Thursday, April 16, 2009

Falafel Failure

It has come to my attention that some folk think Emma and I live some sort of charmed life, they are of the opinion that we drift around wearing serene expressions attending to creations that create themselves like something out of a Disney cartoon.

The truth of the matter is that we work pretty hard to make most of this stuff happen; in my experience living the ‘good life’ is 90% preparation and planning and about 10% sitting back and idly scratching parts of your body. There is also a lot of trial and error, and of course we only tend to post the positive results on our blog.
So here’s a little something else…

Whenever I go to music festivals or anywhere else that happens to sell food from old trailers I click my elbows with glee if I see a Falafel seller. There’s something so tasty about eating something Vegan and nutritious when surrounded by the filth and urine streaked squalor of a proper rock festival, you’re also a lot less likely to get a dicky tummy, something you REALLY don’t want at a festival! I became such a fan of this chick pea based snack I went through a phase of buying the fantastic Leonora frozen mail order Falafel to gorge on after pub gigs. I’d sit there smugly stuffing my cake hole with these healthy treats, feeling a little morally superior to my friends who were no doubt slouched against a wall in the town centre choking down a kebab.

However, as we’ve been cutting back our cash flow buying Leonora’s treats (as reasonable as they are) ceased to be a viable option. The packet falafel never quite hit the spot so I decided to have a crack at making them from scratch, in the spirit of self sufficiency. I’ll be honest with you here; Emma is the real chef in this house, over the years her passion for cooking has developed at exactly the same rate as my passion for letting her cook. It’s not that I can’t cook; it’s more that I’m just extremely out of practice. If remembering how to cook is like remembering how to ride a bike then my cycle might as well be tireless and in one of the self storage places that seem to be springing up everywhere. I’m not so proud that I can’t ask my wife for help in the kitchen, but in this instance her tutoring was less an answer to a cry for help as a humanitarian intervention. After quitting her job to work for herself Emma has quite naturally found herself in the house on weekdays during office hours, a time I had gotten quite used to sharing only with myself and the cats. I had no wish to start using my wife as a full time cook so insisted on continuing to cook for myself during the day. It may seem odd to you that I make such a big deal out of lunch, but when you work for yourself the welcome distraction of the intake of food becomes most important. One day while Emma was watching me destroy an omelette I swear I saw her jaw drop, it was the moment she realised I am from the ‘crank it up and get it done’ school of cookery. My method for an omelette consisted of putting an empty omelette pan on on the stove set to full tilt, banging a couple of eggs around for a few seconds then slinging the half mixed mess into the pan. I could knock up an omelette in about sixty seconds from ambling from my desk to the kitchen next door, to eating. I had cooked so many of these minute omelettes that when I was served a perfect breakfast omelette in a nice London hotel I was genuinely confused that it wasn’t burnt on both sides and still raw in the middle. On that occasion Emma swore to give me a cooking refresher course, a bit like the Delia Smith ‘How to Cook’ course, only without the need to feather that particular Norwich City fan’s nest any further. Time slipped by and the occasional glorious culinary failure caused Emma to reassert her vow to reform my ways, but somehow we never got around to pencilling in a date. The intakes of breath and furrowing of brows at my failures were made all the more intense by episodes like the ‘meatball debacle’: on deciding to experiment with New York deli type sandwiches I bought half a dozen meatballs from our fantastic local butcher. All I needed to do was shallow fry them and eat them, and yet somehow I managed to transform them from plump juicy lumps of loveliness into something you might find in a bucket at the end of a vets operating table after a long day demasculinizing Tom Cats, only with a lot more charcoal. So last night while Emma was preparing an evening meal I decided it was the ideal time to try and make my own falafel.

My first attempt at falafel (the night before) failed within seconds; before I could even start to make a heinous mess of the kitchen I found out I had to soak the chickpeas overnight before starting. The next evening, fighting for elbow room with Emma in our tiny kitchen I was somewhat alarmed to discover the reason I had to boil the chickpeas for over an hour, apparently it’s to get out all the poisons; this cooking lark is more hazardous than I thought! I decided that (at least to start with) I would try my usual cooking methods, assuming that should I be about to make a catastrophic error Emma would leap to my aid and straighten my direction on the culinary path (so to speak). Intervention was more forthcoming that I could have anticipated, the catalyst of which was me cramming all the ingredients in the food processor at once, and without so much as a gossamer thin suggestion of irony I reached for the power switch. Several stern warnings from my Tutor later I had twelve curiously green dollops that I stood over like a proud father, even although they looked like the nasal excavations of Sasquatch.


Emma was eventually suitably convinced that I wouldn’t destroy her kitchen, and went off for a bath leaving me to shallow fry the falafel balls. I chuckled nervously to myself as I heard her mount the stairs, I felt much like I did after taking my first trip in a car without an instructor after passing my driving test. I followed Emma’s instructions carefully and gently lowered the first of the snot balls into the frying pan of oil. Resisting the strong urge to crank the hob up to maximum I stood waiting patiently for these odd looking dollops to transform themselves into delicious snacks. Then I waited for a while longer. Then I went off and checked my emails. After what seemed like hours later I gingerly tipped up one of the balls to see if the underside was cooked yet, and it collapsed in much the same fashion as a wave-struck sandcastle.


I was SO glad we bottled some brilliant blackberry wine last night!

After a short while spent mumbling rude words I decided not to be disheartened and checked the next still raw looking falafel. I gently poked the side of it with my spatula only for it to smear across the pan as if it were made of toothpaste. Showing reserves of calm that surprised even me I tested the third lump with my finger. I’d love to say at this point that it was a firm, well formed perfect falafel, but sadly I can’t. I lifted my finger off the green lump and peered under my hand, falafel number three looked a punched cabbage. Resisting the strong urge to chuck the whole lot in the bin I stuck with it, encouraging each falafel around the pan so gently even a brain surgeon would have been impressed. You can probably guess how much difference that made. In the end I was left with a drying rack full of the most unappetising things I’ve made since I accidently incorporated some dog dirt in a mud pie at the age of five.

In the photo above you can see a sort of charming 'before and after' setup!

Poets and great authors throughout the ages have expended phenomenal efforts trying to pinpoint and elucidate the meaning of love, I can save creative sorts of the future the bother, I have a perfect example of true love, Emma ate one of my falafel and said she liked it. In fact hidden in a burrito and slathered with crème fresh my bastard creation sits just the ride side of palatable on the digestible solids scale.

On the top, a falafel burrito with tons of cremé fresh, on the bottom one with hot sauce.


The moral of this story is vague to say the least, and not the most encouraging; if your wife is good at cooking try not to be a modern man for the sake of it, let her cook. You need to find other ways to show her how much you love her, burnt offerings are only cute for so long!

The final moral is to make sure you read the ingredients list properly, I left out flour…