A few weeks ago I was trying to help Alfie with his homework while also cooking dinner and bringing in the washing and feeding the dogs and keeping an eye on the news and sorting out the RSVPs for Archie’s 21st while playing solo parent because Carl had a late meeting. And the phone rang.
And it was the home phone and that immediately made me suspicious because nobody rings me on the home phone. And like a fool I answered it. And on the other end was a very old man’s voice by the name of Henry. And although I hadn’t seen or heard of Henry for about a decade I did remember him because he is a friend of my father-in-laws and by coincidence, his wife who died about seven years ago was the mother-in-law of one of my best friends.
Long story short, because this wasn’t a sharp and snappy conversation because he had to fill me in on how many trips he’d had to hospital so far this year and how he had the two best surgeons in the country and how they were going to charge him $10,000 for the operation but because he told them of all the work he’s done for the community they reduced the bill to $7,000 and how he told them he hoped they wouldn’t hit the 6th cranial nerve but it couldn’t be avoided and so now he’s dribbling down the right side of his mouth but on his last visit to the best surgeons in the country they said it will recover with time and so he’s looking forward to that.
I seriously had to pour myself a wine. I had no idea why for 20 minutes I’d had to hear all of this. But then he said he’d been on the phone to my father-in-law because he’d been tidying up a few things and he’d come across a book that belonged to my in-laws and he had it in his possession because his now deceased wife had borrowed it about a decade ago.
I asked, ‘What does this have to do with me?’
He said, ‘Oh, your father-in-law said that you’re going up to Queensland to see them at Easter and that you’d be happy to come up and get the book from me’. I have no concrete plans to fly to Queensland and this man is an hour’s drive from my part of Sydney so not exactly in my neighbourhood.
I said, ‘No, we don’t have any plans to go to Queensland’.
‘Oh, but you will be seeing them sometime?’
‘Well, yes, I expect we will see them at some stage this year’.
‘Well that’s very helpful so just give me a ring before you come to get the book because I am very busy and I do go out a lot.’ I was horribly confused and all out of patience and wanted the conversation to end so I ran around looking for a pen and a piece of paper.
‘What’s your number then?’
‘I don’t give out my number to strange ladies’, he said slyly, which I found absolutely infuriating.
‘I don’t give out my number to strange ladies’. And I groaned. The wine hadn’t yet kicked in and I couldn’t help myself. He thought he was being hilarious but no, just winding me up.
‘It’s all right dear, you can have it’, and he gave me his number.
Busy as I was, I then sent a rather sternly worded email to my father-in-law asking him to refrain from handing out my number to his friends (this is not a once-off). And that as we have no immediate plans to fly to Queensland and as Henry lives an hour away and then he’d make sure that he was home so he could again give me the low-down on his health and the medical professionals who are treating him and the state of his 6th cranial nerve, and as it would be very difficult for me to detangle myself from him and then I’d have to drive all the way back which would cause me to lose half a day, that unless the book was extremely valuable could he do the sensible thing and ask his friend to just take the short and level walk from his home to the local post office and post the bloody book?
My father-in-law did then send me an email with an apology and said he had phoned Henry and told him to post the book that was a hymn book and that that should be the end of the matter.
But it wasn’t.
The very next day the home phone rang again and I was not in the best frame of mind because Arabella had just told me she was going to Africa to help the orphans and Archie, who promised me his friends wouldn’t be RSVPing with requests for a ‘plus one’ were now doing so in force and I was just digesting the caterer’s quote and I had no chair to sit on because the upholsterer was recovering all my sofas, slowly, and Alfie had been given three weeks to write and memorise a three-minute speech and somehow it was due tomorrow and he hadn’t even thought of what he was going to talk about.
I don’t know why but I picked up the phone and I heard the same old man’s voice and at that point I really needed a sofa to sit on. He said, ‘I’ve spoken to your father-in-law and he said you’d like me to post the book, is that right?’
‘Yes, that’s the best idea, just post it’.
‘But it weighs just over a kilo’.
‘And do you know how much that will cost me to post?’
‘I don’t know the postal rates’.
‘Oh, so you know. So you’ve been to the post office then’.
‘No, I have the postal charges book here and I looked it up and it said because it weighs just over a kilo it’s going to cost $14.85’.
‘Oh, well it’s good you’re informed’.
‘And I’m using last year’s book so it might have gone up since then’.
‘There’s every chance’.
‘Did you say you might be going to Queensland at some stage?’
‘We will be going at some stage but we have no definite plans at the moment’.
‘But as you will be going at some stage, why don’t you pop up and get the book then you can take it with you’.
‘Henry’, I said most sternly, ‘I am very busy and I live an hour from where you live and as much as I would like to spend a day coming up to see you and collect the book, I just don’t have the time. Please post the book’. And I hung up.
The book was delivered by Australia Post a few days later.
Even so, I wasn’t singing any hymns.
I find slow-cooking comforting, soothing and therapeutic. For a family dinner, it goes in the oven halfway through the day and then there’s nothing to do for hours allowing you to deal with everything else including annoying phone calls.
Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb
Degree of Difficulty: 2/5
Cost: Lamb is moderately priced but everything that goes with it is very affordable.
- 6 carrots
- 1 x bulb of garlic broken into cloves, unpeeled plus 1 extra clove
- a few rosemary stalks, plus 1 extra
- 1 x 2kg (4.4 lbs) leg of lamb
- olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
- 1/2 cup chopped mint
- 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
- 1 tbspn red wine vinegar
Pre-heat oven to 120C (250F).
Peel carrots and cut into large batons and place in a large roasting dish. Scatter garlic cloves and rosemary stalks over the carrots.
Using a sharp knife, cut little deep cuts into the lamb. Cut extra garlic clove into matchsticks and poke into lamb. Cut extra rosemary stalk into 2cm lengths and poke into slits. Place lamb on top of carrots and sprinkle with olive oil. Season.
Pour stock and wine into roasting dish and place on a stove. Bring to the boil to evaporate the alcohol then cover roasting dish with foil, securely.
Place in oven for 7 hours then remove lamb from the roasting pan and place in an ovenproof dish. Turn up the oven to 200C (400F). Return the lamb to the oven to allow the skin to become crispy for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make a sauce for the lamb out of the pan juices. Strain. Add mint and capers and red wine vinegar and heat through. Serve lamb with vegetables and a salad.
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