Our spare bedroom was a tip.
It was like a complete landfill stuffed with absolutely everything that had no use in anywhere else in our little flat, and to describe it as one could not even put a foot in it, was an understatement.
We had already planned to do a car boot sale in an attempt to dispose some of the I-don't-know-where-this-belongs sort of useful stuffs, and to raise some much needed extra cash for those all things luxury that you may put it in your wish list on one of your favourite posh home goody sites. Consequently, to have somebody in that spare bedroom was neither imaginable nor convenient for us.
Our flat isn't small but very open plan. It does not have the ability to allow much of private space and too much of unexpected traffics up and down our narrow hall way or a bathroom will easily cause a jam. Any noise you will make, you will hear and any mess you make, you'll see.
We were still in the middle of our home renovation that never seemed to be kind enough to show us the end and I really didn't think it was doable.
To cut a long story short, after giving some thought to the subject matter, I remembered how tough it was when I first started off in this country all those years ago. Toby weighed out positives and negatives of the raised issue as he does and we both decided that we will put a roof over his head for a week because it is nice to be able to help out.
You see, the problem of this doing someone a favour, is often not everybody thinks the same way as you and not everyone is custom to function the way you do. And the compromise you have to make is much more than you'd ever anticipate.
I didn't like it when the toilet seat wasn't put down. I didn't find it amusing to discover lumps of cut or shaved hair blocking my bath. Seeing him doing the washing up, I was nervous for him and hoped he doesn't drop the plate and crack the sink because it would be embarrassing and awkward for all of us.
As much as I appreciated that he had all the good intentions to make sure that he does not interfere with our usual living and for sure, he did try to show his gratitude towards my cooking with many washing ups, I still found it very hard when things weren't quite how I would usually find.
And do you know what, I am sure it was pretty hard for him, too. As much as I did my best to offer him a home comfort and a good support, my honest opinions and my what you see is what you get sort of approach in expressing likes and dislikes aren't always the easiest things to put up with.
I think it was quite tricky because we were making compromises of our very personal space.
Admittedly, I suppose it didn't help that I have mild OCD. It definitely didn't help that I prefer things to be just so. Oh, come on, it took Toby over eight and a half years to master the art of living with me! Yes, I know, poor boy.
I knew it was going to be a bit uncomfortable but didn't really realise the scale of it all.
I guess we don't often have to allow other people to enter our private spaces except your own family.
And I suppose, with family, perhaps we generate natural ability to accept and welcome the differences.
But you know what, the funnest thing was, and this is to my surprise, when he left eventually after finding the sanctuary of his own that he can call home for the next 10 months of his stay in London, I felt a bit sad.
Our little flat seemed so big and so empty. I could almost picture the spot he used to stand and the stuff he used to do in his funny little odd way.
I think I kind of enjoyed his company to an extent. I think it sort of felt good knowing that I was looking after someone, making a good use of my little self.
Toby's dad and step mum kindly invited to us to this beautiful farmhouse in Chateau Bauduc, which is run by Gavin and Angela.
The house is very spacious and well looked after, provided with everything you need. It has perfectly functioning kitchen and a smashing barbecue for you to cook up some amazing fresh produce from the local food market.
Gavin's passion and exceptional knowledge in wine, and Angela's kind and caring personality really makes this place special. Obviously there's always plenty of good wine to be consumed, too.
I'd highly recommend it.
Plum and Apple Crumble with proper English custard
serves generously for 6
for the crumble 900g mixture of plum and apple, roughly chopped
100g plain flour
50g ground almond
25g almond shavings
125g butter, cubed and at room temperature
70g demerara sugar + 1tbsp
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove (optional)
handful of porridge oats
for the custard
250ml full fat milk
250ml fresh double cream
4 egg yokes
3tbsp caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, seed scraped and pod kept
I couldn't help myself feeling all warm and fuzzy watching R baking for all of us with her little fingers.
This crumble recipe originally comes from the article in Guardian 'How to make perfect crumble'. I have fiddled around a little and although original recipe states it serves 4, I found it is enough for 6, quite easily.
First of all, make your crumbly toppings. Put flour, ground almond, ground cinnamon and butter into a large bowl and rub them until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar except 1tbsp which is for your fruit mixture. Let it cool in the fridge for few mins.
Into your baking dish, put your fruit mixture along with 1tbsp sugar and clove if using. Place the crumble topping on top of the fruit and gently fork them to break them up a little bit.
Sprinkle with some porridge oats and almond shavings.
Bake them for 35mins or until golden at 200º.
For the custard, I swear by Jamie Oliver's recipe. It always worked wonderfully and tastes really good. If you find it difficult to source double cream, just use 500ml full fat milk.
Start by putting milk, cream, vanilla seed, pod and 2tbsp sugar into the small sauce pan and warm them up over medium to low heat. Make sure not to boil them.
When the bubble starts to surface up, take it off the heat and let it cool down a little to infuse the vanilla flavour.
Whisk the egg yokes with 1tbsp sugar until pale and fluffy.
Take the vanilla pod out from the cream mixture. Slowly add the ladleful of the cream mixture into the eggs while continuously whisking. You only want to add the ladleful each time. If you pour it all at once because you can't be patient, the high temperature of the cream will make the eggs curdle. So spend your time.
Once all cream mixture is added to the egg yokes, put them back into the sauce pan and cook them gently over the medium heat, stirring constantly until the custard lightly coats the back of the wooden spoon.
When it is ready, sieve it through and serve warm with your crumble.
This is an ultimate comfort food that deserves a gold medal.
After a week turned into 11 days of eventful experience with our lodger, I received an email from him. Named to both Toby and I, he thanked us for taking a good care of him.
I'm glad we all did mean well.