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Friday, 14 June 2013
Rant and a Recipe
It’s an uncertain business these days, English Language Teaching: famine or feast. Allowing for the fact that there’s many a slip, etc., for this year at least I’m in the chips until the end of November. I can’t look any further than that, though. Such regular readers as remain to me may remember that a couple of years ago our department fought off an attempt by the management slime-bags to sell us off to a kind of educational Macdonald’s. Well, it seems they’re at it again. At least they won’t issue a straight denial, which is as good as saying they’re still plotting. Maybe someone who knows more about economics and education and integrity than I do can explain this? We have the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners), a small department that is staffed by well-qualified people, is fairly busy most of the year and bursting at the seams from June to mid-September. It receives glowing feedback from the punters, and relative to its size, is the most profitable department in the university. Would you not expect such a department to be designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, and that any attempt to despoil it be decisively repulsed? Why do they want to flog it off? Well, they can replace us with younger, slimmer, prettier people who have just rolled off the CELTA production line, and staff with a fraction of our collective qualification and experience can be paid less than half what they pay us. Sod the long-term consequences, so long as certain fat cats get fatter. Once their desiccated hearts and fatty livers have packed up, what will they care about the state of education in this country?
Anyway, I was going to share a recipe before you got me started. I decided famine rather than feast will be the leitmotif of my remaining days in this world, and I’d better start spending less on food. The other day I made a salade Niçoise: lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, tuna, anchovies, olives, capers, basil – no arguments about ‘authenticity’, please, I just used what I had in. I also added a couple of soft-boiled eggs. I have tended to limit severely my intake of eggs over the last few years for fear of their cholesterol content, but now they appear to have been reinstated, and man, what is more comforting than warm, runny egg-yolk mingling with the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, lettuce and capers in your salad? Or bursting over crisp toast at breakfast? I looked up egg recipes in my large (and largely ignored) collection of cook books, found ‘fisherman’s eggs’ in The Silver Spoon, the Italian cookery Bible which I bought yonks ago and have never used. I cooked this a few evenings ago, adapting it to what I had in the cupboard and omitting the butter that blights the original. As I’ve said before, the allure of butter is lost on me, but by all means include the loathsome stuff if its vomit-and-sebum aroma appeals. Don't let me put you off.
Right, for the ‘fisherman’ bit, you need a couple of cans of sardines in oil. For the rest, get a fistful of chopped parsley, a smashed clove of garlic, two or three eggs and, optionally, a few capers and a splash of virulent chilli sauce. I say optionally as these are my additions to The Silver Spoon's original recipe. Heat the oven to very hot, and warm up a small oven dish. When it is warmed through, throw in your sardines, drained of oil. Pepper them extravagantly, add the garlic, and bung them in the oven for five minutes or so. When they are warm, scatter over them the parsley and capers, then add the eggs, taking care not to burst the yolks. Return the dish to the oven for seven minutes or so, until the whites of the eggs are set but the yolks are still smooth. Add the teensiest slatherette of chilli sauce. (Or the whole bottle, if you want - who am I to dictate?) I ate this with wholemeal toast rubbed with garlic, and a green salad. It was at once smooth and crisp, bland and salty, punchy and comforting, and probably cost about one pound fifty.
The original recipe tells you to remove the bones from the sardines, but I’ve never felt that necessary with the small, tinned variety at least - and anyway, how bloody fiddly would that be? Not as fiddly as that seventies Anton Mossiman recipe that called for the hollowing out of small, artfully corrugated courgettes, that they might be stuffed with pureed carrot, steamed, then sliced into decorative 'cog wheels', but too pernickety for me these days. I’ve been using Tesco more lately, as Marks and Sparks and Waitrose are getting absurdly overpriced. People in Tesco are more likely to talk to you in the queue, I’ve found. ‘They reckon you shouldn’t eat ready meals,’ an old woman in front of me said recently. ‘I can’t see what’s wrong wi em. Forty year cooking for two, now I’m on me own, I can’t be bloody arsed.’ Maybe I’ll be like that soon.