Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Nigella, Me and Ramekingate

Ramekin dishes. 

Six red, eight white. How often have I used them in the 30+ years since I bought them?
Twice. Actually, I think two of the white ones have never been used. I’m not even sure what ramekins are for, but when my mother told me of a recipe that was so goddamn easy and, moreover, a veritable meal in a tiny pot, I was on that Ramekins4U hit list.
So, here’s another dilemma: do I keep the six red and dispense with the eight white? How can I possibly assess how many ramekin loving friends are yet to enter my life? Will these as yet imaginary people prefer white or red? You see? This moving lark isn’t as easy as it seems. The ramekins are top shelf, kitchen cupboard one. I’m already a wreck. Heaven help me when I get to the Pyrex section.
I recall supplementing the red ramekins with white ones I bought from the Lakeland Plastics birthpool that became my life when the store opened in the Hayes in Cardiff. The first time I used them was when they transferred to a dinner party that involved Nigella Lawson –  I’ll return to that. But the tiny pots got me thinking: whatever happened to Lakeland Plastics? Were they still in the Hayes? Did they still fill their glorious shelves with things I never knew I wanted until I saw them and then never used because I didn’t know I didn’t want them until I’d bought them?
Upon writing that, I just looked them up and discovered that they are, indeed, still in Cardiff (Oh no: “Taxi, please!”). However, they changed their name from Lakeland Plastics to, simply, Lakeland, in 1997, and I’ve just been online to find out where they are on the ramekin issue.
Dear lord! There is now an “Elegance Large Ramekin”, which seems to me to defeat the object. Isn’t an ELR essentially a pudding bowl? Maybe it’s not as big as it sounds, as it’s only £1.59 (I’m pretty sure I paid, like, £159 when they were de rigeur back in the Nineties). But now there’s a “Dura 230 ramekin”, which is £5.97. Why am I even looking – and, more disturbingly, considering them, when I am sitting looking at 14 ramekins that don’t even match and haven’t seen a blowtorch in . . . Well, ever.
Now, you see, just because I’ve Googled ramekins and blow torch, my computer has decided that I need the Kitchen Craft Deluxe Cooks Blowtorch and Ramekin Gift Set at £15.71. No! Please leave me alone: I’m ramekinned out! They are so going into the Kitchen Cull box.
But I will explain the last time they were used. I was in my early thirties in London and I was friendly with people who many might consider the “in” set. But that’s always an illusion: everyone on any In set always has the feeling of being an outsider – that is what, ironically, makes them the In set: the outsiders who have found common ground.
I knew Nigella’s first husband, the journalist John Diamond, who was not only a great writer, but adorable company – sharp, funny, a late night hanger-outer at the Groucho Club, as I was. I met Nigella through him and we too became friends, so much so that I decided to throw a dinner party for them and several other In people.
It was a disaster. I spent just 20 minutes in the dining room as I was in the kitchen the entire night. My speciality was the starter – some smoked salmon and cream thing baked in the oven – in a ramekin.
John had forgotten to tell me he was allergic to fish and I remember rushing down to the local shop mid-dinner party for extra supplies that he might like.
Victoria Hislop, hugely successful author and, seriously, the best chef/cook/host on the planet, told me when she received my next invitation that they had come to see me, not sit at the dining table while I entertained myself in the kitchen. The ramekins never saw the light of day again.
As for Nigella, we are still in touch, and she uses ramekin dishes to make gooey puddings that I would never like anyway, as I don’t have a sweet tooth. I know her to be a brilliant, beautiful woman who has come through so much personally to forge an extraordinary career; but I was never crazy about her food.
I feel so bad saying that - I'm sure it's me, not her. But I used to go round for a meal when John was working and have to go to the local Indian to pick up a takeaway when she served up the likes of broccoli in oil. John hated the smell of Indian food and, upon his return, would throw my leftovers in the bin. I still buy Nigella's books and watch her TV shows, though. With a takeaway in my lap.
Funny what comes back to you in life in the culinary eye-bath of a ramekin dish.


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