This week I had the privilege of staying with my Aunty Vera for a couple of days, to celebrate her 86th birthday. Aunty Vera isn't as active as she was (she blames the tablets the doctor gives her, I'd say it has more to do with being 86) but she does rather enjoy a visit and relishes the chance to bring out some of her party-pieces. I felt like I was in a time-warp, or maybe stuck in Australian Women's Weekly Dinner Party Cookbook - it was wonderful!
I don't know how the pundits can claim that Britain doesn't really have a wine culture - it certainly flows wherever my aunts settle. Before getting to Aunty Vera's we'd been to Aunty Phyll's, where one has champagne before lunch and wine (red and white) with lunch. And on arrival at Aunty Vera's the sherry bottle comes out. A decent oloroso too, not your Harvey's Bristol Cream.
The vegetables for dinner were already on the stove when we arrived at 1730 - we didn't eat until 1900. And she still thought the purple sprouting broccoli was underdone.
Dinner was in the dining room, of course. Aunty Vera doesn't like eating in the kitchen, she feels a separate dining room is "more gracious living". We began with prawn cocktail, served as you would hope in a wide goblet on a bed of shredded lettuce. Then chicken breasts stuffed with Paxo sage and onion and wrapped in bacon with the aforementioned vegetables (fantastically crispy roasties and unimaginably soggy carrots). The wine was a Californian rose. And a hostess-trolley arrived with pudding - a choice of oranges in Grand Marnier or tinned pears in lime jelly, both with lashings of double cream. After we washed up, we were offered coffee and liqueurs with petits fours: tiny cups of decaf instant, a choice of Grand Marnier, Advocaat or Creme de Menthe, and slabs of marzipan with crystallised violets on top, in little gold foil cases. Clearly I had enough booze inside me to forgo the need for either a hot water bottle or the hot whisky I was offered to go to bed on.
As we were out for lunch the following day, dinner the second night was a lighter affair. Hot whisky when we got in from outdoors, of course, then more sherry, but just a light 3 courses for dinner. I'd been wondering about the champagne saucers with sugar-frosted rims and pink ribbons tied to the stems that had been on the kitchen counter when we arrived - turns out that was for the starter. Balls of gallia and honeydew melon marinated in Stone's Green Ginger Wine. Then salmon fillets baked in foil and cooled, with lettuce, boiled potatoes, tinned beetroot, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise. And another bottle of rose. For pudding the hostess trolley again had the oranges and pears, but supplemented with a huge bowl of strawberries, and M&S meringue nests.
The remaining strawbs, oranges and pears made another appearance at breakfast. I've never started a day on oranges in Grand Marnier before, but a gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do.