I'd been mulling over the menu for a week or two, with no real progress, except to establish that the main course was to be Thai Green Curry. I wanted to celebrate this child-free meal by cooking things that they don't like, which are hardly ever cooked in this one-meal-fits-all family. So a bit of spice for the main course. The dessert sprang into mind as I remembered the naartjie sorbets served in their skins, that I'd made a few months ago. I'd thought at the time that they needed an intense chocolate sensation to follow, so the search was on for a suitable recipe. Who else but Nigella would I turn to for this? In Feast I found what I was looking for - her Chocolate Espresso cake. That left a suitably elegant starter to think of. In the freezer I had one roll of the wonderful organic puff pastry that a friend brought, so that was to be a base - my tastebuds played with ideas and came up with a layer of the vegetarian tapenade from Kloovenberg with baby tomatoes halved and a scattering of basil. Menu sorted in the nick of time.
I made the naartjie sorbets two days ahead to get them out of the way, sticky business as it always seems to be. The chocolate cake I set to the evening before, never having made this sort of cake before. It's one where you melt the butter and chocolate together, whisk the eggs with the sugar and fold in the melted mixture, instant coffee and flour. Nigella's recipe asked for the best chocolate and instant espresso powder, mine was going to be a plebs version using dark chocolate of the sort that doesn't declare its cocoa solid percentage and Nescafe. Slight qualms furrowed my brow as I mixed it all together into a suspiciously pale batter. The batter tasted OK but how could it possibly transform into the dark delight shown in the sumptuous illustration of Feast? Had I ruined it with cheap-skate ingredients? Relief when I took it out of the oven an hour later, beautifully risen and dark as night, with an appetising aroma that promised riches. It sank as it cooled to form a dense chocolatey mass, just right to offset the citrus of the sorbet.
We'd invited two families to the dinner and to sleep over with their children - out where we are it would be callous to send people all the way back to Cape Town after regaling them with dinner - so I'd delegated the children's supper to one family and breakfast the next day to the others, leaving me just the dinner to do. With the dessert sorted in advance, I prepared the thai curry in the morning, whizzing up the paste from scratch from Nigel Slater's recipe, just to make myself feel good. It did feel good with all those unaccustomed herby, spicy scents wafting around the kitchen, like being on a culinary holiday. With the pastry defrosting to be assembled at the last moment, there was nothing left to do for the rest of the afternoon, except make tea and chat . I'd over-organised myself - felt I should be rushing around cooking as my raison d'etre, but I'd left nothing to do but force myself to relax, the hardest thing of all!
The children were fed and allowed to watch a DVD while we had our starter, then dispatched to bed. The boys had pulled all their mattresses upstairs for their own sleepover and our friend's daughter took over our son's bed to create a girls' sleepover downstairs. We closed the door and concentrated on grown-up conversation.
The pastry starters turned out brilliantly, crisp flaky pastry, salty tang of olive, sweet burst of roast tomatoes and green freshness of basil. The curry was also good, the men attacked the leftover curry paste to add more kick to theirs, even though more delicate palates found it just right! Dessert was the triumph - I had been going to serve the sorbet first, closely followed by the chocolate cake, but by unanimous request we combined the two on one plate, alternating mouthfuls and groaning with pleasure at the intense flavours.
As silence fell at the end of the meal, we became aware that other voices were still chattering. Upstairs two of the boys,, with heavy eyelids were still running through their repertoire of jokes and downstairs youngest was still awake chatting to herself, though the other two girls were fast asleep.
Adult stamina swiftly ebbed away after that and by 10.30 people were departing to bed, though with the promise of more talking and feasting at breakfast the next day.
This could become an annual event and I might even be tempted to repeat the menu verbatim.