Purple haze

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On Christmas morning, Bins announces, “It’s time!” I am in my studio, staring at a blank canvas. Portraits of The Void are the only kind I can reliably make these days. “Time for what?” I ask.

“A party. We’ll call Jiggs, DingDong and the lady upstairs, Veronique.” Her name’s Rebecca, but when Bins forgets someone’s name he just makes up a new one to take its place. “We can ask them for dinner. They will bring some wine and we can all get drunk.” “What a great plan,” I say, nodding vigorously. “Except for one small problem: MAKING DINNER.” Cooking is one of my major non-skills. And Bins? Well, he excels more in the confidence department than in taste, texture or presentation. “Pooh!” he says now, waving his hands in the air in his Gaulish way, “you are the total wet quilt! We will make MOUSSAKA and everyone will love us forever!”

“But we’ve never done that!” I wail. “It’s completely easy-peasy,” insists Bins. “All we need is some aubergine, mince-meat and cheese.” He races out of the door and buys three monstrous purple eggplants before I can even protest. “First you have to peel them,” he says, “then you slice them and fry them. It will take a long time. While you are busy I will bring the meat, tomato sauce and onions.” He races out again. I glare at the shiny aubergines, convinced that this programme is going to end badly.

By the time Bins returns, I have a stack of limp, snot-coloured strips of eggplant in a plate and a skillet of olive oil smoking on the stove. “Go on,” cries Bins, “what are you waiting for?” So I throw in a strip of snot, it hisses violently, smoke pours from it and a moment later — you guessed it! — the fire alarm goes off. The loud bleat is augmented by a little whiny recorded voice that repeats, “Fire! Fire!” every five seconds. “Blow away the smoke!” yells Bins to me, “open the windows, turn on the exhaust — I’ll fry the aubergine!” I grab a newspaper to fan the smoke away from the alarm but I’m not tall enough so I’ve got to leap up and down like a demented rabbit while flapping.

By the time the stack of strips is fried the alarm has gone off five times in a row and my knees are like putty. “Come on, come on!” calls Bins, “there’s much more to do!” Onions to peel, garlic to mince, parsley to cut, tomatoes to sauce, Parmesan cheese to grate. “And now the béchamel sauce!” commands my local Top Chef. “First scald the milk, then melt the butter, then introduce the flour, whisking steadily ... now the milk – wait! IS THAT A LUMP I SEE?” An hour later the moussaka is in the oven, bubbling industriously.

Never mind that I am a nervous wreck by the time our guests knock on our door: the tinselly sweetness of the day cuts through the lingering wisps of charred aubergine and melting cheese. We sing carols. We drink too much wine. DingDong tells naughty jokes. Merry happies, everyone and a Joyous Moussaka to all.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Last Episode: Toaster alarm

Next Episode: Force field

Published on December 25, 2015

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