I found myself cooking for a dinner party the other day.
It was fun to be given the run of a very nicely appointed kitchen. It was rather less fun to have to take care of the shopping requirements. The "nearest" supermarket is some two miles away, and has a fairly dire selection of produce. (I had to abandon my plans to make a raspberry cheesecake for dessert because they didn't have any decent cream cheese, or any double cream [they'd run out? or they just didn't see the merit in putting it next to the single cream?], or any vanilla [either pods or essence]. Unbelievable.)
My host for the week, Little Anthony, is an odd fellow - a passionate 'foodie' (he has a shelf full of posh cookery books, and some very fancy kitchen equipment), yet his house is almost entirely empty of food. Well, he usually has a few novelty food items in the larder, collected in the course of his globetrotting job. In the past I've found such exotica as bear-paw paté from Siberia and moose jerky from Finland in his cupboards. But there are no day-to-day basics: no rice, no oil, no onions, no cooking wine - not even any salt and pepper (and his pair of salt and pepper grinders, when refilled, are wretchedly dysfunctional).
And all his knives are blunt.
I'm not sure the chap has ever cooked anything more demanding than beans on toast. In the realm of cooking, there is a staggering mismatch between his aspirations and his practical experience. My own culinary skills are extremely limited, but Little Anthony was apparently awed by my performance in helping him to knock up a vat of chilli con carne five or six years ago (I suspect that was the last time he had anyone around to dinner).
So, it was a rather more demanding undertaking than I had first supposed, but a very satisfying one. We invited The Bookseller and his Mrs over, and treated them to a creamy minted pea soup and a simple dish of herb chicken baked on a bed of ratatouille accompanied by some baby new potatoes (inspiration from the great Gordon Ramsay). And a shop-bought trifle. Yum.
I really ought to start throwing dinner parties in Beijing. I've been saying this for years; but perhaps, with this inspiring memory still fresh, I may actually get down to it upon my return in a couple of weeks. We shall see.