father; something has to be wrong doesn't it? It just didn't seem right to me that any notion of romancing should be pigeon-holed into a two hour window of opportunity and scribbled hastily onto the calendar. I also took the haughty long view against date night largely because it is an American concept and I do like to rail and kick against sterile, uniform ideas from across the pond; like perfect teeth and cheese-whiz.
But as of late, along with my wife, I have begun to embrace the idea. Simply because we are very busy. Busy, busy, busy. Busier than a squirrel collecting nuts in autumn, busier than a one armed paper hanger and certainly busier than Lord McAlpine's lawyers. If we didn't take the time out to simply sit down at the table, to chat and laugh once a week, there is the terrible prospect that before we knew it, the children will be all grown up and off and we'll be left sat opposite each other in a living room, wondering who the hell the other person was. OK, I just trotted out a bit of a cliché there about parenting but the underlying message is that it is important to make time for each other. Any opportunity for a date night, at home or out at a restaurant or pub or whatever, is a good opportunity to me.
So yesterday, over a quick gulp of coffee, I lavishly declared to Mrs FU that that night would be 'date night' and I had in mind to cook some fish for a change, something sophisticated; just to remind her that sometimes I can be a bit more than a meat-eating, knuckle-dragging philistine in the kitchen. Just sometimes. Something like fish with a garlic, potato and saffron broth, a dish I picked up from a very short tenure at Rick Stein's Seafood School many years ago.
Next stop was the fishmongers, a risky business shopping on a Tuesday as there probably wouldn't be much in yet; and there wasn't much to be honest. Excitedly though, I pointed at some red fish, asking yet another septuagenarian assistant if it was gurnard and she just laughed, saying they were mullet, making me feel wholly inadequate in the process. I then pointed vigorously at some halibut (I knew it was halibut because it was labelled 'halibut') and enquired by barking, if it came from a sustainable source. Suddenly my purple haired quarry became all steely and cold.
"It came from Billingsgate this morning, that's all I know."
Sensing a punch up, I meekly withdrew and throwing all ethical scruples out of the window, I asked gently for two portions; you know, enough for two. Which cost me twelve f**king quid.
With my tail between my legs and drained of cash, I popped to the bank to check my balance. As we are coming towards the end of the month, I noticed that the coffers were getting low so I decided to queue to transfer some money, rather than do it at home on the internet like a sensible person. This decision cost me something like an hour. When I finally got to the counter, as soon as I put my request in, my cashier's computer died and as she smiled and winked at me with wrinkly, twinkly eyes, cooing that her machine was just 'rebooting'; I started to come to the conclusion that my day wasn't going well. And that the entire working populace of Upminster consists of old ladies.
This shopping trip, which should have took half an hour at most, was now running to two and a half, and as the clock ticked, I was becoming more and more agitated. I had some chores to do at home and the end of school deadline was looming so once I got back through the door I threw myself into the housework. Dusting, hoovering, washing, drying, mopping, all that kind of shizz; yes I am the definitive modern man. Then the door goes and so I answer and it is my neighbour from a couple of houses down. He has an apology apparently. He was reversing into a space just behind our car and sort of scraped the back bumper. My response is to simply laugh hysterically in his face and slam the door shut; leaving my neighbour to ponder my indifference and to wonder why I was wearing a pinny.
At quarter to three, the alarm on my phone goes off with a reminder note that flashes on the screen:
GET THE KIDS! GET THE KIDS! GET THE KIDS!
And so I jump into the car to collect the twins from school. Despite encountering a deluge of rain, bumper to bumper traffic and an OAP who takes an age to drag his shopping trolley across a zebra crossing ("Where are they all coming from?" I silently scream) I make it to the playground just in time. Running with a small hand clasped in each of mine across the tarmac, we get back into the Megane, complete with red scratch on the bumper; our warm panting breath and giggles steaming the windows up inside. So it's a quick wipe with an abandoned sock found on the floor of the car and off we set. And narrowly we miss another car that comes from out of nowhere. Mindful of the children's ears, I wind down the window and yell "IDIOT!" to the sky and Fin helpfully reminds me that I mustn't call people that. He also tells me that I mustn't say "F**king hell." I physically blanch, quietly chastise myself and then casually ask them about their day, trying to bring some calm to proceedings.
For a while the calmness remains, insofar in that once we get home, everything becomes normal. Uniforms and ties are festooned around the place; toys, crayons, paper and books are strewn everywhere and CBBC blares in the background. My earlier efforts were in vain but no matter because I was about to get stuck into preparing dinner, fishcakes for the kids and a date night feast for later; prepping veg always has a meditative effect on me. Then the phone rings.
By all accounts, Mrs FU had gone to Lakeside with my sister, that emporium of quality goods and every Essex girls' favourite whine; and had visited a coffee shop for break. And had her handbag pinched from under her nose by some bastard tea leaf whilst in there. A carrot flies across the room and Finlay, the inquisitor of foul language, pops his head around the door with a severe, stern look on his face.
"Horlicks," I tell him. "Daddy said Horlicks."
Phone calls to banks are made, fish cakes are haphazardly formed and slapped on plates with crunchy undercooked broccoli and the twins sit there with knife and fork, watching me ruefully as I sit with them. Probably because my left eye is involuntarily twitching and I have opened a bottle of wine, breaking the 7PM watershed. Mummy comes home, white and shaking with anger. The best I can offer is a hug and a glass of wine and playfully suggest we turn one of Isla's dolls into a voodoo effigy, cast a spell or two over it and then stab it with skewer. Mrs FU laughs and then we notice Isla silently weeping at the table and we have to reassure her that Daddy is not going to stab Lily, her favourite patchwork toy.
With date night still in mind, we didn't lose sight of that, Mrs FU says that she is going to get the kids ready for bed and off to sleep whilst I get on with the business making our special dinner; a fragrant, warm, enticing broth with some chunky, pan-fried sweet fish and a sprinkling of sharp capers with oregano. I put some music on, clear the table down and scrape fish cake residue from off the floor; the candles come out and I throw a bottle of Prosecco in the freezer. A tumult sounds off from upstairs and heavy steps come thundering down the stairs. A naughty daughter just won't go to sleep and is testing an already stressed and frazzled mother to the limits and I flip the lid, exclaiming that I will rip Lily's head off if she doesn't go to bed. Isla then bursts into full tears, saying her stomach hurts and she can't sleep and the sledgehammer of guilt whacks me straight in gut. Together we all huddle on the sofa, trying to reassure her (again) and after 20 minutes or so, a dose of Calpol is dispensed. But as her spasms increase both Mrs FU and I exchange worried glances, both telepathically thinking that a visit to the hospital is looming.
Suddenly it happens. From out of nowhere, Isla produces a loud parp of such intensity and strength, that my glasses nearly melt and fall off my face. After that Isla continues to utter soft, lingering farts or 'fairy puffs' as we call them, from her derriere for at least another 20 minutes, after which she seems much better. She ended up falling asleep on her Mummy's lap in fact, so I lift her carefully and carry her upstairs. I place my beautiful girl onto her bed and she turns her back to me in slumber; shifting one last blast of the trumpet.
It is very late now and our date night has sort of been spoiled by events of the day but c'est la vie, that is life. At least the halibut and broth was good, it really was; a fantastic contrast of flavours, light yet meaty fish with a heady garlic and earthy vegetable soup. Even the stale bread worked, toasted instead of wasted. Of course, date nights don't have to end with a nudge and a wink. Sometimes, it is just as good to simply drain the remnants of your glass and head upstairs for a quick cuddle and then to tumble into the oblivion of sleep. The washing up can wait till tomorrow and that Prosecco can wait till another spicier, bubblier date night.
One word of advice though, always remember to take the bottle out of the freezer.
I found this out this morning.
Halibut with Garlic, Potato and Saffron (works with other fish though)
4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs of fresh oregano
1 small head of garlic
1 tsp of chopped oregano leaves
100 ml dry white wine
500ml fish or chicken stock
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tomatoes, chopped
300g waxy potatoes, thickly sliced
Pinch of saffron strands
1 teaspoon of capers
Salt and pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan. Add the oregano sprigs and unpeeled garlic cloves and cook for 2 minutes, until the garlic is lightly browned. Remove pan from heat, cool a little, then add half the wine. Return to the heat and boil rapidly until it has almost evaporated. Add the leek, carrot and tomato and stir for a minute. Add the stock, saffron and some seasoning, then cover and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
Shortly before the potatoes are ready, heat the rest of the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the halibut, skin side down and fry for 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn over and fry for another 2 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through.
Serve up the broth in a deep pasta or soup bowl and place the halibut on top. Mix the capers with the chopped oregano in some olive oil and salt and pepper and drizzle over the fish and serve. Stale toast is optional but very tasty.