1. We have had another fatality. While inspecting the veggie garden for ripe tomatoes (negative), the pig squeaked and pointed out a stiff, stark rat lying on a pile of mulch. Helpdesk Man picked it up by the tail and threw it over the fence, because he is Manly. The pig was intrigued by the cause of death - “Maybe it ate a bit of smulch?” - but I was more worried about whether or not it was Howard Harley. For the sake of naming simplicity we decided it was merely one of Howard Harley’s friends-and-relations, but it must be said we have not seen him since. Dennis the Quail-Bird is becoming more friendly, though, since I left a piece of bread in the front yard.
2. Tomorrow is the cooking competition. This morning I panicked and redesigned my dish, which is either the moment of inspiration that causes the scrappy underdog to rise to the top, or the sign of a wavering and feeble mind. Incidentally, fennel is vile. I have been cooking variations of it all week - steamed in chicken stock, roasted in duck fat, pureed with garlic - and the only way I can stomach it at all is raw and finely minced. Well, and roasted and pureed with six cloves of garlic, but only because that just tasted of pureed roasted garlic.
So anyway, the idea is: chicken tenders in a preserved lemon and honey dipping sauce (preserved lemon is growing on me, kinda - I won’t buy it again, but it’s OK), with flat green beans ever-so-briefly roasted with a honey glaze, and olives with rosemary, garlic and caramelised balsamic vinegar garnishing it all. Then cream cheese balls made with chopped raw fennel, saffron (had to stick it in somewhere - probably not the most nuanced use of the spice ever, but again, I really don’t like the taste) and cracked pepper; three balls a plate, two rolled in toasted pinenuts and one in chopped fennel fronds, perched in a corner on a couple of basil leaves.
Helpdesk Man assisted with the arrangement - I called him for dinner and he came over, stared at the plate and said “Needs more whitespace”, before moving ramekins around and poking beans for a good ten minutes. I had never realised web design translated so well to chicken tenders, but he was right.
So anyway, I’m supposed to be writing an article about milk donation right now, but I’m mostly running through lists of ingredients in my head. The potential for things going horribly wrong is enormous - we have to bring all our own ingredients, all our utensils - pots, pans, crockery for plating up - everything but a chopping board, which for some reason they provide (but I’m bringing a glass one anyway, for chicken-pounding purposes). And we only get 45 minutes to make the dish from go to whoa, which is cutting it pretty fine, especially because we have to plate up two servings (one for photographing, one for the judges. I don’t know why they couldn’t just hold off a tick before hoeing in, but whatever).
Incidentally, I found out about the mysterious fourth contestant. She was told the wrong time and/or place for the semi-finals, and it was All Their Fault, so they felt the only pukka thing to do was to let her through to the Finals. To which I say, hmph.
3. The pig is a clever child; she thinks about things. Recently some of our resident sheep were shorn, or “furred off” as the pig calls it; and we were discussing the whys and wherefores in the car, when she said “But goats have lots of fur, and they don’t get furred off”. And I was like, that is true. (Although sometimes it isn’t - angoras, for instance. But still.) And when we saw a cute little yellow Beetle-type convertible the other day, she stopped raving about its beauty long enough to ponder, “But what happens when the rain comes in?” I don’t think I would have been as practical at that age. Nor would I have known nearly as much about the makes of cars, how babies come out of their mummies’ tummies, or (possibly because the parenting gene skipped a generation) zombies. Or superheroes, actually. Someone held up a copy of the Captain America DVD to the pig at Christmas and said “Do you know who this is?”, and she said “The star-spangled man!”. I have never been so proud. She was using one of my new dresses as a Superman cape the other day and I reflected I could make her one, but then Helpdesk Man put a spanner in the works by saying “You couldn’t be Superman though pig, you’d have to be Supergirl”, and while I was saying “Bosh, she can be Superman if she wants to” the pig said reflectively “No, I think I’ll be Wonder Woman. Can you make me the clothes, with the panties and the top and the boots?” And we hastily changed the subject.
Plus, she does schoolwork. We do worksheets together - I make them up, because it reminds me of playing school as a kidling - and she fills them in with great officiousness and a sunny spirit. If things go awry, she will say cheerfully “That was not my best R ever. Oh well, never mind!” She does tend to go a little off-track - when I ask her to draw, say, a line of Ts, she will usually end up drawing a Mummy T and a Daddy T and a whole row of little baby Ts - and if unsure of a letter, she treats P as a kind of wildcard, which does not work; but still. She drew a rat the other day that was breathtaking; it had ten legs.